This is the post that hurled me back in. It’s about Robin Williams. In case you haven’t heard of him, here’s a favorite clip of mine. I like Robin Williams. I always have. He has made me laugh since Mork and Mindy. I don’t think he ever made a secret of his addictions or his struggles. He had been married three times and struggled with infidelity among other things. But he was human, just like me and just like you.
What bothered me was a particular “share” that showed up in my Facebook feed. I can’t get it out of my head. I didn’t even click on the link, I just read the comment that my friend who did the sharing made. I was sick to my stomach. In effect (and I take liberal license with this since I refused to read it) it claimed we shouldn’t be surprised he committed suicide because that’s what happens when someone “does voices and allows the devil into their soul”. Really?!?!?!? Mind you, I suppose I should be surprised that such an assertion came from a so-called “christian”, but I wasn’t. I was disgusted by the tagline. There’s no sugar coating my feelings, I was pissed. I read no further.
But…what if I had? What if I, as a Christian, read those words through the lens of mental illness? Would an article like that help me? I don’t think so. I think it would push me further into despair. Articles and words like that, in my opinion, cause more suicides among believers than having the talent to “do voices” and genuinely make people laugh.
No wonder those with mental illness or those with family members who are struggling with mental illness hide it from the church. The church likes things tied up nicely in a box with a pretty polka dot bow on top (I think teal and brown is particularly fetching). We like God to answer our prayers for healing. We like to point to the healing and shout, “See! God answers prayer! That little boys arm was broken and now it’s healed.” or “There was a spot on his lung, but, praise Jesus, it’s gone now!”. We whisper, “She has a mental illness. I don’t think her family has enough faith”, or we say in hushed tones, “Pray for Hank, he’s depressed. God bless his heart. Pass me a doughnut.” To quote Amy Simpson in her book Troubled Minds, “Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about.” But we must. From a study of 500 churches in 2010 and outlined in Troubled Minds:
- 84% of church leaders are aware of some type of anxiety disorder within their congregation.
- 91% of church leaders have seen mood disorders such as depression within their churches.
- 37% of church leaders indicated that someone in their congregation had suffered from a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.
- Of the church leaders in this survey, 38.7 % indicated they had suffered from a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
- 23% (church leaders) indicated they had suffered from an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder.*
*The list continues…
We must begin the conversation in our large churches and our small churches. Mental Illness is not demon possession. It is a sickness of the mind. It is no different than diabetes, or cancer, or multiple sclerosis. There are treatments, but sometimes there are no cures. How can we look at someone who struggled and lost the battle with cancer and see their tremendous faith in the midst of the pain, doubt and unanswered prayer; but look at another who has struggled and lost the battle with bipolar disorder and not see their faith in the midst of pain, doubt and unanswered prayer?
The church reminds me of that commercial on the radio in which a girl tells her friend she has a mental disorder and the friend keeps trying change the conversations to earrings, “Look over there, something shiny!” Are we a bunch of magpies? I don’t want to make the church sound crass, but we are. Particularly when uninformed clergy share articles like the aforementioned one on Facebook. You read that right, a member of the clergy, a pastor, a shepherd of a congregation.
The silver lining here is that the church is slowly coming around. There are voices all over the place and I’m grateful and I’m honored to add my small voice.
I really didn’t want to go here. I didn’t. I fought the urge to add my voice to the Robin Williams discussion, but God did not allow me rest from the thought of it. I got out of the house and ran mindless errands. I don’t want to cause a stir. I know this blog will post on my Facebook feed and I know that people from my church will read it and I know that they will know of which “share” I speak. But, I cannot avoid it. I have tried for two days. Two days of shopping (my husband is thrilled I’ve been running), but I can run no longer. I have nothing else to occupy my time or my fingers. The house is quiet. I have the time to write, not well because I’m still a bit steamy about it, but to write nonetheless.
Here’s how God got me finally. My son likes to listen to Adventures in Odyssey. I allow him to use the app to listen to current episodes. There are about 10-15 to choose from on any given day. Yesterday, after I had run my errands and drowned out the quiet voice in my spirit, he started an episode called The Other Woman about Tom Riley’s wife revealing she struggles with mental illness. There are some opinions voiced in AIO that I don’t agree with, but on the whole it’s good radio to listen to and Whit got it right on the money about mental illness and the church. I couldn’t deny it anymore, I had to speak up. More than a Facebook post or a snarky comment. So, back to the blog I trot.
Robin Williams may not have been a Christian. No one knows. Only he and God know that. I venture to say that right now, both of them are very sure about Robin’s life after death. However, we have NO RIGHT to claim that his suicide shouldn’t be a surprise or that he deserved it or somehow he brought it on himself because he could “do voices”. In fact, deep down, I secretly hope that I’ll see him in heaven :).
Did Robin have his “demons”? Yes, as do we all
….and God help us.
Give me grace for the broken.
Grace for the weary.
Grace for the burdens.
Grace for the ignorant.
Grace for the crass.
Grace for the uninformed.
Grace for the sinner.
Grace for myself.