alpha invite

Ask Anything

Loving Someone With Mental Illness is a support group for friends and families of those with severe and persistent mental illness. Meeting twice a month on Zoom, we share our stories, learn more about dealing with mental illness and pray together.

During October and November 2022, we are holding a series of conversations about things we question in our lives. This is a judgment-free space to connect and process questions about things, such as “Why did God allow my loved one to get sick?” and “Does God heal?” These discussions are part of our Alpha series.

Here’s a video about the Alpha series.

If you’d like to join us at Loving Someone With Mental Illness, contact karentwinem@gmail.com.

This image of sunlight coming through clouds illustrates God talking to us.

Talking and Listening to God

“Developing a conversational relationship with God” is the subtitle of Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God.” Willard was a philosopher and respected Christian “teacher to the teachers” who went to be with Jesus in 2013.

Many of us who love someone with mental illness would like to speak with God. We want answers. And often we want direction.

Willard believed that God still speaks today. In fact, hearing God’s voice fits into the larger context of walking in a close friendship with him.

There is one caution: God speaks mostly to people who obey His teachings and want to do His will. Again: You need to be willing to do what God says before you are likely to hear his voice speaking to you.

As Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Abiding in Jesus minute by minute through Christian mindfulness puts us in a position to hear God specifying His will. We become as Willard wrote “someone who leads the kind of life demonstrated in the Bible: a life of personal, intelligent interaction with God.”

Feasting on God’s word

The Bible fixes the boundaries of everything that God will say to humankind, Willard wrote. Indeed, God speaks most often during Bible reading and study. Have you ever had a verse jump off the page to you, even though you’ve read it many times? That is God speaking.

But this can also happen while listening to another person, whether it be a sermon or a conversation. I also believe that synchronicity can point the way to a message. If you hear the same verse repeatedly … in Bible study, in a sermon and in a book you’re reading … it may be God emphasizing something to you.

God also speaks through dreams, visions and events. But most of the time he speaks through a small, still voice that can only be heard in quiet. God’s voice comes in a spirit of peace, joy and good will. So God’s voice sounds like Jesus. And we can only know what Jesus sounds like through Bible study.

Seven steps toward hearing God

This summary may help you as you seek to hear God’s voice.

  1. Begin with a prayer in Jesus’ name for protection from evil influences.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to listen well.
  3. Remain alert.
  4. Reject anything that is contrary to Biblical truth.
  5. Feel welcome to write down the thoughts that come for further study.
  6. Understand that real communications from God are:
    • Biblically sound
    • Glorify God
    • Advance the kingdom
    • Help people
    • Help you to grow spiritually
  7. Thank God for the time together.

Walking with God in Christian mindfulness is a sweet time of communion. We should expect that God will help us learn what we should know and what we should do.

treasure in darkness

Discover Treasure in the Darkness

Several years ago, I went to a retreat for mothers with children who have mental illness at Saddleback Church’s retreat center. Rick and Kay Warren, Saddleback’s founders and senior pastors, know the struggle of parents who have a child with mental illness in an intimate and devastating way. Their son struggled for many years before the illness took his life.

Kay Warren, who led the retreat, told a story about having a dark, no-sleep night. She went downstairs to the office and looked up all the references to dark or darkness in the Bible. She found 25 pages of them in Psalms alone.  When she read this passage, she felt the Lord speaking to her.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.”

Isaiah 45:3 (NRSV)

This verse has haunted me since. Is it possible that those of us who love someone with mental illness can find treasures of darkness? I studied the verse more, and it gave me even more comfort.

The verse is part of a prophecy, 210 years before the fact, about Cyrus, who defeated Babylon and was instrumental in allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. God is talking about treasures of gold and silver that had been buried underground in Babylon.

So more than 200 years later, someone showed the book of Isaiah to Cyrus. He saw his own name and his actions predicted in it. Cyrus understood that his victory and these buried treasures came to him because of the Hebrew God. He decided to release the Hebrews because of it.

Why did God do this for Cyrus? He was a pagan. Some historians of the time wrote that he was haughty and cruel.  This much is implied: Cyrus may have undertaken his campaign of wars for his own motives, but God gave him great success so that the God of Israel could be glorified and the will of God regarding the captive Jews carried out.  When Cyrus read the prophecy, he knew that the Lord, the God of Israel called him by name.

God has called us by name as well. As our walk is deepened with Jesus, our character is deepened. In our situation, the sorrow is too deep for us to fake a relationship with God anymore.

From the Bible we know that not everything that happens in this broken world is God’s will. Just listen to Jesus in Matthew 23:37:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

But, as with Cyrus, God can work in difficult situations. God has hidden treasures in the darkness of suffering. Each of us has to ask ourselves: Will I surrender myself to God in the darkness? Will I listen?

