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!