“My own depression fits into a family deeply affected by depression passed down more faithfully than family heirlooms. We treated depression (though unnamed) as a character flaw, a spiritual failure, a source of shame. No one ever talked about it. When as a teen I, too, began to succumb, I forced myself to keep going and hid my pain from the church, as I saw others doing. I observed the church as a supportive community for others—but not in relation to our family’s secret misery.”
When someone we love is suffering the effects of a mental illness, we may not understand what is happening. We may watch, helpless and frustrated, as the illness spirals out of control and renders our beloved family member unable to take the very steps of self-care that offer the most promise of improvement and recovery.
Catherine P. Downing has written a book for just such moments. Sparks of Redemptive Grace: Seeking and Seeing God Amid a Loved One’s Mental Illness offers, to those who love someone with a mental illness, hope and companionship on the journey. This short book (75 pages) is, in essence, a prayer book for those whose hearts are bound up with loved ones who struggle with mental illness. Reflective prayers, the heart of the book, bring together the deep anguish we suffer with solid affirmations of faith in the God who cares for our beloved more than we can ever know.
One example will give you a taste:
“O God of compassion, release us from the grip of sadness and free us from choking fear. Year after year, we watch the unrelenting waves of rage swell within him and beat down any hope of rest…. He is drowning again and we are helpless again…. How long, O Man of Sorrows, will You wait to walk upon the waves and lift him out his tumult? How long, O Prince of Peace, before You bring us rest from our turmoil? Come, Lord Jesus, come.” (p 18-19).
Complementing the heartfelt prayers are quotes from scripture and contemporary wisdom, and glimpses of the author's family life. Downing has used pseudonyms and removed identifying information to protect her family’s privacy. These brief glimpses into her own experience left me hungering for more, longing to deepen my sense of having a companion on a difficult journey.
The book’s intended audience, family members of persons living with a mental illness, will find much to appreciate in this book. Faith communities can play an important role in supporting the family members of those who live with mental illness. Sharing this book, along with expressing your desire to listen and not judge, would be one good way to offer such support. For this reason I highly recommend this book to pastors and to anyone who wants to be a caring friend. Keep it on hand to share as you offer your nonjudgmental companionship to those who suffer.
Order from the publisher.
Reviewer Christine Guth is the previous Program Director for Anabaptist Disabilities Network. She retired in November, 2016.