Listening to a Fellow Christian with Schizophrenia

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Last month’s Christianity Today featured a testimony by David Weiss called “God of the Schizophrenic: Rediscovering My Faith Amid the Ravages of Mental Illness.” David puts a face on a disorder that many fear and most misunderstand.

According to MayoClinic.com,

Schizophrenia is a group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behavior. The ability of people with schizophrenia to function normally and to care for themselves tends to deteriorate over time. Contrary to some popular belief, schizophrenia isn't split personality or multiple personality. The word "schizophrenia" does mean "split mind," but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, requiring lifelong treatment.

Schizophrenia sweeps into lives of sufferers and their family members and won’t let go.

David received the news that his condition was chronic from one of many professionals he has seen. As the doctor scribbled notes and flipped through pages in David’s chart, David contemplated suicide and wondered about the eternal consequences of that decision. David asked,

“Doctor, it has been three years. Will I ever get better?”
He paused for a moment and stared at his notes.
“David, you need to think about what level of better you can live with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that you need to accept that you will always be this way.”

David and his family tried various treatments including medication, counseling, and electroconvulsive therapy, of which he received twice as many sessions as most people get. But they didn’t help much.

Even though the world’s brightest minds have tried for over a century to find effective treatments for people with schizophrenia, it remains “a chronic condition, requiring lifelong treatment.” Sadly, many of us Christians forget this fact and treat people with mental illnesses as if the disorder can be cured quickly and easily. Though some fellow churchgoers have been supportive, others in David’s life have given him quick and unhelpful “diagnoses” – lack of faith, unconfessed sin, not Christlike enough, secretly gay. David says, “As a Christian, I wish fellow churchgoers would refrain from passing judgment and recommending a fix after two minutes of conversation.”

As brothers and sisters of our gracious Savior, we can do better than this. Let’s listen together to the wisdom of this fellow believer who lives with schizophrenia, and to others who live with it. Let’s refrain from passing judgment on people who live with mental illnesses and their family members. Let’s not give easy answers, which hurt and do not help. Let’s come alongside people, listen, learn, and love more deeply.

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I am curious how to square this blog with the one on April 25 by Alan Dieters:  Extra Grace Required.

Or are they talking about absolutely different situations--it seems to me there will almost certainly be some overlap but the approaches of the two blogs appear to be different.

A conversation between the two bloggers as to how the friend in this blog should be accepted when he shows up in Alan's small group--how would "extra grace" be practiced if he fits into one of the categories listed in Mr. Dieters' blog?

Guide

Precherkid,

I just read Gladen's article and your and other comments.

I have no idea what David Weiss is like in a small group setting and would not dare make any judgments about that. It is dangerous to make assumptions about any person based on such a small amount of information.

Concerning Gladen's article, like Ken, I too have a problem with the article in that it stereotypes people. Ken wrote, "I do not agree with these kind of approaches to classify human behavior. They fall short because we are all profoundly unique." Gladen classifies all small group attenders into two categories: E.G.R.'s and non-E.G.R.'s as if some of us don't need any extra grace. Someone once said that people can't be divided between good and evil because that line cuts right down the middle of every human heart. In the same way, the line between needing grace and needing extra grace cuts down the middle of every human heart. I think that the column would be much more helpful it instead of classifying and stereotyping people, it instead classified certain behaviors and how to deal with those behaviors.

I'll send a note to Allen; perhaps we could have a general dialogue about this sometime. Thanks for the suggestion.

Mark

Participant

I certainly would agree that the article could say the same thing but classify behaviors rather than people.  Having said that, his pragmatic approaches to those behaviors is still valuable.

Mark:

Thanks for the response--your reservations on the "classification" issue were mine somewhat though I have been involved in enough small groups to know that the "classification" process can apply equally to the small group leader, as a gesture of modesty or humility.  That is what I felt the article lacked.  A little bit of "we are the people and wisdom will die with us."

You are accurate on the danger of assumptions and much more could be said about that.

Participant

I think that the friend would be accepted well by a small group.  But just as with anyone else in the group, the leader would have to be aware of anything that may come up in the group as a result of his disability.  It may be absolutely fine, but just like with anyone else in the group, if behaviors arise that are too difficult for the group to handle, the leader will need to address those privately with that person and perhaps individual group members.  

Guide

Allen, I agree with both your points. The article has some excellent ideas for dealing with problem behaviors, as long as one focuses on behaviors rather than thinking about some small group members as problem people. And any good leader needs to help the group (often in private) deal with problem behaviors.

And to precherkid, Allen and I couldn't really figure out how to make this a dialogue, so we thought a couple comments which you have here would have to suffice. Thanks for raising the question.

I also think our use of normal and the value of group dynamaic's should be open to discussion. John the Baptist was considered to crazy. God demostrated his glory through some pretty disfuntional people. He also pointed out  the value of the individual in his parables. People who do not have direct experience with illness especially long term illness would be the benifactors of helping these least of these but do not understand the insight  and faith that can be nutured in illness. Profound things happen if you can maintain your hope and total dependence on God and his reprsentatives. A profound understanding  is revealed when you are humbled to point of survival. Don't feel bad because Most sick people have been on both sides of the fence. But learn to use and value them for what they are which is a potential gift from God. Remember the apostiles were the same as those crazy people on street corners to the religious leaders of the time.

Guide

Beautifully said. Thank you! Yes, God's grace tastes most sweet when we are the most thirsty for it, and people who have often thirsted for his grace have a wonderful gift to share with others.