“These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold … and your faith is more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tired by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)

As we know from the Bible, every Christian experiences trouble. The question is how we respond. Sometimes we envy Christians who don’t seem to suffer much. But Scripture and observation can tell us that those Christians may not learn to depend on God in a deep way (2 Corinthians 1:9). Their faith may be shallow, and their ministry skills less developed. Pain produces love in a Christian who is filled with God’s grace.

God brings extensive blessings on those of us who suffer much. Bitter blessings, to be sure. But we learn so much about how God feels about his children. We know that God gives us joy and treasure, even in deep darkness.

During the retreat, Kay Warren pointed out that enemy of our souls wants to separate us from intimacy with God. Satan wants us to focus on our pain, disappointments, cynicism and troubles, in the night especially. He wants us to dwell on the hurt and to believe that God is not there for us.

When this happens, people run from Jesus. And some never find him. I have seen first-hand the people in our situation who rely on themselves and do not have a relationship with the Lord. It isn’t pretty.

So what is the reality of our situation? It is that our child is sick and God is present. We don’t know why or how it will all work out. We don’t know the eternal plan. If God tried to tell us about it, it would be like a person talking to an ant. It’s just not possible for the ant to understand.

We truly do not know the reality of our situation and how God is working in it. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV), “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  1 Cor. 13:12 (NIV)

We do need to reject the voice of the enemy and establish even deeper intimacy with God. We can gather the buried treasures in the darkness.  I think these treasures may be the thing that Jesus called “living water.” God has put it there for us so that we have what we need to survive and thrive.

Bring your grief and loss, your hopes and dreams, to Jesus in prayer. Spend as much time with Him as you can. As James writes, “Come close to God, and he will come close to you.” God is hurting with you over your loved one’s mental illness. He is inviting you to come, rest in His presence and drink the living water and other treasures of the darkness.

To be in God’s presence, we need to be accessible (or present), responsive and engaged. You can use the acronym ARE to check in on yourself. This intimacy with God will carry you, and even give you joy and peace.

God invites us to pray for healing of our loved one, but we must understand that some other plan may be operating that we don’t get to know about. Kay Warren pointed out that the focus of our intimacy with God cannot be on the health of our children. What has to carry us is our intimacy with God. Your desire for God has to be great, whether or not you are suffering. Frankly, the only way to do that is to ask for the graces and the treasure necessary.

“Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.”

Isaiah 50:10 (NIV)

Loving Someone With Mental Illness Support Group

Loving Someone With Mental Illness is a Vineyard Columbus support group that’s open to all. We meet at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on the first and third Thursdays on Zoom. Meetings last about one hour.

We share, have a brief teaching and pray for each other. The conversation is confidential. The teachings include practical information about helping loved ones with mental illness. We also include faith-based teachings on how to walk with Jesus through this difficult situation.

As leaders of the group, my husband and I have loved ones who have diagnosed mental illnesses. The group has been in existence for more than 10 years. You are welcome to attend regularly or whenever you feel the need.

To obtain the Zoom information, feel welcome to email karentwinem@gmail.com

15 Ways to Abide With Jesus

Want to enjoy the presence of Jesus in your life as a caregiver?  Here’s 15 steps to help you get there.

