Barry, not his real name, often stopped by to chat about life.His. The experience is not uncommon for pastors. Over time I learned that Barry, a great conversation partner, battled bi-polar disorder. So long as Barry took his prescribed medicine, and did not mix it with alcohol, he functioned quite well.
But, when Barry, for whatever reason, chose not to take his medicine, or he opted for a cold beer on a hot summer day, he did not get along with his world very well. In retrospect, I am confident no one really knew what to do. Barry talked about talking to God. He came to church from time to time. He did not want to “go back,” a reference to a mental hospital. Yes, that dates the events.
Incidentally, I learned others suffered from what would fall under the broad umbrella, mental health issue. Maybe their experience was not as pronounced as Barry’s. It could be a matter of severity or kind. But, the experience in those days helped me, a young pastor, realize all of the caricatures, stereotypes, and purported “cures,” were not really helpful.
My last encounter with Barry came at the end of one of his more troubling times. He left, which is to say he “went back.” We moved.
Churches would do well to become more aware, sensitive, and resourceful to and for those who suffer mental illness. I am glad to post about Sarah Griffith Lund’s new book published by Chalice Press, Blessed Are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church. I have not yet read the book but the recommendation of my friend Steve Knight and the audacity to write a personal story in hopes that Churches might be helped is motivation enough for me to suggest looking into this new resource.
Confession. I hesitated to post. I have friends who suffer. Over my nearly 30 years as pastor I have known many. I feared adding to discomfort and pain. I worried that some might think I write with them in mind. I nearly let my own fears become an oppressive silencing. Then, after reading the purpose for which Sarah wrote, I knew I had to post. Silence paralyzes. It keeps those who suffer from speaking. It keeps Churches from offering a place of refuge and hope.
Here is Sarah’s post from today – Stronger Together. Other posts on Sarah’s book and the subject of Mental Health Awareness Week
My prayer . . . Lord Have Mercy on Us for always assuming the worst about those whom we do not understand. Make us empathetic rather than judgmental. Provide safe places where silence does not rule and punish. Create of other human beings fleshy expressions of your care and peace. May those others be us.