Why Parents of Mentally Ill Teens Don’t Want to Talk About It

Having a teen with significant mental illness is, in a word, exhausting.

Used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/alachuacounty/12178605035

Used with permission. alachuacounty on flikr

For most, the stigma of mental illness will keep them from talking about it. They don’t want to stigmatize their child, or have everyone look down on them as parents for doing something to cause their child to be the way they are. They don’t want to hear about what failures they are as parents, because their friends like to talk casually among friends about how kids’ problems would be so easily solved if the parents would just parent right. The books they’ve read make it sound like a recipe, and their souffle keeps deflating and they’re not sure why or what to do about it. So they hide it, they smile and act like everything is good and they’re a nice, normal family.

They don’t want to talk about it because they want their child to have as normal a life as possible. They don’t want everyone to look at their child as a diagnosis, but as a human being. They still see flashes of normalcy, stretches of better days, and there’s always hope of things being better enough to move past this. And so they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want you to look at their child as a problem to be solved.

They don’t want to talk about it because they get real tired, real fast of dealing with people condemning them for using medication, and real tired of the fight about how mental illness is a sudden, “snowflake,” Millennial thing when it’s not. Whatever the case may be, it ain’t that and parents of mentally ill kids really invite you to walk a mile in their shoes and then play a game of “Gain some perspective and sit down and hush.” (which is the kind, Christian version of the game of “Hide and go *&%$ yourself”)

They don’t want to talk about it because it’s not going away. It’s treatable hopefully, but in many cases not really curable. It’s like Type 1 diabetes in many ways; sure, some lifestyle stuff is helpful and ensures best outcomes, but this is a fight you’ll fight forever. And that fight gets exhausting.

They don’t want to talk about it because after the 4th trip to the hospital it sounds to them like whining, like they’re fishing for sympathy and trying to virtue-signal how good they are and how hard they have it. In reality they’re lost and wondering how to move forward.

They don’t want to talk about it if they’re Christians because the Church has often equated mental illness with demonic possession. Because they’ve been told if they just pray enough that it’ll go away, that if they only have faith that their child will be made well. They’ve been told that if they pursue secular counseling that they’re abandoning Jesus, and lack faith and a true understanding of Scripture. And that leaves them feeling miles from God and miles from others in their faith communities.

They don’t want to talk about it because every time they do, everyone has advice like they know how to solve the problem and like the parents haven’t tried all that already.

They don’t want to talk about it because they’re exhausted, and they’ve explained the whole story to every mental health professional in the system again and again. And every time they try something new, the story starts again from the beginning. And every time, it dredges up the entire weight of the hurt and the struggle and the pain as well as everything above. And telling it to the next person who asks sends them back through the whole emotional gamut again, and that’s exhausting.

They don’t want to talk about it because their life revolves around it but their other kids need to be treated like normal, healthy kids too. And around all the doctor’s appointments and therapy and hospital trips and being shouted at, there are basketball games and choir recitals and parent teacher conferences to go to for the other kids too. Their boss still expects results at work, their ministries still need volunteers and their lives still go on. And they ain’t got time to sit and let the whole thing hit them at once or they’ll quit. And the one thing they can’t do is quit.

They don’t want to talk about it because the anxiety of living every day wondering if today is the day that you’ll find your child has taken their own life in some terrible manner is crushing at times. And if they talk about it, they’re mentioning Voldemort and bringing the event upon themselves. And they’ve already had to talk to the other kids about it and wiped the tears and held them close as they cried for something everyone hopes never happens.

Now, me? Whatever. You want a dose of what it’s like to live as a parent of a mentally ill teen, grab a seat on the bench next to me and let’s talk a spell. You got a teen or adult child who is mentally ill? We’re on the same journey, you and me, and I have no answers for you but much love and much empathy.

The True Scandal Of Easter That Most Christians Don’t Like

“To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”- Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians


Let me ask you a question: have you really grasped that you have peace with God as a believer in Jesus? Like really, deep down embraced that truth? I know a lot of Christians who honestly have not. I got to meet a believer in Jesus this week who was utterly convinced that his relationship with God could and would be cut off if he sinned, whether that sin was murder or being angry in his heart or accidentally exceeding the posted speed limit. If he sinned, he wasn’t saved anymore! In his mind, trusting Jesus meant not sinning, and if he sinned and didn’t repent immediately his eternal life was not at that moment secure.


Listen to what the Apostle Paul has to say about the matter:


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)


Because we have trusted Jesus, we are “justified” in the eyes of God. We have been declared righteous not because we don’t sin as Christians, but because our Savior paid our debt and gave us His righteousness! (See Romans 3:21-26 for that) This is the joyous celebration of Easter, that Jesus took our sin and our shame and our guilt and put it upon Himself rather than leave us estranged from God.


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)


Jesus reminds us all in John 3:16 of His motivator for coming to earth: love. He loves people, ALL people (which is what “the world” means in this context…all people, even ones who are hostile to God), and because He loves all people He gave Himself as a sacrifice so that by simply trusting Him, any person can have peace with God that lasts forever. That is the amazing message of Easter!


