Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention

Last fall, in A Community of Sufferers, I wrote this:
All of us are bound for suffering. As I spend time with those who are aware of their mortality, whether it's because of physical illness or depression or fear, it helps me to remember I am no different. At the moment, things might be better for me, but I am brother to those who suffer today. And someday, I will be in their shoes.

Can this make us more compassionate? It can if we remember our Lord Jesus, who came to share our suffering and who, in the end, promises us a forever springtime. We may not see it in this lifetime, but we know the promise of Jesus resurrected life! It will be ours because of His love!
One kind of suffering that is especially hard for us to deal with is what we often call "mental illness." Not only is mental illness difficult to deal with in ourselves or others, it's also difficult to know how to help those who are afflicted in this way. There are so many different ways people can suffer psychologically. How can help be found?

In recent weeks I've been doing some fairly in depth study. I've been looking at the three volume Clinical Handbook of Pastoral Counseling. Whew. It's very complex. There are a multitude of problems and symptoms and a boat load of theoretical and practical approaches to helping people. The whole thing makes me very thankful for loving care and prayer! For without direct supernatural, godly help, I think there is little hope of becoming whole and healed.

As I've been reading this evening, however, I found something that makes me think that there is something we can all do to help prevent one another from falling into deep psychological distress. In the section on "Christotherapy," Dr. Bernard Tyrrell claims that "the root source" of many mental and emotional troubles is a deep sense of being (1) utterly rejected or (2) being only partly loved, that is, being loved only when we do well. It would seem obvious then that we can at least sometimes be kept from falling into the psychological depths through consistently caring for one another as Jesus does, with patience, forgiveness and self-giving love.

Can love alone can bring health and healing to those who are already suffering deep psychological problems? Perhaps, at times, with lots of prayer and care, someone can be healed in this way. Others will need consistent medical and psychiatric care. All of us, however, can help one another, including our loved ones, from falling into despair. We can do this by looking to Jesus and how he loves and forgives us, and by reflect that love in our every day lives.

This kind of love does not just turn a blind eye toward irresponsible or evil behavior (in ourselves or others!)--but it does make a distinction--rejecting the sin but not the one who sins. For all of us are alike. All of us are deeply in need of the grace and mercy of God, and of that love reflected in our personal relationships. Having these needs met in our families and friendships will make us all more joyful and much healthier in every way.

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