Rick is author of The Purpose-Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in California. He talked about their close family, the great healthcare Matthew had received all his life for his Bipolar Disorder, and of the many prayers that had gone up over the years for Matthew’s safety.
Kay Warren, author of Choose Joy, nearly begged her listeners to rebuild hope when life makes no sense. Both of them emphasized that followers of Christ can have hope on the worst days because of what we know. We know God is near, that He loves us, and this life is not all there is.
Neither of them tried to paste easy platitudes over suffering. They did blame Satan, the sins of man since creation, and a broken world. As they confessed they did not understand the “why” of their son’s tragedy, God’s trustworthiness was held up repeatedly.
Purpose. Joy. Hope.
Mental illness robs us of a sense of each. I want to stand on the highest stage and shout to the world, “People, get it already!” Mental illness is insidious, sneaky, unpredictable, and rampant. It takes away reason from an otherwise brilliant mind. It fills a faithful Christian with despair as it convinces the sufferer he or she is spiritually dead. It steals the future from young and old alike.
Purpose. Joy. Hope.
These are goals for me and for many like me. I know people who can on a moment’s notice describe in great detail their purpose in life. They are passionate about their work and calling. Some can speak of joy as if it never leaves their heart. They smile and laugh easily.
Most individuals understand there is hope even when life is difficult; that is because most do not struggle with mental illness. Some of us have to do mental and spiritual calisthenics each day, and even several times a day in order to rise above depression or some other mental disorder.
Observing another person’s despair and suicidal thinking, one could sit back and say, “Oh, that person has choices. They can get to work, think happy thoughts, go to church, sing praises, trust God more!” Sorry, that is just ignorance.
With all due respect to people who do not grasp the difference between a disease and a decision, I say listen to Rick and Kay Warren’s candid talk. Matthew wanted with all his heart to be normal, was a strong believer and follower of Christ, and loved others with a tender heart. He never achieved normal, not because he was wrong or bad or weak, but because his brain was ill. He died because a disease killed him.
Matthew was stronger than most on this planet, not weaker. How do I know? Because he lived to be 27 years old fighting nearly every day for life while his brain challenged him to quit. How many of the “normals” have to choose life each morning?
Pious and self-righteous pew-sitters may judge Matthew and the entire Warren family. Even as Rick and Kay spoke, someone tweeted on the church’s live stream, “I think Matthew is in hell.” Now, that’s just mean.
Purpose. Joy. Hope.
We can all seek these. In the world of mental illness all three exist and are accessible. They may not look typical, though. A sufferer’s purpose might be to survive another 24 hours for her children. Joy may briefly enter a tender heart, then vanish. Hope may have to be borrowed.
A sense of purpose, joy, and hope are going to have a hard time arriving on the scene when the sick one is being mocked, corrected “in love,” and charged with criminal unsaintliness. For the Matthew’s, the unknown, my family, me… please, if you do not have insight into mental illness, don’t judge.
Instead, jump down into the mud for awhile and watch us get through it. You will learn what strength is, and we will be grateful recipients of your knowledgeable and compassionate love.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or if you are concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
*photo from qualitystockphotos.com