I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. — Psalm 40:1-3
Ginny could hardly wait to see her son. Walker had finished his sophomore year at college and accepted a summer internship with an investment firm in New York City. Ginny had rallied the whole family — her husband, Jim, plus Walker’s two younger sisters, Molly and Maggie — to make the trek to the Big Apple for a weekend at the end of the summer. They had only been at their hotel for ten minutes when Walker rapped on the door. Twelve-year-old Maggie flung it open — and gasped.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my brother?”
Walker was, indeed, hard to recognize. His hair was long and unkempt; he had grown a beard; and it was clear that he had lost a lot of weight. At six foot two, Walker had left for college carrying 185 pounds; now it looked like he weighed about 120.
Ginny had known her son was dropping weight, and the last time she’d seen him, his normally clean-shaven face and preppy haircut had been replaced by more of what she called “the grunge look,” but none of that had concerned her. College kids went through all sorts of changes, didn’t they? Some gained weight and some lost it, and everybody tweaked their outfits and their hairstyles. Walker was still making the straight A’s he had earned in high school; Ginny and Jim were confident that their high-achieving son was just going through some sort of phase.
Now, though, she wasn’t so sure. Surrounded by his family, Walker began talking, rapid-fire, about his plans for the future. “I am going to lead a revival in this city,” he said, smiling broadly.
“What about your internship?” Jim asked. “How did that go?”
“God told me I didn’t need to finish that,” Walker replied. “Everyone here is so into making money and getting rich; I’m not. I’m more into helping people. I gave all my money away.”
Jim and Ginny exchanged a look. They had always taught their children to be generous — Ginny had even texted Walker a Bible verse about being willing to share with those in need — but this seemed a little extreme. She was glad they had planned to tour the city and then head home with Walker for a couple of weeks before he was due to go back to college. She didn’t want to leave him alone.
At home, though, things got worse. Walker’s affable personality took on a somber, dangerous-sounding tone. “There is darkness in this house,” he declared. “And there is darkness in you, Mom.”
Ginny and Jim realized that the situation was spiraling out of control. They needed to get help, and fast. They called a doctor friend who confirmed that they should take Walker to the hospital, even though it was the middle of the night. “I was terrified,” Ginny told me. “I didn’t want to do that. No parent wants to be in the Take Your Child to the Hospital club. But in a way, I was also relieved.”
That evening began a years-long journey that is still unfolding. Doctors diagnosed Walker with bipolar disorder, a mental illness often characterized by things like rapid mood changes, grandiose plans and ideas, impulsive overspending or generosity, loud or fast talking, and other high-energy behaviors that can last for hours or days.1
Walker accepted the diagnosis and agreed to take medication. But that was no easy fix. He was a smart and quick-thinking student who was used to excelling at pretty much every endeavor — from captaining his high school lacrosse team to giving the sermon on Youth Sunday at church — and he found himself frustrated as he worked to adjust to the medicine’s side effects. “It was like putzin’ along in a Pinto,” Ginny confided, “when he was used to driving a race car. It was hard for him to get any mental traction.”
Unable to return to college, Walker got a job making sandwiches at a local deli frequented by Ginny’s neighbors and friends. “Why isn’t Walker back at school this semester?” people wanted to know.
Depending on who was asking, Ginny offered “the short story, the medium story, or the long story” — but in every case, she was honest about what their family was facing. “Walker is working through some mental health issues,” she told people. “We’re getting help, and we’re hopeful for the future.”
“You are so brave,” one woman said. “I don’t know if I could be so open about a mental or emotional illness in my family.”
“I don’t feel brave at all,” Ginny replied. “I mean, people can tell that something is going on just by looking at Walker. I don’t want to stay in the dark; I want to bring our situation into the light. We have to get rid of the shame and the stigma that surround mental illness. People need to be able to support each other — we need our praying friends, now more than ever.”
For Ginny, hope and support came in many forms, including through a book called Emotionally Free. The author, Grant Mullen, is a medical doctor who set out to demystify the labels and treatment options for what he calls “emotional bondage.”
In the Christian community, especially, Mullen says, there can sometimes be an “unspoken message that emotional illness [is] a sign of spiritual and emotional weakness and that strong Christians really shouldn’t suffer from these conditions” but should be able to “get out of it themselves.”2
When you pray your child through a mental or emotional illness, don’t let shame or fear keep you from enlisting prayer partners to help carry your burden.
Nothing, Mullen maintains, could be further from the truth. His vision for emotional health and wholeness resembles a three-legged stool: The physical part of a person, the behavioral part (the mind, will, and emotions), and the spiritual part. With brain disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit disorder, addressing the physical causes with medication (treating “blurred thinking” the way you would treat “blurred vision,” for instance) can help restore proper brain chemistry. But medicine alone, Mullen says, is not the answer; he endorses the value of emotional counseling, as well as the need for stepping into the spiritual dimension of healing through prayer.
God is in the business of transformation, and He has promised to renew us—body, mind, and spirit — day by day.3
For Ginny, Mullen’s threefold approach made sense. After receiving a diagnosis and beginning medical treatment, she and Jim joined a bipolar support group at their church. Together with Walker, they drew strength from professional counselors who emphasized the importance of maintaining structure (things like working in the deli) as part of the journey to emotional freedom. And they confided their deepest concerns to a trusted group of praying friends who fought the battle on the spiritual front.
Even with this support, though, Ginny and Jim could not help but grow weary. They found themselves tempted to doubt God’s goodness or His power to heal, wondering if maybe He loved other people, but not their family. To combat these thoughts (which they recognized as lies), they made a deliberate (and sometimes difficult) choice to focus on the truth. “Every day,” Ginny said, “we would say the same thing, and we’d say it out loud: God is good. He is powerful. And He loves me.”
