Even as I write a blog about Christians learning how to minister to people with mental illness, I am faced with a dilemma of my own about how to respond to someone who is suffering.
I argue that mental illness is just as physiological as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, and yet it is so vastly different and can be so difficult to navigate. It is often much easier to know how to handle a purely physical ailment, but that is not always the case with a brain disease. I know a woman who clearly has serious mental health problems, and I don’t think anyone in her church would argue against that. A life of childhood neglect and abuse has also left her deeply wounded and troubled. Her kind and giving spirit at first helped to build a team of support, but now that team is falling apart.
People are just people, whether they’re sick or not. Mentally ill people make good choices and bad choices just like healthy people do (when they’re in the right state to do so), and this woman has made bad choice after bad choice, and it has been maddening for the people who care about her. At times, she has used her problems as an excuse not to do some very important things, and she has used others’ compassion to get out of taking care of herself when she was well enough to do so.
What do you do?
Taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves is the church’s job. Enabling people and helping people to remain stuck is another matter, and it doesn’t help anyone. If someone is capable of standing on their own, we should help them do so. At some point, though, if you’re only being used and manipulated, you have to back off…for your own sake, and for the sake of that person. But how do you know when someone genuinely needs help again? Users and abusers cry wolf so often, people start to tune out, and that’s what happened to this acquaintance of mine.
This person came to me several weeks ago wanting to talk about the dissolution of her support system. I’ll be honest – it was very hard for me to listen, because I see both sides of the coin. She is afraid that she is now alone in her fight, and yet I understand why everyone has taken one giant step away from her. Everyone’s concerns are legitimate in this situation, and my heart breaks for both sides.
No one can be God to another person, and anyone who looks to another human being to be God is going to be sorely disappointed, and left even more wounded than they were when they started.