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The Beauty of Community When Life Feels Broken

By Beverly Hogan
In Hope & Healing
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Finding a community that empowers life when we or our family members experience mental health challenges.

You may remember Eric Liddell, an Olympic gold medalist runner, Christian missionary and inspiration for the movie Chariots of Fire. In his book, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, Liddell says, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. Our broken lives are not lost or useless. God’s love is still working!”

In 2012, I really wondered about the ruins and wondered what God could or would do. I knew He had the power and longed to see restoration happen, but I also wondered how far He would go in helping to restore and rebuild. Was anything off limits?

When our family was rocked by the sudden onset of a serious mental illness, I had many questions. I have to admit, some of the questions were way outside of my limited theology box at the time.

Where was God in all this?

Why would he allow a precious young girl who was excited to go off to college for the first time and was growing in her faith to be stopped in her tracks with a manic episode that led to a psychosis?

Instead of checking into her dorm room, she was checked into the hospital for an eight-day stay with an unstable mind and no awareness or understanding of what was happening to her.

As we continued on the journey, I began wondering things like:

Is there hope with mental health challenges?

Is there help?

Where can families and individuals turn for faith-based support and education to understand what is going on and how to navigate it?

Why not the Church? They should be able to give hope and offer spiritual encouragement, right?

Are there any “good” or “encouraging” stories out there about people that can still thrive and have healthy lives!?

After a couple of years, God prompted me to approach a few of our pastors with the idea of providing some type of support. A friend and I were given permission to establish a group for families struggling with mental health difficulties. With research and God’s leading, my friend discovered The Grace Alliance and we quickly realized that they could help equip us and offer an excellent curriculum to provide both education and faith-based support.

We were drawn to the rare fact that they seemed to get both sides of the equation, meaning the clinical/medical side as well as the biblical/spiritual side. And we loved that they spoke of mental illness recovery and the possibility to thrive! Our church is in the third year of hosting a Family Grace Group. So far, over 45 people have participated and it has been a joy to invite God into this challenging topic and then watch Him show up and do His amazing work!

So, what is the beauty of community in the midst of mental illness? Here are four reasons we need others in the midst of this mental health journey!

Reason #1

To realize that you are not alone! Contrary to what you may know or believe, there are many families who also struggle with mental health challenges. A group like our Grace Group guards against tendencies to withdraw and feel isolated from life and from others. It is very important, for our own health, to stay connected. The enemy would want us to feel alone and be distracted from having hope. God desires the opposite and invites us to have community and hope!

Reason #2

It is a great opportunity for support and encouragement. One member said it this way: “I have watched group members share the love of Christ with each other; share their hopes, encouragement, and fears; as well as share practical tips and timely resources.” Another group member added, “It’s a rare place to be heard and honest.” It is a safe environment where we can walk alongside each other.

Reason #3

We learn valuable and practical tools in the curriculum to help us move forward and persevere. We also learn from each other’s experiences. While it is useful to gain knowledge from sources like doctors, researchers, etc., it is very helpful to learn from those who are actually traveling a similar path. One member added, “It has helped me step back a bit and not try to ‘over-manage’ my loved one.”

Reason #4

I once read, “Fear is contagious and so is hope.” In the Family Grace Group, weremind each other of the hope we have in Christ and that He is with us each step of the way! Though we might be taken by surprise by the challenges that come along with mental illness, God is not caught off guard in any way. He is aware and He cares. Many in our group would say their faith has been strengthened by being a part of the group.

I have noticed over the last few years that though we typically come to the group seeking help for our loved ones, through this whole process, we realize that we ourselves need many of the same things as well. It is for us! There is much more to learn than I ever dreamed of and there is also great hope to thrive…. not only for our loved ones but for ourselves. It transforms us in our ways and in our thinking! That could be contagious too!

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” - Ephesians 3:20

Beverly Hogan lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Mark. They have four grown children and two grandchildren. She is passionate about gospel hope and renewal and mental health thriving. Beverly co-facilitates a Family Grace Group made up of an amazing, authentic group of people.

IBC offers Family Grace each semester. If you are interested in joining or just want more information, reach out to Sara Wardrup at [email protected]. Or you can register for the next semester at www.irvingbible.org/emotionalsupport.

If you, yourself are struggling with mental health challenges, The Grace Alliance also offers a Living Grace curriculum that we offer at IBC. Please visit www.irvingbible.org/emotionalsupport for more information or to register.

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