I am good with words. I make my living with words. I use words to proclaim the gospel and words to teach the faith. As a pastor, I use words to soothe fevered spirits. As a prophet, I use words to speak the truth. I am not a theologian and don’t want to be. I am a storyteller. You will never hear me analyze a Greek word from the pulpit. All my words will be in English. And I promise you will not have to look any of them up in the dictionary.
I love the sound of words. I am fond of alliteration and internal rhyme. I am partial to the active voice. I try to be passive as little as possible. I believe in sentences that are not too long and phrases with an unusual turn of phrase. I love the rhythm of words, sometimes syncopated, sometimes legato. I love the natural pauses, the silence between words. I am unorthodox in my punctuation and quite fond of ellipses and dashes. I confuse commas and semicolons. But I do try to restrain myself when it comes to exclamation points.
I once had a coffee mug that said “Linger over language”. I am not exactly sure what that means but I love the sound of it. I should have been born in a coffee house so addicted am I to the stuff. And conversing over coffee is my major sport. I have no athletic skills to speak of. But I am gifted — gifted with the gift of gab.
A gift I got from my mother.
My mother could talk on the telephone from dawn ‘til dusk. My mother could and would talk to anybody about anything. And I do mean anybody and I do mean anything. Standing in line at the grocery store my mother would go on and on about how we were doing at school. Taking care of business at the bank, my mother would complain about her mother-in-law. Even sitting in the dentist chair my mother would manage to mumble some embarrassing anecdote. It was endearing, amusing and mortifying all at the same time. And I swore that when I grew up I would never mortify my children the way my mom had mortified me.
Unfortunately the bipolar brain is often blissfully unaware of itself. Combine a touch of manic brilliance, a couple of double shot lattes and the gift of gab and what do you get? You get one crazy and highly disconnected and sometimes disconcerting conversation. It’s called “pressured speech”. I thought I was immune. I was wrong.
Not too long ago at Bittersweet, a little café on King Street, I joined my daughter and her friends for coffee. It is really quite wonderful when your adult children still want to hang out with you. I was ecstatic to see my second child and her girlfriends whom I had known since they were in middle school. And blessing upon blessing, I had presided at their weddings. Wow! So much to talk about!
So I did. I talked and talked. I felt totally tuned in to what was going on around me. I felt powerful connections to these young women’s lives. I was delighted by all they had to say and was quick to share all my amazing insights. Flying from one topic to another, I thought I was dazzling. After stopping off at Ten Thousand Villages and spending too much money, I went home happy as a clam.
But my daughter was mortified. Later she told me how embarrassed she was. She told me I wasn’t listening. She told me that I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. She said I rudely interrupted and talked over her friends. My daughter was mortified. And I was mortified, her mom who swore that this would never happen.
So I had to find words, healing words to make things better. So my daughter and I went out to dinner and we had a conversation. I told her I was sorry for any embarrassment I had caused. But more than that I wanted her to understand the fallout of being bipolar. When your leg breaks, you get a cast and crutches. When your ears can’t hear, you get a hearing aid. When your blood pressure is too high, you get red in the face and take some pills. And everybody understands and no one is embarrassed.
But when your brain is broken, sadly this is not so. When your brain is broken, you don’t limp or bleed or have bruises. When your brain is broken, it comes out in your behavior, it comes out in your thoughts, it comes out in your moods. Sometimes you’re a Chatty Cathy, talking a blue streak and spouting nonsense. Brilliant nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless.
So instead let us “speak the truth in love”. This little phrase, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, is one of my favorite snippets of scripture. And it applies in mental health matters both big and small. “Speaking the truth in love” can be as simple as asking my daughter to tap me on the shoulder next time she thinks my gift of gab is getting out of hand. But when it comes to the big things, speaking the truth can tie your tongue into knots.
Mental health is both incredibly crucial and incredibly complicated. The clueless need to be educated. The callous need to be enlightened. The God’s honest truth is that the stuff that goes wrong with our brains is just as normal as the stuff that goes wrong with our hearts.
But to “speak this truth in love” we will have to speak some uncomfortable words. Sometimes very uncomfortable words indeed. When concerned about a friend, colleague or loved one, we need to have the chutzpah to be both direct and honest. And I mean as direct and honest as possible. Pull no punches. Placating and playing along is neither pastoral nor helpful. Tell the truth in love, so that your loved one can truly get the help they need. Need help finding the words? Check out NAMI.ORG or DBSA.ORG or sign up for Mental Health First Aid Training. (Yes! that is a real thing.)
It is more than time for the truth about mental illness to be told. Never again should it be a dirty little secret to be swept under the rug. It is more than time for all those tired old stereotypes to die. It’s 2014 for God’s sake.
Chatty Cathy or not, it’s time to speak the truth in love.
So friends, can you help me find the words?