I thank God for people who are willing to tell their stories, especially when those stories could be turned against them. This danger looms especially for people whose story includes mental illness. Being open about one's own journey can risk loss of job, friends, family, and rejection by fellow church members. So I fully respect people who want to keep their own mental illness private.
Still, in the telling of stories, the power of stigma that darkens the path of mental illness begins to fade.
I thank God for Lynn Hamilton who has publicly told her story and even has allowed others to tell it. Talking about God's purpose in her life, she says, “Perhaps sharing my journey and knowledge of mood disorders and providing the support and encouragement that I had received may be part of that purpose.” Something that really hit home to me, a pastor who served in parish ministry for 17 years, was Lynn's appreciation of her pastor who spoke about the challenges of people affected by mental illness. I hope that the topic gets addressed openly by pastors in sermons, prayers, in whom one visits on pastoral calls, and in everyday life of the church. Considering that around 20 percent of people in North America are dealing with a mental health challenge, it only makes sense for pastors to make this an open part of their ministry.
I thank God for Susan Gregg-Schroeder, whose journey has included depression. She dealt with it quietly at first while serving a church in California. But when she opened up about it (with some fear and trepidation) the response was overwhelming appreciation and a new openness in the congregation to learning about mental illness. God used her own experiences to lead her to found Mental Health Ministries which has an excellent array of resources to help churches in their own ministry.
I thank God for people who shared their stories on our Stories of Grace and Truth page. Laura Bokma's poem, Dandelion Snow, touches my heart too in her picture falling upwards into God's gracious arms during a period of disorienting trial. Sometimes people place an impossible burden on pastors who are never to have challenges of their own, yet Larry Van Essen and Walt Vander Werf both were open about mental health challenges they have faced, and I'm certain the congregations they served are the better for it. Larry Van Essen has expanded his ministry to people facing mental health challenges both by writing a book, This Poison Called Depression, and by speaking to congregations and other groups about mental illness.
I thank God for people willing to share their stories. For in listening to these stories and others, I hear not only connections with my own journey but also connections with the one God and Father who loves all of his children dearly.
If you or a loved one has been affected by mental illness, you are welcome to send your story for possible inclusion in the Stories of Grace and Truth. (Guidelines are at the top of that page.)
What's your story?