If We Want to Love Well, We Must Love Long

“We discovered your blog post that includes a range of prayers related to mental illness. Is there one of these that you would see as particularly appropriate for a hymnal and worship book? If not, would you be open to selecting or writing something else? Although space limits us to one short prayer on this subject, we hope that it can serve as a model for naming and de-stigmatizing mental illness and bring awareness to mental health.”

For the last while I had already been working as part of a team to put together funeral resources for the new Voices Together hymnal project. But this invitation was for something different. It wasn’t a song. It wasn’t only for corporate worship. Instead, as the rest of the email explained, the vision was to go beyond Sunday, beyond a church setting, to think of prayer as part of worship at home and in other contexts too.

I was pleased to receive this invitation, for I’ve often prayed with and for people facing mental challenges, and value the close connection between worship and pastoral care. So in response I wrote a prayer for those going through a mental health challenge as well as those walking with them. Like all of the other worship resources for Voices Together, it’s now being reviewed and revised by the six-person Central Practices Committee, and will go through several months of testing.

Since this is all still in process, I can’t share the prayer here yet. But today I have a related guest post from Catherine P. Downing, whose son was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was twenty-two years old. He and his family lived with his untreated mental illness for another twelve years until he was finally able to accept his diagnosis and receive treatment at the age of thirty-four.


by Catherine P. Downing

I believe Christ is calling his church to a great outpouring of love, overflowing from the bottomless well of living water he has placed within each of his people. I believe he wants that love to reach people with mental illness and lift them in a great wave of healing and hope–right where they are, among those our society considers untouchable, avoidable and justifiably condemned to the fringes. – Amy Simpson, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

It is sometimes called the “no casserole” illness, because when a loved one has a severe bout with a mental illness, no one from the church brings over a meal, like they do for gall bladder surgery, cancer treatments or even childbirth. The fact of the matter is, though a pastor is often the first person turned to when a mental illness begins to surface, the church is typically the last responder to this kind of family crisis. Why is that?

There are lots of reasons, including fear, ignorance, confusion and anemic or distorted doctrines related to suffering in general and mental illness in particular. Often though, the family itself doesn’t let its suffering be known. Family members’ own fear, ignorance and confusion block the openness needed to receive the “outpouring of love” Christ desires to stream through His Church.

In desperate need for emotional and spiritual support, Nelson and I risked transparency. In response, with hesitant and stumbling baby steps, our church has started growing into a conduit of strength and comfort. Casseroles from people in our church come from a variety of menus. They serve up generous portions of fervent prayers, kind words, attentive phone calls and multiple offers of help. Most nourishing of all are those that come with listening ears and shared tears.

Because of the nature of mental illness, it is likely that our needs will not go away. There will be many Sundays when we melt before the altar in a puddle of hopeless despair. Douglas’ name will stay a permanent entry on the prayer list. The church is learning that to love us well, they must love us long. Over time, we will need many, many more casseroles.


The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance. – 1 Corinthians 12 :25-26 (The Message)

O ever-wise God, is it possible that our church needs Douglas as much as we need them? Could it be that You have put us in this body at this time so they could be a part of the comfort You are pouring out upon our family? Are we, perhaps, merely mirrors for others to see their own camouflaged hurts? Are we heralds inviting others to uncloak their neediness and to come to You for hope and healing?

O all-seeing Lord, show Your Church those who suffer among us, hidden away beneath blankets of stigma, shoved into corners of marginalization. You who call Your Body to care for the least, the lost, the lonely, the left-behind, teach us how to include those whom others deem unworthy. Bless us with the opportunity to become a community where they can flourish. Amen.

Casseroles is a sample chapter from Sparks of Redemptive Grace: Seeking and Seeing God Amid a Loved One’s Mental Illness by Catherine P. Downing. Reprinted here with permission.


Writing/Reflection Prompt: Is there less stigma around mental illness than there used to be? Or is mental illness still a “no casserole” illness?


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