As many of you know, I have dealt with serious medical issues since I was born. At the age of 16, my list of medical issues expanded to include HIV/AIDS, contracted from medicines used to treat my hemophilia. To that point, my family had always been open about my medical conditions. But, HIV changed that. HIV was a very polarizing issue for many communities, particularly the faith community. Many of those whom we had known as friends and religious support during my earlier illnesses became unknown players once HIV was introduced. Their comments about the disease (along with many circumstances that happened to other HIV+ hemophiliacs around the country) gave pause to our sharing of this latest medical struggle. Whether we realized it our not, when we had the courage to tell others about the illness, we only whispered the diagnosis. The list of those we included in the conversation was very, very short, as we discovered early on that fear trumps even years of friendship in many situations. Thus, my family and I bore the weight of my HIV diagnosis mostly alone for many years. Once I decided to share the diagnosis, the situation did not get easier, but it did add to our numbers those who were willing to stand with us. We learned that, regardless of the situation, It is lonely enough to deal with a deadly illness, but it is beyond lonely and difficult to have to whisper about it.
Mental illness is, in many ways, like the early days of HIV. Too many people have to whisper about their conditions. This is not only lonely and dibilatating, but it runs contrary to the Gospel where Jesus says, 'Come unto me all those who are tired and burdened'. How many times did Jesus stand with those forgotten and marginalized by society? How many times did he reach for the leper at the gate who had been abandoned by the very people who should have loved and received them? Remember one instance in Mark 1 where the leper has the courage to call out to Jesus as the Lord walks by- "Teacher, if you are willing, you can heal me!" Why do so many forget Jesus' response? Jesus said, 'Of course, I am willing!' Jesus would say in other parts of the Gospel, 'I came as a doctor might come to the sick...' And, yet, throughout my ministry I have watched as so many people have had to hide or whisper about the illness for which they need the touch of Jesus most.
And, on top of the social regress from such responses, individuals dealing with mental illness, in large numbers, fear seeking help and support because of fear of what such admissions will mean. This sword of rejection is indeed two sided breaking down both the access for assistance and the community for support. That MUST CHANGE!
In the Church, NO ONE SHOULD WHISPER ABOUT THEIR STRUGGLE!
Christ Church, Memphis, has created the No Whispers Initiative to address the struggle for so many living with issues of behavioral and mental health. The No Whispers Initiative does not announce any miracle cure or process that has not already been supported by countless others. But, it does join the journey of pushing beyond the sentence of silence and prison of abandonment and rejection. If a person walks into a hospital and yet feels unable to announce their illness, what good will the hope of medical technology and skill do? The same is true for the Church. What does it mean for those who are suffering to arrive at Church and feel that they must pretend everything is ok? We are better than that, BECAUSE the Gospel is better than that!
Please pray about the ways you (or those you know) are whispering about the vulnerable places of their lives. Why do you whisper? What does your particular congregation do with such whispers?
And, please pray about your participation in the No Whispers Initiative. One moment or opportunity to share, volunteer, or reach beyond the stigma WILL make a difference. Christ Church has a host of events and programs planned for the next year to launch this special initiative.
If you would like more information about Christ Church's No Whisper Initiative, please email either me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Anita Jones at email@example.com. We will send an info guide and an update of future happenings.
This is one of the most important 'CALLS' of our generation. Let us not be found 'lacking in zeal'.
Blessings—Be Salt and Light… You Matter!
Shane Stanford is a pastor, teacher and author committed to sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with the world.