The following piece is taken from my new e-book, God, You Can Take My Mental Illness – Just Not The Part Where You Speak To Me, now out on Amazon for Kindle.
I have a new job. I am now a mental health rehabilitation support worker. You can tell I’m pretty proud. This new job entails my going out to visit people with a mental illness, usually people who have a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia. All the clients we support have been hospitalized or institutionalized at some point, usually quite recently before they sign on to our service. Our role as a support agency is to basically visit the clients in their homes and assist them in what we call ADL’s – activities of daily living. This might be things like making their bed, doing the washing, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom and taking out the garbage. Disorganization can be a major problem for people with a schizophrenia diagnosis, and this can be a real problem when it comes to maintaining a tenancy, as most of the clients live in accommodation rented through a government agency. They have to stop themselves descending into squalor, or they may lose their home and be taken back to hospital. The support worker role also involves making sure the client is showering on a daily basis, exercising and eating healthy foods, and wearing clean clothes. Physical health is a major issue for people with a schizophrenia diagnosis. The anti-psychotic medication they are obliged to take has several side effects, one of which is morbid obesity. This inadvertent massive weight gain, combined with several other factors, delivers a virtual plethora of medical health issues. Aside from the schizophrenia, if you had to deal with half of what these folks have to deal with, you’d need a support worker too.
I love the job – it’s different every day. The best part is hearing from the clients about their aspirations, about what they hope the future holds for them, as opposed to what others aspirations for them are. Others have lots of aspirations for them. The clinical services have them, their families have them and yes, we have them too. Some of our aspirations for them are realistic, but some sadly are not. For some reason, our unrealistic aspirations for them are called as-yet unattained goals. Their own unrealistic aspirations for themselves are called delusions.
For privacy reasons, I can’t tell you very much about the clients, or divulge in any detail the things they say to me, but I can tell you that their own hopes for the future, as opposed to clinical services’, center mainly around things like keeping their independence in the community and staying out of hospital, on maintaining any physical health they have, owning a pet or getting their drivers license back. Dignity. That pretty much sums up what they want. Just like a ‘normal’ person.
I’ve been wondering lately just exactly what ‘normal’ really is. I’ve concluded in my own head that society is pretty much just a silent consensus of the majority to a particular way of seeing things. It’s one great, big happy, mental illness we’ve all agreed to live with, henceforth to be known as ‘normal’. Anyone with a divergent way of thinking is seen as ‘a little different’, and anyone with any halfway grandiose ideas may be considered insane, or perhaps become the despotic dictator over some country somewhere.
Before I started this job, I wasn’t aware for the most part of a whole sector of society living their lives in a way I might have considered to not be much of a life at all. There are people in our community, maybe living right next door to you or I, for whom getting out of bed and being able to get back into it at the end of the day will be cause of much pride and self-satisfaction today.
And here’s something else I’ve been thinking about. The folks who are faced with the just going to be getting out of bed and back in it today kind of problems are something very closely resembling the folks I’ve thought would really benefit from church, at least as I’ve known it. I’ve been imagining that these sorts of folks were the reason for church in the first place – so that those with less of a life could exchange their basic, rudimentary existences for the life of the Christian promise – The Abundant Life. You know the one – the life of lots, the life of much, the life of many. The busy life, the full life, the blessed and bouncing, brimming-with-blessedness life. The life so full we can’t help ourselves but just be bubbling up all over the place life. The life so big our arms can’t hold it, and our eyes can’t take it all in. The life so jam-packed with everything God has for us that we are just be run off our feet living it out. Phew, makes me tired just thinking about it.
I have believed that this is the life God wants us to have. And here we have been, chasing it all this time, wondering when it was coming, hoping it would be soon, talking to our friends about it, writing it on our prayer lists, speaking it into being, petitioning and pining away for it, longing for our Abundant life to someday arrive on our doorstep so we can start really living, as opposed to whatever it is we’re doing now. Maybe this year! Maybe this week! Maybe today! Maybe right here in this church service! I just can’t wait for my Abundant life to come! God is so good! Come, come!
If we, as Christians, have had the where-with-all to get up, put clean clothes on, get into our car, which we own, without help, and legally drive that car to church, and then walk upright into church, sit down unassisted, clap our two hands together in time to the music whilst appreciating the noise as being music and responding appropriately to it, if we can see the preacher from where we are sitting, hear him clearly, and understand everything he says, interacting with the folks around us without dribbling on them or punching them in the face, and after all this get up and go home to our house…..perhaps, just perhaps, we are a little bit more “abundant” than we might have thought?
I went to church last Sunday morning, and, as usual, I saw a lot of very happy people. We were all dressed nicely, everyone was freshly bathed and all of us were on our best behavior. No one swore or hit anyone else. No one got sick on the back of the person in front of them. No one came in naked, and no one went up to anyone else to ask for food or a smoke. No one had to be carried in. No one fitted or had to be taken to hospital. No one had been in an earthquake or a flood or had their house burn down since we last saw them. And despite all this, we all stood up at the end and asked God to bless us. We, who are so blessed, asked God for more of the same, thank you very much.
So where were the ones with the dirty clothes, the unwashed, the ones who hadn’t had their breakfast? Where were the hitters and the spitters, the sick and the infirm, the ones with no driver’s license, no car and no money for a bus ticket? Where were the ones who just had their anti-psychotic medication yesterday, or their chemotherapy last Tuesday? Where were the ones who didn’t remember they had a washing machine to do their laundry in, and who wore the same underwear all week? Where were the earthquake survivors, the flood victims and the homeless? Maybe they were there with us, but if they were, they were very well disguised as something else.
If we have the means, and the capacity, to get ourselves along to church in the first place, then just maybe church is not meant for the likes of us. Maybe church isn’t meant for people who are abundant already. Maybe we ought to get out and make some room. Come to think of it, most of the Christians I know probably don’t need any more abundance. After all, how much abundance does one Christian actually need?
I think we in this self-obsessed, materialistic society have become so accustomed to believing we are in lack, always praying and petitioning for more than we already have now, that we fail to perceive our own present state of abject prosperity. We are blessed, people. Not only do we live under the grace of God, we also have financial, psychosocial and material abundance far above the realistic aspirations of most of the rest of the world, and probably beyond many in our own communities. What is it that we hope church, and God, and Christianity, will do for us, more than what we already have and are?
Perhaps we could draw on both our church, and our faith, more deeply to help us become 1) grateful and then 2) content. Oh, and maybe even 3) aware of and interested in facilitating blessing and abundance for others who perhaps aren’t quite as blessed and abundant as we already are. I believe that individuals possessed by, and a movement made up of, people in possession of these three particular qualities could be considered abundant indeed. How much abundance does a Christian actually need? Enough to become inspired, and mobilized, to facilitate abundance for others, in ways that matter. And not just for eternity. For the here, and for the now.
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