Hope for the Future Through Speaking to Dry Bones

Ever since six days of hospitalization in 1997 for a profound depression that had been undiagnosed for at least a couple of years, I have been an advocate for the diagnosis, treatment, and support of those with depression and other mental health challenges.  My own journey to healing was accomplished through a growing depth of relationship with Jesus Christ and the counseling of a wonderful Christian counselor.

In 2005, eight years after experiencing a psychotic break in conjunction with the undiagnosed depression, I was participating in an online group for people who had experienced a psychotic break, having been referred by a researcher who was working on matters of faith and mental health after he read some posts on my own weblog.  It was facilitated through a group in the U.K.  that billed itself as a spirituality group to discern the lessons of psychosis that those who had experienced such a break.  On 3/31/05 I dropped out after a number of attacks on me for my biblical view of the things God had taught me through my experiences of depression, psychotic break, hospitalization and counseling.  I wrote:

“Dear Group, I have been observing for some time the diminishing number of posts and the rare one that offers anything that smacks of substance.  It seems that, in the absence of antagonistic posts (as they seem to be interpreted by the group) with references to the Word of God and to my biblical worldview, the conversations dwindle.

It makes me think of Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37.  God shows him the valley and asks him to speak to the bones and tell them to “hear the word of the Lord.”  Furthermore, the Lord says to tell the bones:  “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.  And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel did as he was commanded and the bones began rattling, muscles appeared on them, and then skin.  Then God told Ezekiel again to prophesy the breath of God coming into them.  Then they all stood up as a mighty host of living, breathing beings before Ezekiel.

So it is in any group that lacks knowledge, understanding, and obedience to the Word of God –  it is just dry bones.  As the Word of the Lord comes upon them, they gain knowledge that brings form to the mass of bones.  Then they gain understanding of the Word and the sinews and flesh are put upon the bones to give sustenance, endurance, cohesiveness, and strength.  Then the skin is put upon them through obedience to the Word that brings beauty and texture and the diversity that is created by God.  Then the breath comes into the group and it becomes the very Body of Christ in the world.

How sad that this group, with such a vision for transforming the way mental health care is viewed and administered in the world is so resistant to and even at times antagonistic to the Word of the Lord.  I can no longer contribute anything here.  I can only listen in and use the secularized, humanistic, would-be “hybridized” psychologized spiritualism that I find here as a whetstone, something against which I can sharpen my own skills in the Word so that in my own little arena, I can be as effective as possible in combating such knowledge masquerading as wisdom.

That ought to cause a rattle or two…….Cathy”

By 2005, I was teaching an adult Sunday School class and had been participating in a small group for study and accountability for over 13 years.  I had been hired part time at the church I attended to oversee administration of the Sunday School department. I was also volunteering with Celebrate Recovery.  But I had not yet begun to see the direction God would lead me in ministry with women in crisis.  In 2006 I left my full time work in sales, began to investigate graduate school in counseling.  In 2008, after completing a master’s degree in counseling,  I began working with women and families in crisis.  I returned to seminary and began pursuit of vocational ministry as a deacon.

When I came across this post this week among some of my notes, I was reminded that God was molding, training, and equipping me for teaching the Word and for advocacy within various institutions on behalf of those with life-limiting dysfunctions through faith-based healing ministry even then.  I observed a lot of quasi-“spirituality” syncretistically disquised as “faith in God” that some considered “Christian”.  Actually, it appeared to be of no distinctly visible faith tradition, but just whatever one wanted it to be, as fluid and changeable as a lava lamp.

The experience of this group taught me the value of knowing what one believes and being able to point to something more substantive than simply one’s own experiences and emotions as evidence of its truth.  I continue to fight for those who battle the stigma of mental health diagnoses in the workplace, in the church, among health care and other service providers, and in the society at large.

I am not advocating for myself as Christ did that quite well and directed me to be faithful to tell others how he will do it for them, too.  It is for those who have lost hope, who wander in the world ignored, misunderstood, or even abused.  For the past 20 years or so there has been a growing contingent of those who support faith-based compassionate care and support for those with mental health issues, offering an alternative to the strictly medical and psychological approach that prevailed for a generation or more, as the church appeared to walk away from its responsibility in healing ministry, skeptical of and distancing itself from charismatic movements and the televangelists of the post WWII era.

Peer counselors and biblically trained Christian counselors, not just psychologically-trained and state licensed/supervised counselors who are, by the way, also Christian, are becoming more readily available to assist with a faith-based approach to mental health healing.

This morning on a news broadcast a former Marine who had become a businessman then a heroin addict and had been incarcerated for felony grand theft was interviewed, along with another former addict and felon.  They witnessed to the power of a faith-based corrections program called “Life Connections” they had been part of in prison.  It was a separate program where the participants lived, studied, and were transformed by the Word of God and faith community.

“The Life Connections Program (LCP) is an 18-month, faith-based correctional program operating in five Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) institutions. The program is a residential, multi-faith program designed to provide a positive environment for spiritual growth and ultimately behavioral change. This study presents a quantitative analysis of factors associated with program volunteers’ completion or failure using operational and survey data collected from the program sites. Survival analysis indicated that scripture reading, perception of self-worth, and the degree of desire for community integration were associated with program completion. Future research should include constructs of mental health status and levels of self-control while addressing whether faith-based programming is more effective for certain groups of individuals than others.”         Citation:   http://cjb.sagepub.com/content/35/7/848.abstract

Some coming to Titus 2 arrive out of the criminal justice system.  Others, we hope, will not have to experience that, but will be transformed through our long term care that offers much the same approach as the prison system’s  Life Connections Program.

Slowly, but surely, the Body of Christ is rising up again to be a force for healing to those who have experienced the wounds of poverty, brokenness, social and family deterioration, mental health challenges, and other life- limiting conditions…….and it is being admitted to the conversations, the evaluations, and the processes by those who have previously said there was no need or evidence for the value of faith-based discussions at the table.

I may not live to see a better world that exalts the role of the Church in Society once again, but my children and grandchildren will.  As quickly as Maslow’s hierarchy, individualism and diversity, “tolerance” and a humanistic secularized scientific approach to life influenced medical and mental health care, government, educational and other institutions in my lifetime, it can be turned around so that Christian worldviews can once again be expressed and taught without hostility and without being closed out of the problem-solving processes in our nation and world.