Heavy Burdened: Mental Illness

Good morning. Usually, I stand before you as a singer. Music conveys so much. Today, I hope my story will be equal to the task.  

 Isaiah 9: 1-4 “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”    

 Today’s scripture from Isaiah is speaking about a long-standing domination of the tribes of Israel by foreign states.  Because of their location, they were especially vulnerable to attack. Both were eventually taken into captivity and their histories were that of vulnerability, subjection and oppression.  It was a land of deep darkness for these conquered people.  A land of brutality…. of hunger…of poverty.  A land seemingly without hope.   

 Amid this world of oppressive powers…. will come a shining light.  This light does not come from the oppressive powers, nor from the efforts of the oppressed people…but God alone is the deliverer of this agent of light… who will be at work in the world. God will be the people’s hope. God will make a way out of no way.   

 Isaiah is foretelling of the “great light” to come into the world.  For in the very next verse in Isaiah 9:5…he says…. “For a child in born to us, a son is given us; upon his should dominion rests.  They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.  

 Now isn’t that how our Great God works?  In the backdrop of darkness… an “inbreaking” of light.  Look at Genesis for example… for God said, “Let there be light… And God saw that it was good.” (Gen 1:14,18)  

 The same light shone when Moses saw the burning bush. When Moses approaches the bush, the voice of God calls out to him to remove his sandals in the presence of the holy ground.  God explains to Moses that he has a plan to use Moses to save the Israelites from the darkness of slavery in Egypt. God continually uses the darkest plights of the human existence as a backdrop to set the stage for God’s inbreaking.  God’s power illustrated by the contrasting of light and dark.   

 I am here to bear witness to a land of deep darkness that is in our lives today.  A people that are oppressed and looking for a light shining in the dark. I am talking about the land of mental illness.   

 I found myself in this land when I was in 3rd grade. I was eight years old when I saw my mom in the garage with the car running. I ran and got my neighbor and my mom was sent away to get help. I remember all the lights and sirens of the fire engine and the police cars and the ambulance.     

 My father came home later that day….and sat down with me on our front porch.  “Ann…..your mom tried to kill herself today.  She is depressed, and I don’t know why.  But Ann….I will never leave you like that.  She is going to be in the hospital for a while.  I don’t know how long for. But we will get through this.”     

 When my mom came home, she was a different person. The medication made her quieter. The side-effects gave her strange movements. Her hands would shake. She would stomp her feet when sitting.   

 I felt shunned by my community. Kids on my street teased me about my mom. We weren’t invited to the social gatherings. I recall my mother being kept at arm’s length by most of the neighbors.  My father tried his best to orchestrate social activities that would create inclusion, but the stigma was entrenched.    

 What pushed them away was certainly fear. They didn’t know how to navigate this quiet, twitching person. They didn’t know how to speak about it, so the social stigma grew and it made everyone less healthy.   

 My mother had a habit of reaching out to the neighbors by calling them in the morning.  She longed to belong; to have a tribe of women in her life.  It was not to be.  The isolation continued.  

 I would like to think that modern medicine has advanced. I wish my mom had better meds. I wish my mom had a better community.  

 I share this story to tell you what saved me. I struggle with my own mental health journey. This community sure has helped. Your presence. Your love. How you let me sing for you in the choir and as a soloist means so much to me. You don’t have to be my counselor or anyone with mental health. That’s not your job.     

 The gift of your presence.  Of being fully present.  Be the light and reflect that which they  

 cannot see in themselves at that moment.  Maybe your light will save a life in their darkest moment of  despair.  

 God’s inbreaking comes through your presence. You bringing Christ into this weary world.  Christ way…is way, the truth and the life.  Christ is great light that Isaiah speaks of and his teachings are the key to lighting the way to a kinder, more compassionate…inclusive world.   

 I am here before you today as a member of this church…giving testimony to the truth and harm of stigma towards those with mental illness.  The pain is palpable.   I am sure, there are people in this congregation who are afraid to open up about their struggles with mental health due to the stigma that comes along with it. People are afraid to be vulnerable about their internal pain…yet it is our ability to be vulnerable that allows us to overcome stigma and heal.  

 I think… that we want to label and identify people in their walks of life and what they believe in. We like to be around people who are like us…it’s just human nature.  Remember in jr high school in the cafeteria?  When the cheerleaders sat together…and all the athletes sat together…and all the band members sat together?  We still do it…in our churches and in our communities.  I believe that Jesus came to overturn all of those tables.   

 When you think about God’s table…remember that it is not ours to choose who can sit at it.  The body of Christ is very diverse…it’s not our party and we do not get to choose who is invited.  It is God’s table and it is such a privilege that we get an invitation to feast on the gift of salvation.  Let’s not spend our short, beautiful lives, spending time trying to sit next to people just like us.  That would miss Christ’s point entirely.  

If I had not gone down this road of mental illness in my life, I wouldn’t have the insight to the pain that humans can experience.  My heart has been cracked open and compassion flows out.   

 All of this pain, has resulted in the inbreaking of JOY…into my life.  That is my “inbreaking of God”. Joy.   It has taught me that there is a story behind every pair of eyes and  truly…everyone of us…has a longing to belong.    

   The WISE TEAM is attempting to create experiences for our congregation to go through…between now and 2024, at which time a covenant will be drafted and we will vote on…as the Body of Christ. To be Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive and Engaged to those with mental health challenges, and for those with addictions.  I personally would like to lead the effort to make a peer-to-peer support group here at the church.  A place where people can come and share their challenges with mental illness.  A place where what is said within the group…stays within the group.  A safe space to be vulnerable.  I believe the wound deeply revealed it the wound deeply healed.   


God Bless and thank you for giving me the gift of your presence today.   


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