This emphasis on God’s goodness and power gave rise to hope — a hope that grew as Ginny and Jim began to see positive changes in their son. Could he, they wondered, return to college?
That was certainly what they all wanted, and with the blessing of Walker’s medical team, they agreed to give it a go. He made his way through the next year and a half, but then sank into a deep depression, becoming catatonic and losing even more weight. For Ginny, the setback was devastating. “We thought he was doing so well, and that he was stable. The fact that we were wrong — and that we had to bring him home and hospitalize him again, and that he was actually worse — created a fear in me of what might happen next.”
One of Walker’s doctors added fuel to these fears. “His cognition will likely never return,” the man warned. “He will never go back to college.”
Beaten and broken — and yet unwilling to give up hope — Ginny and Jim made the difficult decision to move Walker to a long-term therapeutic community that offered more aggressive treatment options. After nearly two months, he seemed much improved. Still, though, he rarely spoke, and they knew more had to be done. Ginny found herself crying out to God, searching the Scriptures for some way to cope with both her present reality and her fears for the future — worries that Walker might never get better, that he would try to take his own life, or that (given the genetic links Ginny knew were associated with mental illness) one of her daughters would become afflicted.
Habakkuk 3:17–19 became Ginny’s spiritual touchstone, as she exchanged the prophet’s desperate circumstances for her own worst nightmares and turned his words into her own resolute prayer:
Though Walker never gets better and sits in the house for the rest of his life, though he threatens to commit suicide and even succeeds in killing himself, though he gets better for a little while and then gets worse again and we live on a roller coaster for the rest of our lives, though more of our children and grandchildren develop mental health issues, YET I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of the deer; He enables me to tread on the heights.
Even as she vowed to choose joy — whether or not Walker’s condition improved — Ginny continued to pray for his healing. She had been raised in a traditional church (one where miracles and supernatural displays were not often discussed), but when she heard about a conference offered through Christian Healing Ministries, she decided to attend.4 She figured she could hang out in the back and just watch. And when the leader invited people to come forward for prayer, she stayed seated — until she sensed God speaking to her heart. “I made you,” he said, “and I know you. If you want to sit in the back of the room with your arms crossed, that’s okay. I can still bless you.”
Disarmed by God’s love, Ginny made her way to the front. One of the prayer leaders asked God to reveal any areas of unforgiveness that might be getting in the way of healing.
Immediately, Ginny had a strong impression that God wanted her to forgive herself. That seemed odd, at first, until a torrent of memories — coupled with ugly accusations — flooded her mind:
- Her own family had a genetic history of mental illness; Walker’s problem was probably all her fault.
- Walker was her oldest child; no wonder she had made so many mistakes!
- And what about that young woman she met at church, the one who had looked at her family and then unwittingly let loose a dagger: “You seem like such a good mom. How could this happen?” Clearly, people assumed Ginny had done something wrong — and maybe they were right.
As Ginny turned these thoughts over in her head, they were replaced with a mental picture. She saw herself hanging on a giant meat hook and heard the Lord whispering to her spirit: You need to forgive yourself. You have to let yourself off the hook so that I can go to work.
Not sure how to proceed, Ginny simply surrendered her will and told God she had forgiven herself. And then, for good measure, she mentally forgave Walker for the pain he had unwillingly caused, as well as her parents for any part they may have played in contributing to a genetic pattern or saddling her with the responsibility to “fix” things.
“I literally felt my brain tingle,” Ginny said, “and it was like my fears simply vanished. The meat hook was gone, and I felt free.” Ginny had no idea what had happened in the spiritual realm, but she had the distinct sense that something had given way. The path to healing was open.
An unforgiving spirit can hinder your prayers. Ask God to search your heart — and be ready to extend grace (even to yourself) and receive God’s love.
Sure enough, Walker began to change. Spring was in the air, and as the trees and flowers blossomed, so did he — talking and laughing and slowly regaining his confidence and his joy. He got a job with a construction company, doing the most menial labor but flourishing under the structure and his newfound sense of responsibility and purpose.
Eventually, Walker went back to college, earning not just his BA but also, two years later, a master’s degree. None of that was easy — it was like “running a marathon on crutches,” Ginny says — and it required some major adjustments on Walker’s part (letting go of the need to make good grades, for example, and being willing to allow other people to hold him accountable and help track his moods rather than relying on his own intelligence and ability). Still, though, Ginny looks back on all that they have been through — and all that the future holds — and maintains that their family has been blessed.
“We were living the dream, raising a son who succeeded at everything. I didn’t know it then, but it was like we had set up two idols on our mantel: appearance and achievement. Those idols got smashed, along with our pride — which, ultimately, opened the door to real freedom and emotional security.
“I know it might not look this way,” she continues, “but ours is a story of great hope. Doctors said it would never work — and I understand the need to balance reality with faith — but something always happens when we pray.”
- See Grant Mullen, MD, Emotionally Free: A Prescription for Healing Body, Soul, and Spirit, 2nd ed. (Mustang, OK: Tate, 2013), 100–101.
- Ibid., 31.
- 2 Corinthians 4:16; Romans 12:2; Psalm 51:10.
- For more information about Christian Healing Ministries, visit www .christianhealingmin.org.
Excerpted with permission from Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children by Jodie Berndt, copyright Jodie Berndt.
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If you’re praying for the mental and emotional health of your children, you are not alone. Don’t let it be a secret. There are safe and trustworthy Christian resources who can help you navigate the healing and restoration of your child and support you! Remember that the Lord is right with you and He loves you and your family. Prayer changes thing. Pray! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full