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October 12, 2015
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
You have been there way too long.
Stuck in line.
Waiting to buy a ticket.
There is a tired mother in front of you, holding a crying baby. The man behind you is on his phone, complaining about the increased fee to check a bag.
But it is almost your turn.
And you couldn't be more ready.
You are ready to cross the border and enter into the land to which you have been called. So when your name is called, you rush to the counter.
"How may I help you, sir?"
You tell her you need a ticket. "I need to fly to Mexico City," you boldly proclaim.
She gives you a baffled look. She is confused. And after a lengthy, awkward pause, you are also confused.
"Uh, sir? You are in Mexico City. This is the Mexico City International Airport."
You look around. How could you have missed all the signs? The literal signs, the Mexican restaurants, the soccer game on the TV in the bar, and the vast majority of people speaking Spanish…
It now seems obvious. You were already there. You had already crossed the border. You just hadn't been observant enough to realize it.
This may seem like an unrealistic scenario, but when it comes to certain borders, it proves to be an apt analogy.
I battle depression and anxiety. My wife has been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Mental illness is all around us. Recent studies suggest that one out of four adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder. That equates to 50 million people in the United States, with 12 million falling in the "serious or chronic" category. This is equal to the percentage of the US population diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, HIV, AIDS, and diabetes combined.
But this is not a new epidemic. While there has no doubt been a rise in mental illness, triggered by our increasingly stressful and complicated society, we have been living in this land for a long time. In Psalm 42 the writer declares, "My tears have been my food day and night… Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?" Or as the Common English Bible, translates, "Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?"
Mental illness is a part of the human condition. It always has been and always will be. So wherever there are humans, there are there humans dealing with anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, ADHD, OCD, schizophrenia, as well other related diagnoses. To ignore these individuals — to pretend they are "out there" rather than "right here" — is to create a non-existent border. This is the land in which we live.
Accepting this, especially as Christians, is essential. When mental illness moves from being a foreign issue to a domestic issue, when we grasp just how close to home this issue resides, we can begin to live out the fullness of the gospel. For far too long, we have distanced ourselves from this land, leaving many lost and confused, including myself.
On multiple occasions, well-meaning but misinformed church-goers have diagnosed my depression as a lack of faith. Instead of being encouraged to seek professional help from a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist, I was told to read my Bible more thoroughly and pray more diligently. My anxiety has been pushed aside, labeled as a failure to trust God. I have been quoted Philippians 4:6-7 out of context more times than I can count, once in the midst of a panic attack.
As Amy Simpson says in her book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission, "The church allows people to suffer because we don't understand what they need and how to help them." (Page 19) Despite this, she expresses her belief that the church — once educated on the realities of mental illness — can still be a positive force in the lives of those suffering. She concludes, "The church can make a difference. The darkness is deep enough that even a tiny light can help someone find a way out." (Page 18)
An endless number of blog posts could be written on how to serve those dealing with mental illness. In my own faith and ministry, this is a topic I will continue to explore in detail. But we could benefit from looking around and seeing the signs. We must recognize that this is not a border to cross, but a border that has already been crossed.
Next Sunday, look to your right and your left, look to the person in front and behind. The signs tell us that one of them is suffering. May we be observant enough to realize where we are. May we learn. May we seek to understand and help. And may we be a tiny bit of light in this land.
Chris Miller is a coffee-driven nerd who loves to write. He is also a husband and a father. He works full-time at Bethel Neighborhood Center and part-time at Team World Vision. In his free time, he enjoys running, reading, hanging out with awesome people, and, on rare occasion, sleeping. He has a passion for social justice, humanitarian efforts, and seeing the gospel lived out in tangible, meaningful ways.
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Simpson, Amy. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013.