You’re probably familiar with this passage of the Bible written by the Apostle Paul:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.—1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV
We love these verses, don’t we? Beautiful written, wonderfully inspiring. You may even have had them recited at your wedding.
But what if loving this way involves supporting a spouse or a child with emotional health issues? What does 1 Corinthian 13 look like in that kind of real, often dark, life?
I live with three such women—one wife and two daughters, all in counseling, two on medication—and I want to share what I’ve learned about loving and supporting them as Paul instructs. I hope you’ll find inspiration and new courage to love a similar someone in your life.
❯ ACKNOWLEDGE IT
Love believes all things…
What your spouse or child is feeling?—It’s real. It’s not “just in their head,” not in the dismissive way we usually use that phrase. The single most loving thing you can do for someone struggling with a mental health issue is to let them feel the validating sense of relief that comes from being believed.
Let your loved ones know it’s safe to confide their weird, icky, creepy, dark, scary thoughts with trustful, trustworthy, compassionate you.
❯ DON’T GUILT
Love is not arrogant or rude…
Most mental health issues aren’t caused by sinful decisions a person has made. Being bipolar, or depressed, aren’t sins people commit. Rather, they are specific manifestations of the universal human fall into sin and misery. They are signs of the same broken, sinful nature abiding within you. Anne Jackson has written more about this in Your Anxiety is Not a Sin.
Let your loved ones know you still respect and admire them. They need to know your good opinion of them hasn’t changed.
❯ LISTEN PATIENTLY
Love is patient, not irritable…
You may hear the same, or similar, story over and over and over…
Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t let exasperation slip out, even if you feel it once in a while. Instead, listen actively, patiently. Ask gentle questions, not to fix “it,” but to hear “it.”
Give your loved ones the sounding board they need to process how they feel.
❯ KEEP LIVING
Love hopes all things…
“It” is real, but it doesn’t haveto be the 24/7 center of family life.
Keep your daily routines and annual traditions to maintain a sense of order and rhythm to life. The idea isn’t to pretend nothing is wrong, but to remind you and your family that life is still worth living.
Help your loved ones see the meaningful enjoyment of small accomplishments, and family games, Sunday sermons, and trips to the beach. Make fun together. Make memories together. Laugh together.
❯ PRAY TOGETHER
Love bears all things…
Pray with them. For them. Out loud.
Few things will fire more warmth and trust in a relationship than the simple act of asking God to help your loved one.
A childlike plea will do. Often, the very act of praying for a loved one in need becomes the answer in the moment of need.
❯ GET USED TO IT
Love endures all things…
Life as you knew itmay be interrupted for a while.
You may have to become a caregiver and life coach for a season. You may be needed at 3 am to sooth a panic attack.
You may have to make time just to help your loved one walk outside, to experience the sun and grass and flowers. You may need to do the laundry, at the last minute, just because. You may need to attend counseling or a support group. Maybe because he wants you to, maybe because she won’t go without you.
You may have to become more than you imagined you could.
But, love will endure all this and more.
Where will you find the inner resources to love this way?
I’ve found that I have to rely on God for that.
I have to bring my weakness to Him to ask for His strength. I have to confess my inadequacy to ask for His sufficiency. I am the average husband and father who makes mistakes, speaks too harshly, listens half-heartedly, who sometimes, just doesn’t get it.
But God is great for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. God will pour out the Spirit of Christ to fill you with His love, patience, kindness, endurance, and all that you need to love the struggling person in your life well.
And even if this season of life lasts longer than you can imagine, set your hope on Christ’s promise of eternal peace and rest beyond the present suffering. Trust Him for this.
He is great, even when life isn’t.
Do you love someone, or are you someone, who struggles with anxiety or depression? Any thoughts to share? Please do in the comments below.