The beautiful truth gets even better! See, grace means that our salvation isn’t based on our faithfulness to Jesus; instead, it is based on Jesus’ faithfulness to us.


God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)


This is the true beauty of the Christian faith, that in Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we see the love of God in its greatest form. It’s an unconditional love; we don’t have anything to do to earn it or keep it or make it better. We simply trust that Jesus is enough. We come to Him as a person and surrender to that incredible love, with all of our mess and all of our imperfection. We exchange our guilt and shame and sorrow for His love.


I really encourage you in this week and a half that we have until Easter to slow down and appreciate the grace of God in salvation, and embrace the true FREEDOM that Jesus’ love for you brings. The cross of Christ isn’t a tragedy; it is an act of supreme love. Jesus’ death doesn’t perfume over your stinky garbage; it sees through anything you might have and reminds you that He loves you as a person, unconditionally. The Resurrection isn’t Jesus somehow tricking death; it’s conquering anything that might stand in the way of you experiencing life in the family of God.


Rejoice in the goodness and unconditional love of God in Jesus this Easter!


Rejoicing with you,


Pastor John

What Does It *Really* Mean To Be A Disciple Of Jesus?

Quick quiz, and I want you to take a moment to really consider it and answer it. I want you to think of a definition that (1) doesn’t use “churchy” words or technical terminology, (2) is simple enough for a reasonable person to understand, and (3) is accurate and helpful. Ready?


How would you define what a disciple or follower of Jesus is?


Stop reading a moment and think. Have you ever had to actually define what a disciple is? Have you ever had to actually define discipleship? See, finding this definition is really, really important because in order to tell if we are actually disciples of Jesus, we have to know what defines whether a person is a disciple or not! Then we can consider how successful we are and whether we are making progress in being followers of Jesus.


Let’s start by defining some terms. First, let’s define what the word “disciple” means because it is a “churchy” word and doesn’t mean much in our world. The word our English Bibles translate as “disciple” (Greek mathetes) means “apprentice” or “one who is closely associated with a particular teacher and their way of life.” We might say “student,” but in American usage that just means someone who learns information from someone.


Jesus, though, in Luke 6:40 gives us a great working definition of what the relationship between an apprentice and their teacher is: “ A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Notice that when a disciple is fully trained, they don’t just know what the teacher knows. They don’t just have the teacher’s expertise. They are like their teacher. They adopt not just their teachers’ knowledge, but their way of life. They are more than a modern student, but more like a modern apprentice or intern.


A disciple of Jesus, then, is a person who is learning to be like Jesus, from Jesus! I love the way that Dallas Willard puts it in “How to Be A Disciple” (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=336): “I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live life if he were I.” What a great definition. A disciple of Jesus is someone who is learning from Jesus to live their life as Jesus would live life if He were them.


Now, let’s be real. Not all believers in Jesus are learning to live their life from Jesus like He would if He were them. (we know this from John 12:42, if nowhere else) I know plenty of believers in Christ, children of God bound for eternity in heaven (John 1:12), who aren’t really engaged in the process of internal change and growth that is the mark of someone who is learning and growing. Maybe they did for a time, but then they got comfortable where they were. Now they’re not learning; they’ve learned (past tense). But a disciple is not someone who has learned, but is learning!


How about you? Are you learning? Are you growing? Are you coming to Jesus, day after day, and seeking how He would live life if He were you? That’s what it means, as a believer in Jesus, to be a disciple of Jesus.


If you say you’re learning, when is the last time that He changed something inside of you to make your life look more like He would live it? Have you changed your heart toward an enemy, or altered your daily routine, or changed the way you saw God or yourself such that your life moved a little? That’s the mark of apprenticeship (or discipleship).


So, while there is much to say about the path of learning from Jesus to live our lives like He would live them if He were us, in the meantime, today…


Are you an apprentice of Jesus?


Are You Standing Still or Moving Forward?

How is Jesus changing you from the inside out right now? When is the last time you can recall that the Lord moved something in your heart to be more like His heart? It’s a real question and I would really encourage you to think about it for a minute. God wants us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind,” (Romans 12:2), so ask yourself if it’s really happening within your soul.  If Jesus is moving in your soul in a mighty way, rejoice!

If, though, you can’t remember the last time that the Holy Spirit moved through your soul then it’s time to consider changing your approach to the Christian life.  We can’t change ourselves; that’s God’s place. However, we can “tie the knots and set the sails” in our heart so that when the Spirit blows like a wind, we are ready to move. To be ready, be invested in:

  1. Truth. Be invested in the truth of God found in the Word of God. Sunday morning worship and Bible study are a great place for that.
  2. Community. You become like who you hang around, so choose to be with people becoming like Jesus! Small groups are the place community happens.
  3. Openness. We change when we’re ready to change and never before. Openness is the heart of Life Transformation Groups (LTGs), where we can be honest with ourselves and a very few trusted others.

