Ignorance is no Excuse

I have no excuse. Last week I stood on my soap box and railed against the church at large—especially those churches or congregations that pulpit-shame the mentally ill. I have a darker side to my story. While I don’t have a pulpit from which to shame those struggling with a mental illness, I HAVE used Christianity to shame someone.

excuseEven worse, I shamed my own daughter. I have no excuse. Other than I had no idea. At the time, I didn’t understand that she suffered from something far more sinister than depression. I tried to encourage her with scripture, prayers, and cheery admonitions to surround herself with things that manifested the fruits of the spirit. As if that Pollyanna combination would lift her out of the pit on fairy wings.

It didn’t work. I sent her books—after all, when I struggled with depression, a book worked for me. Next, I frantically called all over trying to find a counselor for her. She agreed to go, but when it came down to actually making the appointment, she couldn’t get out of bed on time. She in Washington, I in North Carolina—we spent five tense weeks on the phone. Her desperate, me resentful that all of my sage advice did nothing to help.

I have no excuse. I wrote great blog posts, veiled exhortations that she turn to God to find help. When I returned home to Arizona, I immediately flew up to Washington to rescue her from a summer job she hated and to help her find help.

If in Doubt, Remain Silent

After three weeks of wrangling with insurance companies, treatment programs, and psychologists, I found a place for her. Secretly, I wondered if she had a faith issue. And by this time, she probably did, because God hadn’t stepped in in a mighty way and whisked her from the pit of depression.

Her story and her struggle have changed me. I realize now that ignorance is no excuse. As Christians, we need to look with compassion on everyone. We should walk in others’ shoes, not try to stuff someone’s feet (or experience) into ours.

We should walk in others’ shoes, not try to stuff someone’s feet (or experience) into ours. #mentalillness #faith Click To Tweet

The more I learn, the less I know. But I do know this. I need to arm myself with basic knowledge of the mental illnesses—after all 1 in 5 adults in the US suffer from a mental illness at any given time. With numbers like that, we have no excuse to pretend mental illness doesn’t exist.

Every time you get on an elevator with four other people, one of you probably suffers from a mental illness. But unlike a broken arm, no one knows. And because no one knows, the one who suffers feels isolated and alone (making matters worse).

Arm yourself with knowledge. Share your stories. Yes, prayer can help—in cancer cases and mental illness cases. But both of them require medical treatment in order to start on the road to recovery.

Don’t be like me. Learn to recognize the signs of mental illness. That way, if a family member (whether biological or congregational) seems to struggle, you can offer them more than an exhortation to pray harder.

Sarah,I have no excuse. I am sorry. But I can change. I can advocate. You are the bravest girl I know!


  1. Anita, this is such a beautiful post. We just don’t know what we don’t know. So, rather than speak in ignorance, we should learn to ask for the ability to see others through God’s eyes. I’m discovering that His view of people is often very different from my own. I so appreciate your transparency as you share a piece of your story here. You are an inspiration.

  2. Love that last sentence. And THIS: “Her story and her struggle have changed me. I realize now that ignorance is no excuse. As Christians, we need to look with compassion on everyone. We should walk in others’ shoes, not try to stuff someone’s feet (or experience) into ours.”

  3. The transparency and courage in this post are simply outstanding.

    I’d also exhort the church to try to understand combat-induced PTSD. It’s not something that needs ‘fixing’, because it’s a combination of traumatic experience that can’t be put aside and the loss of a sense of purpose and comradeship that can never be reproduced outside a military environment. It’s a yin and yang, and it changes a person…forever.

    #1 at FMF this week.


  4. So glad you were able to identify God’s place in her life and surround her with the help she needed.

    “The more I learn, the less I know.” Ecclesiastes tells us this about knowledge:

    “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The more we know, the more we are grieved. Our heart breaks and our sorrow is multiplied. These are convicting thoughts. We are drawn to wonder what God’s sorrow is considering all He knows about us…

    Thank you for sharing your testimony here. Coming over to visit your post from FMF #11 this week.

  5. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your story, Anita! This is such a difficult but important topic, and we have to have these conversations to learn from people’s experiences and to understand better how to help.
    Lesley recently posted…No Excuses!My Profile

  6. Anita,
    I suffer from mental illness as do others in my family including my children (it is genetic) for those who don’t know. I have walked in your shoes – trying to cheer one of my children up when I know darned well that when you’re in that state, Pollyanna platitudes just don’t cut it. Be easy on yourself….we all suffer from humanness. I’m sure your daughter will come to find, one day, that as parents we want to “fix” their suffering. I am learning to speak less and listen more….to validate vs. give advice. Easier said than done. Anita, we’re all in this together as we suffer. All we can do, is do our best and let God fill in the big gaps we leave. Prayers for your daughter, you, and your family. Together, let’s erase the stigma!!

    Bev xx

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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