A Faithful Response to Mental Illness

I was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 1991. I told only my wife and one trusted friend. Four years later I had a manic/psychotic episode that essentially made it necessary for me to tell the members of the congregation I was serving. By God's grace, they responded with amazing love and tremendous support. I was given unlimited paid leave and told I could resume my work whenever I was ready. Women provided meals and childcare so my wife could visit me. An offering was taken to pay off the gigantic cost of health care. On the flip side, both my therapist and psychiatrist respected my faith and the role it played to promote healing in my life. They appreciated that I did not use my faith as an excuse to refuse medical treatment. They saw the two working hand-in-hand to guide me towards well-being. Certainly, there were [...]

A Faithful Response to Mental Illness 2017-08-17T13:17:18+00:00

Delight in Disorder: My Story, My Message, My Mission

My Story In 1995, I was a young, ambitious pastor serving a small village church.  One Sunday, I delivered a sermon on human illness and divine healing in which I shared these words: When we become ill, it is important to listen to our bodies and pray that God help us make necessary changes. Our ailments may be blessings in disguise. We may be expecting too much from ourselves, or avoiding things we need to face. As we listen to our bodies, talk and reflect with others, and pray together, we can gain spiritual insight which will help us live healthier, more productive, more abundant lives. The next day, I was in the seclusion room of a psychiatric hospital. I was told I had bipolar disorder, that I would never work as a pastor again, that my marriage would likely end, and that I would spend the rest of [...]

Delight in Disorder: My Story, My Message, My Mission 2017-08-28T20:14:23+00:00

Enemies Sprouting Like Mushrooms

In The Message, Eugene Peterson calls Psalm 3 – “A David Psalm, when he escaped for his life from Absalom, his Son.” The words that follow reveal a hunted poet king, surrounded and scared. God! Look! Enemies past counting! Enemies sprouting like mushrooms, Mobs of them all around me, roaring their mockery: “Hah! No help for him from God!” (vv. 1-2) David sees no escape from sure defeat, certain death. This does not keep him from crying out to God – in fact, it motivates him all the more to do so. He lifts up to God the torturing taunts of his enemies and then reminds himself just Who it is he’s talking to – But you, God, shield me on all sides; You ground my feet, you lift my head high; With all my might I shout up to God; His answers thunder from the holy mountain. (vv. 3-4) [...]

Enemies Sprouting Like Mushrooms 2017-06-26T22:36:53+00:00

Van Gogh & Me: Pursuing Our Vocations

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh is not only a fascinating art history, it is also the story of a spiritual quest by two brothers who love each other dearly. Van Gogh originally set out to follow in his father's footsteps as a pastor, but for reasons that are only somewhat revealed, it didn't work out.  During this period of preparation for ministry, Van Gogh describes a foreboding sense - These are really happy days I spend here, but still it is a happiness and quiet which I do not quite trust.  Man is not easily content: now he finds things too easy and then again he is not contented enough. Though not terribly dissatisfied, Van Gogh senses something is missing.  Something is not quite right.  He wonders if this "dis-ease" could have a spiritual basis. There may be a time in life when one is tired of everything [...]

Van Gogh & Me: Pursuing Our Vocations 2017-06-12T17:29:35+00:00

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness”

Over this past weekend, I posted a piece ("Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness") on a Facebook page for mental health advocates. I posed the question, "I am a former pastor who has wrestled for over 20 years with bipolar 1. Here is part of my story. I would love to hear from you on how faith has impacted your mental illness, or, how mental illness has impacted your faith." The responses were very thoughtful and uplifting: "The only way I became as stable as I'm proud to say I am today is because of the right meds, a good therapist & learning to have a deep intimate relationship with Jesus. Of these three things I believe my faith is the strongest saving grace for me." "I pray that more people with understanding of mental illness will enter the ministry on their behalf. I watched my son pray for and [...]

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness” 2017-06-12T17:27:57+00:00

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness

How could I serve in pastoral ministry with a serious mental illness? How could someone riding manic highs dipping to deadly lows promote stable growth for a congregation? How could someone who hears voices pretending to be God presume to interpret God’s Word?   How could I serve as a pastor with bipolar disorder? These questions stir my mind and stab my heart. My mind says yes -- I served as a pastor battling bipolar for almost two decades, a good dozen of which were quite fruitful. My heart grieves that my illness has progressed such that I am now deemed disabled from service. The story I want to share here is not what led to my decline but what, by the grace of God and with the help of the church, allowed me to flourish as a pastor with a serious mental illness. Persistent Prayer Partners I fell into the [...]

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness 2017-05-30T15:07:51+00:00