We Can't Help Everyone

When it comes to people with mental illness, I have to recognize my limitations.
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Early in my life, there were countless times I felt left out. Even when I was included, I often felt like I didn’t fit in. Because of this, I am drawn to the needy and disenfranchised, naturally gravitating toward anyone in the room who seems lonely. Many women leaders experience this as well. In my own loneliness, it feels safer to be the one reaching out than the one waiting for an invitation. And in many cases, this allows God to use me to encourage others who also feel lonely.

I saw God do wonderful things in and through me when I reached out to someone who struggled financially and had a shaky family of origin. In spite of her troubles, she saw herself as a new person in Christ with a chance at a new beginning. She dove into studying the Bible and had a million questions for me about life, parenting, relationships, and other practical areas of life. She’d had some bad breaks early in life and needed a bit of direction to move ahead, and I got to see God work when I reached out to her.

But this compassion for the lonely and misfits has also brought me face to face with some deep needs and wounds, especially the complicated needs surrounding mental illness. The problem is that for most of my life, I didn’t understand mental illness. I didn’t know what it meant exactly or how to help. These people were indeed lonely, but they required more than simply someone to talk to.

Fortunately, the American church has grown a lot recently in understanding and ministering to people with mental illness. Today there is a growing number of helpful resources, including Troubled Minds, written by former Gifted for Leadership editor Amy Simpson. I highly recommend reading this book (there is also a related Bible study).

Before these incredible resources were available, though, I met a woman I’ll call Lenore. At first Lenore seemed exactly the kind of person I enjoyed meeting with. She was friendly and appeared anxious to study the Bible and grow in her relationship with Christ. But after we’d been meeting for about a month, something shifted. I began to see a deep-seated anger toward God that spewed out on me and others. At first it was rather mild as she admitted her frustrations with a passage of Scripture or with another person at church. Soon, however, it escalated into out-of-control rage.

The first time it escalated to this level, I was talking to her on the phone. Someone had ticked her off, so she called me and began screaming at the top of her lungs. I was alarmed, but I tried to stay on the phone with her to calm her down. When it happened again the next day, however, I firmly told her I was going to hang up and that she could call me back when she had calmed down. She continued to scream as I put the phone down, and she called me back the next day to repeat the scenario. After that, I refused to take her calls. A little while later, I heard she was arrested for pushing a store clerk through a window.

March21, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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