Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mental Illness and Poverty of Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)
This week the local pastors met for our annual breakfast with deputies from the Wright and Meeker County sheriff's departments. We meet monthly with various community professionals in order to get to know one another and listen to what they are observing in the area, ask how we can help, and then pray for them as we are able.

When we meet with the deputies they let us know about issues they are encountering with some frequency. Drug and alcohol abuse comes up often--but this year, for the first time, they mentioned mental illness.  As I recall, this came up in regard to school children and their families. 

As I looked at the scriptures many churches will be reading for tomorrow, with the verse about the "poor in spirit" and the rest of the beatitudes, I thought to myself, that certainly describes those who know what mental illness is like:
Blessed are the poor in spirit...
Blessed are those who mourn...
Blessed are the meek...
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...
In the last 24 years, serving as a pastor, and before that as I worked in health care, I've seen many examples of how people suffer in this way.  In some ways mental illness is harder to deal with than physical illness.  People feel ashamed or guilty when they or their loved ones are afflicted with mental illness (whether it's officially diagnosed or not).  Some unfortunately think the mentally ill are "evil" or beyond hope.  The truth is, there is much that can be done to help us and those we love whether illness is mental or physical.  And, not only that, if we can see mental illness as one way we are, indeed, "poor in spirit," some of the fear can be removed and replaced by love.

In R.C.H. Lenski's 1961 commentary on the book of Matthew, we find this explanation of the words "poor in spirit."  I certainly can see how the mentally ill fit this description:
[Being "poor in spirit"] is the attitude that grows out of the profound realization of utter helplessness and beggary as far as any ability or possession of self are concerned. These wretched beggars bring absolutely nothing to God but their complete emptiness and need and stoop in the dust for pure grace and mercy only." (p. 184)
How can we stand side by side all those who are poor in spirit, including the mentally ill?  This certainly is a challenge!  So often there is a sense of being out of control, or trying desperately to stay in control, or a sense of just wanting to give in to despair.  Christians usually don't know what to do, and this little discussion here isn't going to be a lot of help.  I have found quite a bit of help on line.  Let me know if you have specific questions and maybe I can help direct you to someone who knows more than I do.

One thing I can share right now is the work of Bryan Lowe, a pastor who "serves the Lord Jesus by serving mentally ill believers."   I stumbled on his blog today and it looks pretty good.  You can find it at

The following was his first post, published August 26, 2009--
Loved, but Broken

For everyone who loves Jesus, but has had an experience of terrible loss, sickness or the death of a loved one…this blog is for you. I am evangelical, a pastor and a teacher at a Bible institute. I am also Bipolar I, with rapid-cycling (and a bit of paranoia thrown in, as if I didn’t have enough). I have been hospitalized in mental hospitals on ten different occasions. But, I love Jesus more than anything. And I’ve been told by many, that He loves me as well.

I have experienced the darkest and most difficult depressions. There are some days I could not get out of bed, shower or even eat. For this and the Bipolar I take lithium, Zoloft, Seroquel, and Provigil.

This blog is for the mentally ill believer, the terminally ill, and all who are confused and dismayed by their own brokenness. The feeble, lame, sick, blind and mentally ill have not always been welcome in the Church. But, I’m convinced that it has been the churches’ loss.

The Church needs us, whether it realizes it or not. It is as broken people that we model our fallenness as the paradigm to intimacy with Jesus. It never has been about our giftedness, but intimacy. We are a reminder, a testimony of God’s grace giving His power to the weak and despised.
We are all broken in one way or another.  According to Jesus' words about the "poor in spirit" being blessed, that's actually a good thing.  I encourage you to take a look at some of Pastor Bryan's work, and let's hold one another close in our hearts and even closer in prayer.  We all have times when stress or grief or anxiety comes on like a flood.  Let's understand, for ourselves and for others, that we are not "lost" when we are broken.  We are loved just as we are.

Reflecting on these things, I've decided to stay in "Psychology and the Church" seminar, as long as it seems wise to do so.  Let me know if there are any questions I can seek an answer for, or if you just need a listening ear.

Praying the peace of Jesus for you tonight.  

Pastor Steve

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