When was the last time you considered the mentally ill or, even much less, ministry to the mentally ill?
I have been remembering a good friend. He was my best friend during my freshman year in college. Our rooms were in the same suite in our dorm. We shared a bathroom. We took the same classes. We sat next to one another in chapel because my last name followed his alphabetically. We were on the basketball team. As point guard, I fed him the ball, and, as shooting guard, he made the shot. What a team we were! He introduced me to my wife. We double-dated numerous times. He was the best man in my wedding. We vacationed together as families through the years. We saw one another on at least a yearly basis, our friendship always picking up like we had just seen one another the week before. We shared something special.
Life changed for him, and for us, about a decade ago. He became schizophrenic and delusional. He has since lost his job, family, church, life savings, and most of his friends. I am the one friend he has not turned away from, or who has not turned away from him, depending on who you talk to. The reason is complicated. He believes that I am part of the “hijacking of his world,” that “I am in on it,” and that somehow I will finally “explain what God is up to” and “admit to his reality.” Conversation is difficult. We still share memories of the past, but life stopped for us when he became schizophrenic and delusional. He has his own reality, which is very different than mine, and everyone else’s. He lives with the constant tension that people around him are lying to him about reality.
I was the first one to get him to go to counseling. I flew to his hometown in the southeast to accompany him on his first visit. He loves his counselor, but he has remained committed to maintaining his reality. He saw him a few times, but they decided that to meet was not helpful until my friend went on medication. Last year, he finally reached the age when he could receive a pension from the company, where he had been employed since college. He received it in one lump sum. Immediately, he dropped $50,000 on a BMW 335 and set out on a cross-country journey. By now, he must be La Quinta Inn’s favorite customer. He stopped at the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis, hoping for answers about “his mission.” He visited the Space Needle in Seattle for the possibility of a message from God. His goal was to eventually reach me in California with the hopes that I would finally have some answers for him … since I was “in on it.” His plans faltered in Redding, California, where he encountered physically painful issues. He remained there until the phone call on January 22, 2016. During this call, he was at his lowest point. He had two options in his mind: take his life or take the pill (Abilify) that everyone said was going to heal him. I invited him to immediately take the 8-hour journey to my home in southern California. He agreed. While he was driving, my wife and I came up with a plan.
I had to get him back to his hometown. I shared my plan, and he agreed. The next morning we left my home and drove 2000 miles in two days with the goal of getting him to see his psychiatrist and to begin taking his medication. Apart from the stress, we had a great time. We talked about old times. He gave me his assessment of family members, friends, and people we encountered. He invited me into his reality, and I tried to learn as much as I could about the life he lives. We would stop for gas, and then, as we began driving again, we would share what we experienced in the gas station. Two totally different worlds! We laughed. We cried. We sat in silence. We did the best we could to relate even though the reality we both were experiencing was completely different. In the end, I was blessed to spend this time with him, and my life will be forever changed.
I now have a deepened concern for the mentally ill. What is the church to do with the mentally ill? Do we have the resources, even the love, to walk with them through their difficulty or do we turn away? The words of Isaiah 1:10-17 are pertinent for us to consider:
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.
Would we dare add the mentally ill at the end of this verse? Would we add others to the list: victims of sex trafficking? Victims of human trafficking? The unborn in danger of abortion? In what ways do we go about our “religious activity” and look away from those in our society in desperate need of help? We may not be the perpetuators of the evils, but are we by-standers? And, as a result, are “our hands covered with blood?”
May the Lord help us as a church, even you, to find ways to reach those who are in situations beyond their own abilities to change. May we be their defenders until the one, who rights all wrongs, returns!