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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Small Acts and Great Progress by Bob Griggs

Written by Bob Griggs

The bible story of the “widow’s mite” is one of my favorites.  In it Jesus commends the widow who put two small copper coins into the treasury at the temple.  These two coins are only worth a penny, but Jesus tells his disciples that she has put in more than those all those who contributed great sums.  He concludes, “All of them have given out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she has, all she had to live on.”  (Mark 10:44  NRSV)  

This story is typical of the way Jesus sees what others look past.  It’s also typical of the way he lifts up those who are ignored, pointing out how often it is that the marginalized, the poor, and the seemingly powerless are the ones who are truly doing the will of God.  The widow might be invisible to others, but for Jesus she is the one who teaches us how to give.

I think about this story as a support in recovery for people living with mental illness.  For example, getting out of bed in the morning, taking a shower, making breakfast, returning a phone call, paying a bill are tasks that are easy to overlook.   They are so humble and every day that they don’t seem to count for much.  But for a person living with mental illness getting these things done can be a major accomplishment and a step toward recovery.  Like the widow’s two small coin, they represent all the person can give, all that they can do.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, we are taught not to “disqualify the positive”, which means in part not to minimize what one has accomplished.  In recovery it’s important not to disqualify the positive even when the positive is something as small as accomplishing these humble, everyday tasks.  They may seem small, but in the calculus of recovery they are actually huge, much to be celebrated just as Jesus celebrated the widow’s seemingly small gift in the temple.

In living with one’s own mental illness, in helping other who are living with mental illness, I believe that it is important to see as Jesus saw, to see what an action actually costs a person, what it means to them, how a for something that may seem small is actually significant progress.  It is important not to let such accomplishments be disqualified or disregarded but to celebrate them as milestones on the road to recovery. 
Ordained in 1973, Bob Griggs has served UCC churches in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Minnesota.   He is an Advisory Council member at Vail Place, a club house for people living with mental illness.  He is also the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies.

Signals of Distress, Signs of Hope by Craig Rennebohm

written by Craig Rennebohm

In 2017, 31.5% of high school students had experienced periods of persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness (i e , almost every day for two weeks or more in a row so that the student stopped doing some usual activities) in the past year.  The percentage of students who experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in the past year increased significantly from 2007 through 2017.

In 2017, 17.2% of high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year The percentage of students who had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year increased significantly from 2007 through 2017.

In 2017, 7.4% of high school students had attempted suicide one or more times in the past year

In 2017, 14.0% of high school students had ever used prescription pain medicine, such as codeine, Vicodin, OxyContin, Hydrocodone, or Percocet, without a prescription or differently than indicated by a doctor.

These data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are one indicator of the emotional pain in our communities.

Just this past week our small Quaker Meeting sponsored a weeklong social justice camp for youth 7-11. The theme was Honoring Native Peoples and the Land, exploring the culture and heritage of this richly beautiful corner of the Pacific Northwest. The number of children who shared with us their own deep struggle of loss, fear, conflict and trauma were an unanticipated challenge.

The camp began with participating in the welcome of 30 canoes from in Port Townsend, one stop on an annual journey that brings together tribes to celebrate and share their ancient practices of healing and hospitality. Thousands of youth and young adults over the last 30 years have deepened their spirituality, begun recovery, built nurturing relationships and addressed the reality of isolation and suffering through these shared multi-community voyages. Tribes and villages have linked over hundreds of miles to lift up the best of their traditions to encourage self-discovery, co-operation and wellbeing.

The welcome as the canoes come into each landing along the way is heartfelt and deep. “It is a good day. You have arrived.”

The annual canoe journey emerged out of a profound local crisis, a calling to respond to the struggles of youth slipping into alienation and despair. No one congregation alone, no one neighborhood or community on its own can put in place the local foundations supportive of healthy childhood and human growth. We are called with all of good faith, to create emotional health at the most basic levels of our life together.
Craig Rennebohm is a retired UCC Minister and author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God (Beacon Press), written from his own experience and 25 years of ministry doing outreach on the streets of Seattle with individuals facing homeless and mental health challenges. Craig is currently a member of the Port Townsend Friends Meeting and exploring the world of poetry.