  1. Try a daily prayer of surrender. “Today, this is Your day… Today, I am Yours… May Your Spirit lead, guide and prompt me throughout my day… May I be sensitive to Your prompting and respond accordingly… Today, I surrender my life to You…
  2. Read a short section of Scripture or a devotional book as often as you eat.
  3. Pray Bible verses. Even if it’s just a few verses, pray the Bible back to God.  This is easier if you put up Bible verses around the house. That can be in framed calligraphy, a perpetual calendar of Biblical thoughts or simple Post-it notes.
  4. Be in the day with a plan and the willingness to disregard the plan to respond to what God allows.
  5. Keep focused on what you are doing. When you walk with Jesus, everything you do can be a prayer. This is where the practice of Christian mindfulness comes in.
  6. Listen to yourself and be compassionate. Overcoming restlessness and the need to focus on the trivial to avoid the pain of grief is a problem that I have, and I think many others who are caregivers of people with mental illness have as well. The Three Things exercise can help you to focus your attention, reduce restlessness and add calm: Stretch or drink some water. Note three things you see, three thinks you hear and three feelings you have. 
  7. Refocus during transitions. Try to center yourself as you move from place to place, from event to event. You can say:  I am calm, peaceful and aware of the presence of God as I enter this home/door/time/event.
  8. Carry on a conversation with God and try to make it continual.
  9. When you run out of words, say the Jesus prayer. Using a “Jesus” prayer when you need to calm down or you are in a situation in which you would just look at your phone helps. You can pray “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over.  I use “Come Holy Spirit.”  It’s also a nice way to go to sleep at night.
  10. Stop to praise God
  11. Be a “yes” to all that is in God and to each circumstance and person who comes into our lives. Have faith that God is at work even in horrible circumstances. We should look at all circumstances, environments, and even all persons as coming through God’s hands so we can serve Him. This is the “good” that all things work for as mentioned in Romans 8:28: 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Acceptance of this kind makes caregiving less depleting and exhausting.It’s so challenging, but you can accept the reality of the circumstance and not argue in your mind that it should be different.  Second, you also need listen to yourself rather than taking a treat (food, a drink or a nap). Acceptance is not the same as being happy in sad circumstances. You cannot pretend everything is fine, because your mind knows it’s not. Accepting that everything is not fine, but it is impossible for you to change allows you to offer more empathy without draining excessive energy. We are not in heaven yet, and bad things happen in a fallen world.  God is still present and wants to abide in you.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.  Follow an energy draining situation with an energy builder such as reading, meditation, pray, eating something healthy and tasty.
  12. In everything give thanks
  13. Think on these things. Philippians 4:8:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. I made up a phrase to help me remember this: The normal real person likes an excellent pizza. (true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy).  This helps me to do a thought check when I seem to be on the wrong track.
  14. Give yourself a GIFT list.The GIFT list idea originated with Pam Young and Peggy Jones, and I adapted it to give myself something else to think about. I keep the daily list with my to-dos. GIFT stands for: Grace, Imagination, Focus and Thanksgiving.  I ask for a Grace from the list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patients, kindness, goodness, righteousness, gentleness and self-control). For Imagination, I pick a virtue and image how I could incorporate that virtue into my day.  Focus is the day’s predominate activities.  (Attending meetings, writing, planning, cleaning, making things, running errands, enjoying the family, taking a Sabbath, etc.)  And Thanksgiving is a gratitude list I fill out as the day goes on.  When my mind goes on a tear, I deliberately turn it back to the Grace, Imagination or Focus of the day.
  15. Summon up your courage and pray the welcoming prayer. This is the scariest prayer I’ve ever prayed: Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control.  I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.  I open t the love and presence of God and God’s action within. 

This practice of the presence of God, somewhat difficult in the beginning, when practiced faithfully, secretly brings about marvelous effects in the soul, draws down the abundance of God’s grace upon it, and leads it imperceptibly to this simple awareness, to this loving view of God present everywhere, which is the holiest, the surest, the easiest, and the most efficacious form of prayer. People who lean on Jesus know things that other people don’t know.

 

The Aim of Christian Meditation and Mindfulness

The prayer of the presence of Jesus and Christian mindfulness are two parts of a whole:  the experience of abiding in Jesus.

In their book “Practicing the Prayer of Presence,”  Adrian van Kaan and Susan Muto wrote:  “The best way to cope with suffering is not stoic indifference or pessimistic complaints, but constant conversation with God in all matters, great or small, at all times and in all places.

“A deeper way of learning to pray is to try to live in the presence of God. This is the beginning of always praying as the Gospels and St. Paul recommend. We try in a relaxed way to become aware of His Presence all the time we are awake. We need the grace of quiet concentration and perseverance to develop this habit.

“If we practice the prayer of Presence, we will be better able to check our speech.  Is it agitated, restless, disquieted?  Or is it calm, deliberate and quietly rooted in Christ, who is our Way, Truth and Life?”

What they are talking about has similarities to secular meditation and mindfulness.  But it is quite different.  What the world calls meditation is just a preliminary step that Christians call “recollection” exercises.  It is necessary to bring our spirit together again in inner stillness if we want to be fully present to the Lord.

The aim of Christian mindfulness meditation is:

  • To make our minds familiar with the truths of God.
  • To dwell on those truths.
  • To apply the insights we receive to our lives.

One of the reasons that mindfulness is a popular today is that research shows that it helps to reduce stress and even pain.  Mindfulness can release the mind from an overgeneralized state.  It relieves the automatic brooding, avoidant mind.  Loving kindness meditation and kindness to one’s self also help to decrease the fears that come from feeling responsible when anything goes wrong.  Being overly responsible is an issue I have.

Abiding in the Lord has elements of this mindfulness: seeking to concentrate on the present moment.  “The day’s own trouble is sufficient for the day,” as Jesus said. But it goes beyond that to recognize that God is present in the here and now.  God is here.  God is now.

The condition to receive the presence of God is emptiness.  We must empty ourselves inwardly of all that is not God, including distraction, agitation, fear and nervous tension.  All must give way to the flow of quiet presence.

The person who is experienced with this kind of effort is not a person whose mind does not wander.  Everyone’s mind wanders.  The experienced person is someone who gets very used to beginning again and again and again.

A Caregiver’s Secret Weapon: Abiding in God

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:

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.

“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 14:2020 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.