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How to find God in mental illness

How to connect with God when the brain doesn’t work

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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
  1. I pray with Jim before Tom takes him back to the streets of San Luis Obispo at the end of the day.
  1. 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.

And…

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.

Hugs,

Susan

BTW, if you like to know more about relating to those with mental illness, read A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Chruch.

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This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Ginger Blackburn

    Excellent article, Susan. I have a friend with mental illness. She has accepted Christ, but lives with fears, and can’t seem to grab hold of Scriptures I give her to encourage and help her. I also have a son who is an alcoholic, but so far, no mental illness. He accepted Jesus as a child, and claims to be a Christian. He is legally blind, but lives alone, and is able to care for himself. I keep praying he will choose to fellowship with Christians instead of his former friends. He only drinks when he is with them.
    I am praying for you and your brother, so add my prayers to yours. Ginger

    1. Susan Gaddis

      I’m so sorry for your friend. She must treasure your encouragements and Scripture even if she can’t retain it, Ginger. My heart goes out to her.

      I will add my prayers to you for your son. He must hurt inside like I know Jim does. It’s so nice to have prayer support in these things, isn’t it? 🙂 Thank you for praying for Jim.

  2. Tim Ulibarri

    Hi Susan, I often wondered about Jim’s relationship with Jesus myself over the past year. Wondering if it was authentic or was it just the alcohol talking. Thanks for writing the article! It helped me with the arguments that I had in my own mind.

    BTW I think you are a very good writer. Who am I to say…just your brother-in-law.

    1. Susan Gaddis

      Wow, Tim. I’m so honored that you read my blog! This post helped me process my own questions about Jim with the Lord. I’m thankful you found it helpful too. You and Diane have been amazing, as always, in helping Jim. So glad you married my sister. 🙂

  3. MARY S DAVIDSON

    Great read Susan. I alway enjoy readding yours and Tom columns. I’ve been praying for Jim a long time. I’m so sorry. When I see someone in my family stray, besides lots of prayers, I hold close to my heart the verses that say that his words is alive and never goes void. It doesn’t always give me peace but it does give me hope. I love you Susan, you are a wonderful woman and friend.
    Love,
    Mary

    1. Susan Gaddis

      You are such an amazing prayer warrior, Mary! Thank you for your continued prayers for Jim. Someday in eternity future, you will get to meet him completely whole. (I’m looking forward to that day too.) Love you, dear friend. 🙂

  4. Diane Ulibarri

    This was really good Susie…I hope a lot of people read it. It is what you told me awhile back and it gave me great comfort. With mom and daddy they had such a good foundation that when they went a bit off their rocker, their spirit took over in the important things. mom had been trying to drink hand lotion just a half a hour before we were on our way to her final hospital trip. I asked her if she was afraid to die and she very clearly said “no, but I am not looking forward to the process. I know I will be with Jesus so it will be great. That made sense. When daddy was leaving the hospital after his surgery and headed to the rehab home, I followed in my car. He had been sharp but by the time we got there he asked me why I rode my bike by his window on the freeway. OK, that was strange. He stayed strange and by the time we had to go to the hospital because he was to crazy to stay where he was 6 hours later after he had arrived, he was not “all there”. As we waited in the emergence room a old friend of his came in for heart issues. daddy perked right up and asked his friend if he could pray for him. His friend said yes and daddy prayed a amazing scripture filled prayer. His spirit was sharp even if his mind was going. I think it is that foundation they had. Jim had a child’s foundation. And when he started doing drugs in high school and the schizophrenia kicked in, and he begun to hear the voice (lady) in his head. His foundation was weakened. But as you said God knows Jim and his heart. I agree that he will not punish him by rejecting because his mind is “out there”. I am so glad God is so full of mercy.

  5. Susan Gaddis

    Good stories about Mom and Dad, Sis. I had forgotten those. Such fun memories. I love the one where Mom wanted to know why the man in the white robe and long sleeves at the end of her hospital bed was there. He had been on the hood of the car all the way to the hospital, as I recall. Her spirit saw her angel waiting to take her Home. I love it that we are far more than our minds or our body. Love you lots. 🙂

    1. Diane Ulibarri

      Yes she did. I did not connect it until that night you stayed with us at the hospital and she asked who he was (The big guy dressed in white at the foot of the bed). You told her it was her angel and then it clicked that that was who she was seeing in front of the car when I drove her to the hospital. It is amazing how strong our spirits get as our bodies shut down. xoxo

  6. Joan

    Thanks, Susan! This article was wonderful!

  7. Viola Funk

    Thanks, Susan, for sharing. I’m praying that a group home will be available for Jim soon. Your family is working together to help a needy brother.
    There are times when family members need help in ways we never expected. Three years ago we realized that my sister wasn’t keeping house well. Her husband was in a nursing home because of Parkinson’s. Their daughter had brain cancer and died at the age of 22. The college freshman grandson couldn’t provide the help that was needed. My children helped move them 100 miles. My sister lived with me for a while. After she had surgery, she became a resident in a nearby nursing home where her husband was receiving care. My four children, and some nieces and nephews, have helped with emptying their home and preparing it for sale. Sorting through boxes etc. took work and time. I’m so thankful for all the help.
    May the Lord continue to supply your needs during this difficult time.
    Viola

    1. Susan Gaddis

      Thank you for sharing your story, Viola. That means a lot. I’m so thankful that our family pulls together to help each other too. Blessings to you and yours for all you are doing for your sister. As always, you are an inspiration to me. 🙂

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