Have you ever wondered how to help those you love connect with God in mental illness situations, dementia, or Alzheimer’s?
I love my brother. I worry about him. Jim is homeless and has schizophrenia.
For 40 years he lived in the same little apartment and, except for occasional lapses, did fine on his meds and mental disability income.
Over a year ago during the holidays Jim spent his total monthly income on alcohol and became a Christian. Quite a combination.
My folks had prayed for Jim until they died leaving my sisters and me to continue their prayer assignment. But it hasn’t been easy.
You can’t always see God in mental illness situations
In September Jim lost his housing because he almost burned his apartment down. Twice.
He’s been on the streets ever since, waiting for his name to come to the top of applicants on the list for a group home.
My husband, Tom, picks Jim up on Wednesdays and he spends the day here watching old movies while I do his laundry.
My sisters take him to his doctors and court appointments on other days.
None of us can have him spend the night, or he’ll lose his monthly income and his place on “the list.” (“Oh, you have family that will take care of you 24/7. Great, the government doesn’t have to.”)
When it’s not Wednesday, he wanders the street or hangs out at the day center for the homeless in his town.
Sometimes he sleeps at a separate homeless shelter, but if he drinks, it’s another night of walking the streets. (It’s too dangerous to fall asleep on the street. Better to find a park bench during the day and sleep.)
Jim needs 24/7 care as he can’t remember to take his meds all the time and if he drinks, the combination of meds and alcohol can be deadly. Or so the doctor says.
No longer a Christian
We picked Jim up on Christmas Eve to spend the day with the extended family. On the way to my sister’s, I asked him about his walk with the Lord since he no longer talked about Jesus with us.
He was doing well that day. Seemed mentally fine.
Jim explained how he wasn’t a believer any longer and said that he now believed in science and logic.
He then told us about how there are gods that have evolved over time and that one of them oversees earth. This perspective seemed entirely logical to him and in the realm of science because, in his mind, it was evolutionary.
I asked him if when he died, he’d see Mom and Dad, and he assured me he would. Everyone would be together.
When I asked if he thought he’d see Hitler there, he was taken aback, but then explained how evil people probably wouldn’t be there as that would be wrong.
So I gently asked him who decided who got to be together.
He didn’t know, but he was sure justice would prevail.
I replied, “How can justice be measured? If science is what decides these things, it should be measurable.”
He didn’t have an answer.
Except to cheerfully say, “Maybe next Christmas I’ll be a Christian again.”
We laughed together because we love each other, even when we disagree.
Then we were at my sister’s. The discussion about the “earth god” part of his belief system would have to wait until another day.
Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and God in mental illness
My mom had developed dementia before she died, and Dad had Alzheimer’s. Jim has schizophrenia. These are all mental disabilities.
These are people I love.
Mom and Dad needed to be close to Jesus in the midst of their mental illness. So does Jim.
Because Mom and Dad had grown their relationship with Jesus while they were mentally healthy, that relationship would surface during their mental decline.
They’d talk about Jesus and pray even if they couldn’t remember their last conversation with someone. It was hard to see them lose their intellectual abilities, but I knew that in their Spirit they still connected with God.
Jim… I’m not so sure.
What can I do to see Jim and God connect more?
I don’t know if you have anyone in your life that you love that has mental disabilities, but here are some of the things I do to help Jim connect with God more.
- I pray and remind the Lord of the promises He’d given Mom and Dad for Jim and how my sisters and I are still praying those promises. And since those promises are dependent on God’s faithfulness, not mine, I know they will come to pass.
- I set an atmosphere in my home for Jim to feel welcome and comfortable to talk about spiritual things when he visits.
- Worship music in the background
- A hot shower and fresh towels waiting for him
- A nice meal or two prepared
- A place to take a nap and a comfy chair to sit in as he watches old movies
- An ashtray waiting at the table outside for him to retreat to every 20 minutes or so for his “smoke”
- Unpressured discussion about anything he wants to talk about, with a dash of God discussion thrown in by me
- I pray with Jim before Tom takes him back to the streets of San Luis Obispo at the end of the day.
- I choose to believe that the decision Jim made to “ask Jesus into his heart” long ago as a 5-year-old at Good News Club… the decision that he left behind and re-embraced a year ago and left again… is still valid in the courts of heaven, because Jim isn’t in his right mind.
I have to rely on a covenant made between God, my parent’s prayers, and God’s faithfulness to bring His promises to completion.
Jim’s mental condition, in my opinion, means he can’t make a logical choice concerning truth and eternity.
But he made a spiritual decision long ago. A decision remembered by his spirit rather than his mind.
That’s good enough for me. Though it doesn’t make these days any easier, I trust the Lord for Jim’s eternity future.
I may not always see God in mental illness victims, but I know He’s there.
What about Dementia or Alzheimer’s in someone who doesn’t know the Lord?
Great question! I have some specific things you can do, along with the above suggestions.
Once a mind shuts down, the spirit is more open to God.
But since this post is already very long, I’ll save those tips for a post coming up later in February. So watch for it.
If you know someone who might be encouraged by this post, please share it.
BTW, if you like to know more about relating to those with mental illness, read A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Chruch.