Loving someone who has a mental illness often means struggling with despair. You may live with unpredictable and frightening events. You may struggle with a different kind of grief … the loss of a person who is still alive.
People who have a relationship with Jesus have a great advantage in dealing with this situation. Jesus invites His own not only to trust him, but to abide in Him. He invites us to stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and find His light instead.
As caregivers for the mentally ill, we frequently feel powerless. This is the condition needed to feel the presence of God: to be empty and powerless, as powerless as the crucified Christ appeared on the cross. So in some ways, this situation does allow us to more easily abide in the Lord.
This summer I went to a monastery for a silent retreat to see what God had for me in increasing my relationship with Him. In the monastery library, I found an old book called “Practicing the Prayer of Presence” by Adrian van Kaan and Susan Muto.
They wrote: “For it is in the misery of our powerlessness that we call down upon ourselves and others the Infinite Glory and Mercy of God.”
Jesus invites us to abide in Him while He abides in us. Jesus spoke about this in John 17: 25-26 in his prayer for believers at the Last Supper.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
Then again in John 15:4-5:
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 14:20: 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
God dwells within us. But we also dwell with our own thoughts, fears, emotions and concerns.
Here’s some good news: Your mind is not all there is to you. Your thoughts are just thoughts. No matter how loud, they are not masters, giving orders that have to be obeyed.
Even better, if we acknowledge our negative thoughts, feelings and body sensations, we prevent the mind from spiraling into an aversion. Fighting and flaying about in our own mind does not make an environment where the Prince of Peace can abide.
Brooding about why things happen and worrying about what’s likely to happen next … focusing on anxiety, tiredness, etc., actually strengthens the negative as it keeps you focused on fear rather than the reality of God’s desire to be present with you.
Next time: How Christian meditation and mindfulness can help.