The last few months have been punctuated with unexpected drama and difficulty. If you read this blog or follow this ministry, you’ll notice a large gap between the last flurry of posts and this one. That’s not an accident, and no one went on an extended vacation.
No one looks forward to unexpected difficulty. But unexpected difficulty can set the course of life towards the big dream God has in mind.
Here are a few valuable, shareable things I’ve learned in this time:
1. It is critically important to be connected to a church, a spiritual family – BEFORE the crisis comes.
The truth is, your church isn’t really your family if you’re never there. You have to actually be connected, actually giving to the family to receive blessings when you have a need.
Our church family was instantly there – connecting us to much needed community resources, asking what we needed in the way of tangible help – and then providing that help. The church staff prayed for our family, regularly.
Two dear friends – people I don’t see often – just ‘happened’ to contact me at exactly the right time. The first just ‘happened’ to call me – right after the difficulty erupted; the other stopped by to say hello at another difficult moment. The Holy Spirit loves to put people in the right place at the right time. Both friends gave just the support that was needed.
No one was intrusive at all. They respected the boundaries we established, but made it clear to us that many were willing to help as needed, when needed.
2. If you have to disconnect from your spiritual family for a while, let some people know why.
Mental health struggles and everything related are difficult and messy. They can’t be scheduled, the healing and restoration doesn’t follow a predictable path. It’s terribly easy to retreat from the world.
Speaking only for myself (CSB), as an introvert, a person with some cognitive processing delays in stressful situations, the best way for me to handle a crisis is to retreat, to reflect, to find quiet. It doesn’t mean I don’t want help, it just means I have to determine what’s right for my particular struggle without competing influences and opinions.
If you are inclined the same way, to retreat and reflect – please, don’t do so without letting a few people know. The true Church wants to give its family members respect, but also keep them from falling away. That’s one part accountability, and one part understanding and patience for the hard things that take people away, temporarily, from spiritual family life.
3. Let people help you.
If they want to bring you a meal, even if you are up for cooking, let them do that. If the church family shows it cares in tangible ways that are not your love language, be kind – but also clear about what can really be helpful. For example, if you just can’t bear to talk daily about the difficult situation, but your extrovert friend wants to call you daily, just gently explain that you appreciate voice mails, but don’t have the energy for conversations very often. And caring friend – expect that your wounded friend may not say all the right words when they are in crisis. Give your friend extra grace. Goodness knows they need it.
4. Keep moving forward.
If you are in crisis, don’t allow yourself to get stuck. If you provide care for another person in crisis, take care of your own mental health needs as well. It’s frightfully easy to grow bitter and resentful, mentally rehashing the circumstances. Things WILL be different eventually – in a month, or a year. Letting people help you will make it easier to keep moving forward.
If you are supporting a friend in crisis, don’t try to fix the problem. If mental health problems were simple to fix, they already would be. Short pithy sayings are quite unhelpful. Opt instead for telling how much you care for your friend, how you are willing to listen. Let them talk. It’s amazing how smart you appear when you listen more than you talk.
Focus for 2017
The board of Outside In Ministries is focusing on fleshing out Mental Health Liaison Services. Even large churches may not have members or staff with the expertise and time to devote to connecting their members to appropriate, truly helpful mental health professionals and related services. Don’t let that stop your church from being the change; loving the entire body of Christ includes loving messy people. Stopping stigma begins with YOU.