Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness
(c)2014 Nancy Virden
Most of us have probably had that moment when suddenly our surroundings shift and we no longer have a sense of safety or control over what happens next. Like the cliché, it can be as if the rug is pulled out from under our feet. Have you imagined that actually happening? I’ve seen video of people pulling a tablecloth out from under place servings and food without losing or misplacing any items. If only that could be our result when life is challenging!
Hurricanes by any name are scary. Sinkholes can be more frightening due to lack of warning. Random shootings? We scramble to find a reason, a “key” so we can foresee who, when, where these things will happen. Maybe with enough foresight, and perhaps if we discover a scientific rule we can trust, we will be in charge. Can murderers be defined and confined prior to committing a horrific act? We want to know the hows, not so much out of a passion for learning as for an obsession for control. Measurable and understood problems can be managed.
I’ve balked at the idea that I have no say over circumstances. “Life happens” is an uneasy concept. If you had asked me much before three years ago if I believed I needed to be in charge I would have said no. My answer may have been a bit pious like, “God has everything in his hands, I don’t have to be afraid.” Then I would have worried about everything that was out of my control while continuing to deny the fear even to myself.
Denial is a strong reason some of us do not see how very powerless we actually are. I believed for most of my life that I was in charge of my spiritual walk, talk, and growth. I was the one who could decide how to respond to another person or situation. It was I who would hold on to God, faith, hope, and yes, piety. My behavior was my choice. My thoughts were my choice. Doggone it, my emotions were at my discretion!
Only I was wrong.
Attempting suicide in January 2011 was a wake-up call in numerous ways, many of which are likely obvious to those who are not me. However, it was but a slight push in the direction of admitting I am powerless and my life had become unmanageable. My coping mechanisms were unhealthy and even addictive. These truths might be summarized under a broad umbrella of “lack of faith” or “sin” or “undisciplined”, but that simplistic view does not explain all the hours, days, and years I trusted my Savior for emotional survival, nor how much I studied and obeyed his word despite leanings otherwise.
Saint Paul said he could not do the good he wanted to do because he was powerless. He wanted to stop doing wrong, learn to do right, and was at war with his mind and body because they simply did not seem to want to cooperate! In his heart he desired God’s ways, but his heart rarely won the battle. He admitted that the ground under his feet shifted so frequently he could not keep up.
What was his answer? If Paul, who Billy Graham referred to as the greatest Christian who ever lived, could not control his spiritual life, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, then what? For me, the added question is how and why he chose to stay alive despite horrifying trauma and threats of more to come.
His, mine, and your solution is not complicated. First, Paul admitted he was powerless, something I am learning to do. His willpower and self-control were not enough. Neither was his strength of character. He simply could not manage his life through faith and good intentions alone.
Second, Paul recognized that God is the one with the power.
Third, he became willing to entrust everything to God, turning his life including his desire for control, over to Christ. After those steps were taken, Paul began to see changes in his decisions, reactions, feelings, and thoughts. This is happening for me as well. The more I can accept my powerlessness, the better. This is not the same as helpless victimization. I do have a choice, and that is to allow God’s power to be the solution or to keep on truckin’ the way I always have.
Surrender to God through Jesus Christ became Paul’s message to the world and his daily practice. He gave up, and his life began.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal 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 concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.