mental illness

Deb and I watched for me what was a powerful, as well as equally troubling film, last evening, The Soloist. It is the story of a prodigy cellist who succumbs to mental illness, and lives homeless in Los Angeles. And of a man who befriends him in the process of trying to get another story for the Los Angeles Times. And there begins an unlikely friendship in which the one reaching out is helped at least as much as the one being helped.

Wonderful music, a powerful story–never mind what some of the critics say. But equally troubling for me.

Unfortunately I can identify with the film in ways I’d rather not. I have an aunt now with Jesus who herself was wonderfully gifted, who also succumbed to mental illness. I remember all too well our early visits when we saw all kinds of sick people look and act in all kinds of strange ways. Aunt Charlotte didn’t seem that way to us. But over time she seemed more and more inside herself except on her good days. She never recovered.

Today there is much better treatment for such illness than my aunt received. I know that mental illness can involve a number of problems. Medicine can make a big difference. Often there are psychological issues as well as physical. And since we humans are integrated wholes: mind, soul and body together, it is no wonder that more often than not, if not always, the problem and solution involves our mental and physical state.

Part of my spiritual warfare has been the struggle to at least wonder if I’m a candidate for this. With the question: What is normal?

What is the answer? Without tossing out the need at times for people to get appropriate professional counseling and medicine, I think the key that we need is simply this: Follow Jesus. We in Jesus need more and more to learn to follow him.

If we get inwardly focused, we won’t do well. There is indeed a place for asking the Spirit to search us, our hearts, our lives. From time to time. And that is important. And it may take some time. But then we need to let that go and go on. Yes, we need nothing less than a Jesus-oriented life. Oriented in the way of Jesus: the way of loving God, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Where I think we often get in trouble is with the idea that life is about us. It’s not about us at all, though in God’s great love in Jesus we are indeed included, deeply loved beyond what we can understand ourselves, though meant for us to begin to know and experience in this life.

Life is about following Jesus. And that means losing our own life, that we might indeed find his life. Denying ourselves so that it is not about us. Taking up our cross in identification with him, and following him together day in and day out. Of course such following being for the same purpose for which he came and which he achieved: salvation for all, salvation for the world. We follow on in and with Jesus by the Spirit, to work to that same end through the salvation that is in him.

That must be our orientation in life. With that we go on, no matter what else we face. We indeed may even need special help along the way. But we refuse to budge from that posture, that walk. That is our goal, that is our calling, together in Jesus, for the world.