BEWARE THIS HIDDEN DANGER!!
I met Bob decades ago. He was hard charging, driven and eager to follow the Lord. He said he wanted to be discipled, trained, and earnestly desired to be a leader. He was convinced God had called him to spiritual leadership. As a Pastor, I was always on the lookout for men who were eager to learn, hungry to grow, who were faithful and teachable.
I did my best to take this young man under my wing, to believe in him, love him, build him up, and help him grow in Jesus Christ. As time went on I entrusted him with greater spiritual responsibility. On the outside things seemed to be going well. During the years I knew him, he eventually got married. He seemed to continue to grow. Eventually, I helped him get what he considered a dream job giving leadership to a mission minded organization.
Over the years there were subtle things I’d begun to notice that seemed odd, but I could never put my finger on it. No matter how much I believed in him he never seemed satisfied, nothing seemed to really make him happy. He was hard to please. Oh, initially he was thrilled. I have notes written to me from him, thanking me profusely for believing in him and giving him ministry opportunities. Over time however, his displeasure grew worse. He became extremely critical.
One day my phone rang, Bob implored me to meet with him, it had to be right away. I cleared my schedule, and we met. For approximately 10-15 minutes he sat in silence, trying to get the words out, but could not. I waited patiently, reassuring him, when finally, he blurted out a heartbreaking story. It seemed at first unbelievable. He was finally where he’d wanted to be, working for the Lord. There were so many good things in his life. Yet, in this moment of his confession, I knew going forward nothing would be the same again. Our meeting lasted many hours. I finally left, after giving him every encouragement I could possibly give. I arrived home to a phone message from his wife asking for an urgent meeting now as well.
We met that same afternoon. I was truly stunned by the things she conveyed to me about their marriage situation, and the issues her husband had been having in his life for a long time. I had no idea. No idea whatsoever. None of his other friends had any idea either. As we talked she finally said this, “Pastor Mark, I am convinced my husband is bi-polar/manic depressive. We took a test together and we both could see he had almost all the symptoms.” In other words, this man had a mental illness/personality disorder. This mental illness was primarily hidden from others outside his home. For a long time even his wife did not want to believe it or accept it. But over and over again, very, very difficult things kept happening. Finally the wheels came off. There was no doubt he had a severe disorder.
I began meeting with them, showing much compassion and grace. We seemed to be making real progress, he seemed initially very willing to get help, but then everything went south. I had urged him to see a professional Christian psychologist I’d recommended, to address this disorder/mental illness and he agreed to do so. But another Christian leader meddled into the situation. He told Bob what he needed was theophostic counseling. This Pastor had not worked with this man for the almost 20 years I had, in fact, he barely knew him. This other Pastor met with him a few times, doing theophostic counseling with him, as a result Bob was now convinced he was all well. I knew he wasn’t. I knew he had a mental illness that needed serious attention, and skilled professional help for an extended period of time. But he and his wife were now convinced he was all good, that now, I was the problem. They decided to place the blame for his serious issues on me. It broke my heart. Seriously, it broke my heart.
Christians seem so unwilling, so reticent to accept and believe that mental illness is real, that it can derail and destroy entire lives, and marriages if it is not dealt with, treated and maintained over time.
Tragically, this story ended very badly. His mental illness led to very destructive behaviors, and those destructive behaviors had very serious consequences. The marriage became unsustainable and impossible because this man was unwilling to admit he had a mental illness, to get the serious help he needed to manage it, and learn how to move forward. The terrible combination of his mental disorder, pride and stubborn denial were insurmountable. That combination is lethal. His destructive behavior destroyed the marriage. It brought about their divorce.
Over my many decades of Pastoring I have encountered similar situations multiple times. In men and in women. Serious mental illnesses/personality disorders that were creating nightmarish scenarios in their life, marriage, and family, but they simply refused to admit they had an issue, and were unwilling to get the mental health/medical help they needed. Some just thought they could pray it away. Some thought they could believe it away. Others actually went and got professional mental health help. They acknowledged their great need, they realized their own powerlessness against their mental illness/personality disorder, they sought treatment, and learned useful skills to help them cope with life, and sustain their marriages. And they kept walking strong with the Lord, realizing how vitally important their spiritual lives were to their wellness and the health of their life, marriage and family.
Mental illness is one of the greatest hidden dangers in the church today. So many Christians are unwilling to admit it even exists. Our denial however, will not make it disappear. Left undiagnosed, unacknowledged, unnamed and untreated it destroys lives, marriages and families.
I urge you, I implore you, do not ignore this any longer!
For those of you out there who have never dealt with a marriage dealing with this, be extremely careful about your judgements on them. You literally have no idea of the nightmarish reality, or the havoc a spouse is living through with a mate who has a mental illness/personality disorder, who stubbornly refuses to get the professional help they need. This is the time to remember this stern warning from our Lord, “Judge not, lest you be judged!” It’s time to walk in great humility recognizing how little you really know, and how inexperienced you really are in these extremely complex situations!
I am shocked at the lack of wise discernment of Christians who in their simplistic, naiveté, believe these people only need Jesus. Of course Jesus and serious devotion to walking with God can be immensely transformative. However, sometimes you are going to need Jesus plus something else to save you! You may need Jesus plus a tow truck! You may need Jesus plus a plumber! You may need Jesus plus a dentist! You may need Jesus plus a heart surgeon! You may need Jesus plus an oncologist! You may need Jesus plus a physical therapist! You will certainly need help to deal with and overcome a mental illness/personality disorder, or it will ruin your life, and can very easily destroy your marriage, making it utterly impossible for your spouse and children to live with you!
I close today with a very personal testimony. Over my decades of ministry I was forced to endure the severe mistreatment of people with mental illnesses and the havoc they caused. Why? Because other pastors around me treated their complaints, slander and criticisms as legitimate. They treated these erratic, unstable, irrational people, as normal and sane Christians, unwilling to admit there were mentally ill/personality disordered people in our congregation. Each of them over time demonstrated without a doubt their personal destructiveness, in no way am I exaggerating. I was required time and again to be emotionally battered by these people. This brought real harm to me personally, and was part of why I resigned in July of 2018. It was not that I no longer desired to Pastor. I loved pastoring God’s people. I knew I could no longer Pastor a church under those kinds of circumstances placed on me by these other leaders. They refused to change. I knew before the Lord I needed to say no more! These people cannot do this to me any more.
Let me offer an important word of advice. When looking for a skilled psychologist don’t just settle for anyone. Look for trusted recommendations from those you trust, for a psychologist who is both highly trained in this field, and a solid Christian. Someone very wise and skillful at what they do. I would look for someone a bit older who has vast experience versus someone recently out of college. A secular psychologist can take you in a very unwise direction.
Helping you become a Strong Disciple,
Because of Jesus,
Pastor Mark Darling