Vision New England Blog

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The general blog of Vision New England dedicated to equipping and encouraging New England Christ followers to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and make disciples.


The Story of a Crazy, Church Person

Lately I’ve been wrestling with how to approach the subject of making disciples, which is quite a difficult topic for me because of my personal background. In my contemplation, however, I’ve realized that it may actually be this unique background which provides me with surprising insight regarding disciple-making. That said, today I would like to address stigmas and stereotypes, and I would like to share my own experiences with stigmatization both by and against myself.

I did not grow up in the church, but was raised a kind of “strict atheist.” I was taught that proselytizing, and inflicting my beliefs upon others unsolicited was presumptuous, rude, and generally wrong. I was taught that science conflicted with many religious beliefs, and that there were many contradicting messages in religious doctrines and actions. Basically, I was taught to be skeptical of religion, and focus on pure logic and reason.

Once I grew into a judgmental and petulant age, I viewed my atheistic beliefs not only as truth and reality, but also as part of me that made me fundamentally superior to “church people.” Even Christians close to me I saw as naïve and weak, because they looked to God for help and meaning, rather than taking ownership of their life, and accepting what I believed to be true – that there was no real meaning, and that we all simply live and die, and that was that. I was very cynical, critical, and ignorant to many of the true teachings of Christianity, which I never cared to learn, because I assumed it was all absurd, and that even if my perceptions were wrong, there was still nothing there for me. I was close minded, and I lumped all Christians into one (misunderstood) box. If you had told me back then that I would be where I am now, believing what I do, I would not only laugh in your face, but I would have seen such a statement as an accusation and an insult. I thought I was so indisputably right that I was unwilling to see anything else.

The fact that most of my exposure to religion in the media primarily depicted judgment, condemnation, violence, intolerance, etc. didn’t help assuage my negative attitudes. I didn’t understand how religion could be seen as positive or helpful in any way and, actually, saw it as destructive. There’s a stereotype and stigma associated with “church people” that non-church people succumb to, and I was as much a perpetrator of this crime as anyone. Small groups of people claiming to be Christians (truly, this can be said for extremists of any group, religious or secular) can quickly sully the name and cause of what genuine followers of Jesus are trying to do – and the ironic truth is that the humble nature of what we are called to do in our following of Christ makes it so that those who are doing the right thing may seem to be overshadowed by those who are not. It is understandable to be discouraged by this, but I’ve learned that we can confront these issues by forging on, and being bigger than them.

This was my experience with stigmatizing others. Yet I have been on the other side of stigma, as well. You see, I have severe mental illness – bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder, specifically. All three feed off my environment, circumstances, and one another, and they will be with me for my entire life. It’s impossible to accurately describe the warzone that is my psychology, but I try to explain that I feel everything tens of times more than the average person – from love, to guilt, to anger, to pity – and feeling everything so deeply causes a certain amount of pain and suffering to rage through my soul every day, and there’s nothing I can do about it, even when it seems that everything is fine. I’ve been hospitalized multiple times because of mental health crises, and even had to take a year off from college in 2012. That same year, I also became heavily overmedicated, causing me to become illiterate, and sporadically go blind for periods ranging from 10-45 minutes. I engaged in horribly inappropriate and promiscuous activities, many of which I don’t remember clearly because I was so dissociated from reality; and I was aggressive, even with people who loved and cared for me. On December 10, 2012, I attempted suicide.

Even if this mere list (abbreviated, with gory details omitted) causes you to label me “crazy,” you aren’t alone. In truth, I’m not “normal” in the conventional sense. In fact, there were members of my own family who couldn’t deal with me, and who withdrew from me and my mess. To this day, my issues cause a variety of relationship problems with a few of my friends, who simply don’t understand why I struggle with certain things, and they can’t accept that I have a legitimate condition. Well-meaningly, they’ve told me I need to “stop thinking and overthinking,” and that I “need to just chill out,” not understanding that I can’t, despite the overwhelming progress I’ve made.

A lot of ordinary people only see the many instances of individuals who use mental health as an excuse for not dealing with everyday life, or their perception of mental illness is shaped by movies that show the mentally ill as menaces to society. Yet by ignorantly labeling people, we doom ourselves to only see others’ actions as fitting the mold of whatever stereotype we’ve placed on them; if we label someone crazy, their actions seem crazy, no matter how justified they may be. Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to how frustrating this is, because people don’t take you seriously, particularly when you need them to most because you’re in incredible pain. I want more than anything for people to learn and overcome their misconceptions, but having been on the side of holding strong misconceptions as well, I realize how difficult this is to accomplish.

There is hope in my story, though. Since experiencing God on the night I intentionally overdosed, my life has been on an uphill trajectory. This doesn’t mean I don’t fall back, have breakdowns, or fail, because I do, all the time, but I have a renewed life since choosing to follow Christ. I understand that the struggles I face were put in my life for a reason, and that I have remarkable strength because of them, and I’m grateful to still be here, and have the opportunity to help other people, because so many individuals with problems such as mine don’t make it. Learning to live with these problems has not only led me to God, but has also showed me that I have a purpose, and that if I’m striving for it, God will equip me with the courage, fight, resilience, and determination that I need to overcome anything. And that’s really powerful.

I see my past religious stigmatization much differently now. I relate it to my own experiences with stigma, and I consider how stigmatization influences our abilities to connect with others, and communicate with them, and how it impedes our efforts to make disciples.

Here is what I’ve learned about living with mental illness, and changing peoples’ attitudes towards it. Regardless of the obstacles, if you love and care for people, act courageously, and live in a way that is engaging, compassionate, and inspiring – so much so that others can’t help but be curious about your reasons – they will ask you about what makes you so strong and passionate. When this happens, tell them your story, unashamedly, so that they can hear the truth they may have not understood or known.

Here is what I’ve learned about following Jesus, and changing peoples’ attitudes towards Christianity. See above.

Start a dialogue with others by being the difference you want to see first, and building an influential relationship. In doing this, disciple-making opportunities will arise. If you show people something intriguing and compelling, they will be receptive to learning about it, even if what you say is contrary to the biases and stigmas they unknowingly adhere to. In this way, making disciples is tightly related to our other Christian duties – to do justice, walk humbly, and love mercy. If you’re demonstrating these qualities, God’s light moves through you, and people can see it, even if they don’t know what it is. Just be ready to explain it to them when they ask. 





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