To come in from the fringes and deeply experience Jesus, you need all three. So how are you getting them?

Sleeping Beauty…Reimagined

Today I took my teens to see the new Disney movie, “Maleficent.” It was an awesome movie, and I recommend it highly! Check out the trailer, and then read on to see why I liked it so much.

The movie is a reimagining of the Disney classic, “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. It is more than a retelling; the details are certainly different, which you would expect when “the other side” tells the tale.

I am wary of movies like this because the original is such a huge part of my childhood. (we watched a lot of Disney movies) Imagine if the Transformers was retold from the perspective of Megatron or something…perish the thought! This, though, was awesome. Angelina Jolie did a tremendous job as Maleficent. The rest of the cast kept up with her quite well and supported her efforts in good ways. The plot moved well and had enough twists in it to keep me from going and getting a popcorn refill, and the visual style was really fantastic.

Positive Elements (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!)

This really is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. The story, though, goes quite a bit differently as you would expect. I don’t want to spoil the whole plot for you, but Maleficent starts off as a wonderful fairy, then turns evil because she is terribly wronged by her love, and then finds redemption through his daughter Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Disney’s storyline says:

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

While we joked that she is like a female Anakin Skywalker, in reality it is a wonderful story of redemption.

Maleficent is wronged, horribly, by her first love, Stefan. He uses her trust in him to terribly wrong her by cutting her fairy wings off, a scene that had me weepy. That wounding leaves her physically, but more emotionally, scarred and she builds walls around herself to protect herself and her people. The walls are emotional as well as literal, and at one point she builds an impenetrable thorn wall to keep humans out of her land which is a powerful metaphor.

Her revenge against Stefan comes in the form of a curse on his daughter. Maleficent hates Stefan for what he did, and there is some cause for that. She keeps an eye on his daughter to draw out her revenge, and as she does she comes to like and then to love Aurora. In the end, Maleficent comes to sacrifice herself for Aurora and be redeemed from the evil that has grasped her heart.

Good to evil, and then in the name of true, selfless love back to good. This is a great story line and a powerful discussion for parents to have with their children!

Stefan also represents a powerful story. He really does love Maleficent, but he is power hungry and his thirst for power drives him to perform evil acts. It then traps him in his evil, unable to erase the consequences of his actions when they come back to hurt him. He becomes quite paranoid and his paranoia and desire to protect himself and his daughter from Maleficent take absurd lengths. His bad decisions snowball, little by little, until he has lost everything he holds dear. He dies at the end of the movie not just broken in body, but in spirit as well. This is another powerful lesson.

Maleficent has a minion named Diaval who shape shifts from human to raven (and to wolf and dragon on occasion…Maleficent controls that). I expected her minion to be a typical sycophant, but Diaval is much more than a sycophant. He has some stellar discussion in the movie. He acts as Maleficent’s conscience in some sense, urging her to take care of Aurora when she is young, and helping Maleficent by speaking hard truth to her when she needs it. He serves an important role in the movie, and it’s worth thinking about having a friend who can speak the truth to you and help you when times get tough.

There’s a fourth positive element for parents to talk to kids about. That’s the truth that people are seldom black and white, good or evil. We see Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty as a purely evil character, but in this movie she is far more nuanced. So, too, is Stefan. Real life seldom has people wearing black hats or white hats. Instead, everyone does what they think is right at the time and everyone’s actions are motivated by their own emotional needs and their experiences. This holds true across the board.

Finally, there’s a small element in the movie about Stefan becoming mentally ill as the movie progresses. It’s handled quite well, with his wife and subjects trying awkwardly to deal with him as he delves farther and farther into paranoia. It isn’t campy and it isn’t made fun of, but it is a major driver of the plot. This is a great discussion to have with family about mental illness and its affect on people and their loved ones.

Negative Elements

I find little to be troubled by in this movie. If you have a moral objection to magic use, skip this one. (duh!) I don’t have that problem and it’s set in a fantasy world, but if you’re sensitive to magical use the movie is filled with it.

The scene when Prince Phillip kisses Aurora can be seen, perhaps, as him using her body without her consent when he kisses her. I didn’t take it that way, but it was an awkward scene and purposefully so. The kiss is very chaste.

The film does not follow the Disney plot from Sleeping Beauty verbatim. It’s a reimagining. This could be a negative in that the villain is portrayed as the ultimate hero, but to me this is a story of redemption not of glorifying evil. In fact, it shows how evil happens and that no one is beyond redemption.


I have been asked if this movie is okay for kids. I would take my 8 year old to it without concern. If the original Sleeping Beauty is too scary for your kids, this movie will be as well. If not, it’s no worse for sure. It earned a PG rating and that seems appropriate to me. There is no sexual content at all beyond a chaste kiss, and no language in the movie.

I really thought this is a great movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly and so did my teens. We had great discussions on the ride home about all the points above. I recommend families see this and talk about the themes. Disney does a good job of bringing good moral messages in creative packages, and Maleficent keeps that pattern intact.