Book review by Pat Bergdahl.
In her recently released book, Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence about Mental Illness, Family and Church (Chalice Press, 2014), Sarah Griffith Lund reveals her own family’s devastating experiences with mental illness, and her personal search for spiritual truth.
Sarah’s theme of “crazy in the blood” leads the reader through the rough side of life with mental illness as she painfully recalls a childhood filled with fear, despair, and longing for healing and wholeness. She spares no detail, nor does she trivialize the dark secrets of her family, but shares the surprising ways that she found God’s presence, blessing, and power to heal.
This book is neither a how-to manual nor a feel-good, happy-ending tale, but rather a cathartic exercise for the author. In the telling of this story she has come to appreciate how God’s blessing is meant for all of us, especially for people who are marginalized and suffering, including those with a genetic predisposition for mental illness which she calls “crazy in the blood.”
As Lund states, “Loving a family member who struggles with mental illness is exhausting.” All too frequently, the response of faith communities lacks understanding of the difficulty for both the one who is ill and for the family trying to reconcile spirituality and illness. The result may be trite platitudes meant to comfort or encourage but that betray a woeful ignorance. Lund makes the case that mental illness is neither a gift nor a curse; it is a biochemical reality. For those who are born with genetic predisposition for mental illness, it is important to distinguish between suffering and separation from a loving and compassionate God. She writes:
"Experiencing the pain of mental illness as a biological brain disease need not interfere with our spiritual development; it can be part of it." (p.83)
"Families and communities of faith need to be intentional and proactive about changing this culture of shame, secrecy, and stigma. Testimonies only work when there is a place to testify, a safe space to tell the truth. And healing happens when testimonies are given and received within community." (p.96)
Through personal narrative, Lund unflinchingly bares her family secrets. The real power of her story comes in the last two chapters, where she speaks to the church. Increasing mindfulness of the nature of mental illness and learning to receive those who suffer will allow God’s spirit to bless.
This book excels as a resource for faith communities to facilitate conversation on a subject that is painful and often frightening. Although the specific details of Lund’s history will not be identical to every reader’s, the familiar themes of fear, grief and uncertainty will resonate. As she states in the last paragraph, “Mental illness cannot be wished or prayed away.” By bearing one another’s burdens and creating welcoming spaces, the church can become a community offering hope and strength.
Order Blessed Are the Crazy from the publisher. A free study guide for groups is also available.
Pat Bergdahl is a retired elementary teacher who loves to read, quilt, cook, travel, and spend time with family. She attends 8th Street Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana.