Amy Simpson is an author, editor, and leader — and to me she’s a friend, mentor, former boss, and an inspiration! Amy’s written a book about mental illness and the church called Troubled Minds. Today Amy joins me for part 2 of our interview about wholeness, suffering, and hope. (Read part 1 of our interview by clicking here.)
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Your new book Troubled Minds addresses the issue of mental illness and the church — and your passion for this topic comes out of your own personal story of growing up with a mother who suffers from schizophrenia. In what ways did your difficult family experiences shape your sense of self and your view of faith, either positively or negatively?
Like many other families that go through similar experiences, our family life revolved around Mom and her illness. The rest of us had to put our emotional lives on the back burner to keep the peace and avoid stress and conflict at home. We didn’t talk much about what was happening with her. And because we didn’t feel it was OK to discuss mental illness with others, we mostly kept quiet about it when we were away from home too. We felt very isolated, as if we were the only ones going through the experience.
I learned to shut off my negative emotions because they were just too overwhelming for me—and frankly, we couldn’t afford for anyone else in our family to be struggling. Over time, I lost the ability to fully experience emotion of any kind, and I had to learn to embrace my emotions and my own needs as I worked toward healing.
Before I was a teenager, my dad was a pastor. After Mom’s illness fully blossomed, he never served as a pastor again. But we were very active and involved laypeople. On the one hand, the church has been mostly silent on the reality of mental illness—and we got the message that we should be silent as well. This silence was isolating and cruel, even though it wasn’t intentionally so. The silence also communicated to me that God’s people—and God himself—didn’t really have an answer or any kind of guidance in understanding and responding to mental illness. That’s not true at all, but it took me a long time to learn that.
Troubled Minds includes an entire chapter on this subject, so I have a lot more ideas than I can share in this space. But we can start in some simple ways.
Some of my family’s greatest help has come through individuals in the church who have done small things like make eye contact instead of avoid it, visit Mom in prison, answer late-night phone calls to help her sort through her thoughts, stick with Dad’s small group when he was in crisis every week. These simple acts of love can make an enormous difference to people who feel like they’re lost in the dark and other people keep turning their backs. I hope many Christians will answer the call to simply extend friendship and loving community.
I also hope the church will begin to talk about mental illness openly and in a healthy way. Mental illness often creates a spiritual crisis, and we need to help people understand that their suffering doesn’t mean God has abandoned them, rejected them, or singled them out for special punishment. I would like to see more churches start intentional programs for ministry to people with mental illness, working more closely with mental health professionals than they do now.
Another one of your passions is, as you say your web site, helping people “discern and fulfill their calling in this life.” One way you do this is through steering GiftedForLeadership, a blog dedicated to helping women and use their gifts in ministry. Why are you so dedicated to helping people embrace their gifts and their calling?
We all need to live with a sense of purpose, and I believe we can all find that purpose in understanding how God has made us, where he has placed us, the resources he has given us, and what he has asked us to do. There’s nothing more fulfilling than living that way—even when it means your life is “small” in comparison to others. Life is not about us—it’s about God and his plans and purposes. When we live according to his calling, we participate in something grand and glorious, even if it’s hard to see how our small part fits in. We get the privilege of helping to build God’s kingdom. To live any other way is ultimately just an exercise in frustration and futility.
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