Yes, in the past few months I've had a few dust-ups with folks at church that have not understood our situation and have said things that left me feeling more victimized than before. No one does these things on purpose but it does stem from a lack of understanding, forethought and to some degree, a lack of compassion (GASP! I know, right? Christians that aren't compassionate. Go figure).
The bottom line is, there isn't a whole lot of discussion by clergy about mental health illness and what scripture and God have to say about it. Occasionally discussing the scripture in which the mentally ill man was delivered of his affliction by exorcism, his legion of demons being cast into pigs that ran off a cliff is the only exception. But for the uninformed parishioners, this perpetuates the belief that mental illness is religiously help able and that the afflicted can prevent their illness by not allowing themselves to be possessed.
There also seems to be very little education for clergy about mental illness, particularly in nondenominational congregations. Thus the underlings in a church congregation like deacons, elders, superintendents, etc., are also uninformed of the devastating nature of such illnesses on a family and the staggering toll it has on the caregivers. All of this leaves sunday school teachers who are volunteers, woefully unprepared.
Let me restate succinctly.
There is NO education for churches about how to manage delayed, mentally ill or dually diagnosed people within a congregation.
And yet, the church is the most common source of comfort for individuals whose lives are altered by mental illness, developmental delay and other such naturally occurring afflictions of the body and mind. Even more so for the adoptive families that are lead to adopt by "God" only to find their lives turned upside down by their children. Imagine then how hard it is to voice to church family that some of your child's afflictions stem from the consequences of trauma they endured by the wayward first parents that abused them, these would be afflictions that ARE preventable. Pour some acid in the mix when you acknowledge that these adoptive parents were ENCOURAGED, PRAYED FOR, SUPPORTED and PRAISED initially by their church families for taking on such a God-ordained task of parenting "orphaned" children only to later find that this same church family falls strangely silent and invisible when the rubber meets the road after the adoptions are finalized. The occasional "God won't give you more than you can handle" nauseating rhetoric is all they are equipped to offer because it is the only truth they are taught from the pulpit: be a good person and God will bless you. Be a bad person and you'll have a trial to learn from. Fill the coffers and you'll be blessed financially. Pray daily and read the Bible and God will give you the strength to see you through.
You can't really blame churches then for their ignorance but man, it sucks giant, rancid ostrich eggs!
I was in a position of leadership at a church for many years. In all the "training" classes I sat through, there was not one lesson on how to assist, comfort or address persons with disabilities or their families. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the general consensus was that such persons fell into hardships by their own devices. After all, there are social agencies that can help them.
Oh, the irony of life ...
Last week I had the occasion to attend a craft/quilter group at a local baptist church. This group of women make crafts, projects and other items as a way to comfort, encourage or edify other individuals on hard times both in the church and in the community. As the ladies gabbed, one woman mentioned how ill-equipped she was to manage an autistic toddler in the nursery the previous week. Her words reiterate my concerns, "I've done toddler nursery for 11 years. I love doing it but I'm not prepared to manage an autistic child. I feel really bad for his mom, I do, but that little boy was a handful! I don't know how to handle that. His mother needs to be able to attend church and this little boy should be able to hear the word of God but I'm just not prepared for that."
I could hear the frustration in her voice and my own frustration rising within me. It's harsh to hear the words of someone whose life has been unaffected by impairments when my life revolves around it. It's hard to know that her concerns are as valid as mine but the fact remains, churches are not prepared for the impaired person and impaired persons and their families have the right to feel welcome and comforted by attending church.
Therefore I take the path of least resistance and claim feeling ill (really, I DON'T feel the best, honest) so I don't have to attend church and can avoid the issue entirely. Yet it nags me because I was raised to believe in Christ and I personally accept the Apostle's Creed. So I dig a little deeper and come up with this second truth about church:
How does God fit into the picture when I have served Him according to the scriptures with my whole heart, striving to abide by the ten commandments and seeking to do God's will and still, I suffer so much?
The fact is, church has sold us a bill of goods. The quote at the top of this blog says the truth, the truth that church doesn't preach, especially the high-faluttin'-lovey-dovey-God-will-bless-you-bogus-american-church philosophy preached with veracity for the last twenty years. if you love God and obey his commands He will bless you! then they pull into the church parking lots in $80,000 SUVs wearing $300 designer shoes saying, "look how God has blessed me!" And worse yet, when your life hits the dirt it is assumed you have sinned or the one that really chaps my butt, that "God is teaching you through this trial." and anyway, God won't give you more than you can handle.
Oh. How this crap ticks me off. The truth is, the only freedom we are promised in scripture is freedom from the wages of sin and death and that freedom is given only to those who choose Christ and live by his holy commands accepting the truth that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that the blood of Christ is the only redemption.
Why does one person have a lovely life while another struggles all the days of his life? There is no answer on earth and I doubt God will see the need to supply an answer when we are finally in his midst.
So hear this.
I'm a christian.
I love God.
I do not understand his ways.
I suffer daily.
My family suffers daily.
We have done nothing to deserve this suffering beyond being human and being born into a sinful world.
We are not paying a consequence.
We are not learning something.
This is not a trial that God is going to bring us through, it's our life. Every day.
We are not handling it.
My children are not impaired because it is a consequence for a sin. They're impaired because that's life, that's the natural decay of human DNA.
My family has a voice that can not be squelched by ridiculous religious rhetoric.
God doesn't think I'm so much better and stronger than others that they get to have a pretty life and I get to struggle because if that's true, then the people with pretty lives are pathetic, pitiful, wretches. How do you like THEM apples?
And furthermore, suffering is relative. What do American Christians have to say about the intense, horrendous suffering around the WORLD?!? Oh yeah, probably that those countries deserve it for worshiping false gods.
wasn't Christ's blood for EVERYONE?
So why do I play hooky from church after 36 years of Christian living?
Because it's bunk. The American Christian church is a pedagogical human ideal that leaves no room for the have-not, down-and-out, pitiful wretches for whom Christ descended to earth to save.