When you hear about schizophrenia, what’s your response? Hand the topic over to experts? Run like the house is on fire?
Schizophrenic behavior can be daunting — the muddled communication, the inordinate lack of motivation and activity, the apparently nonexistent affect and emotions. The lack of social functionality makes relationship difficult, and the cognitive difficulty tends to unnerve. Faced with delusional hallucinations or voices, we hit the panic button.
Questions haunt us. Does schizophrenia reveal a broken mind, a shattered mind? Is psychiatric hospitalization and medication the answer, or are there biblical answers? Is it possible to be a friend, to make a disciple who becomes more like Jesus?
Let’s say your friend has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, or you’ve simply noticed behaviors common to schizophrenia, and you want to help. We’ll take it symptom by symptom.
- When you speak to your friend, the response is an inordinate pause followed by words, often only one or two, that are vague or irrelevant in meaning. Sometimes all you hear is inarticulate mumbling.
- You can help. You can calmly and lovingly show your friend the respect of anticipating interactive communication, the patience of modeling healthy communication, and the compassion to teach simple communication.
- You might say something like: “Look at me. Please. I want you to look at my eyes. We can talk together, and we can say things to each other that encourage and edify. We won’t say anything unnecessary. Let’s start by agreeing that our communication has been unwholesome. (This is a good time for you to confess impatience, disrespect, or condescension on your part). Ephesians 4:29 says ‘Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, only what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearer.’ We can do better. Just you looking at me is a great start. Thank you.”
- Patiently continue to respectfully work towards improved communication, building up and encouraging every positive direction.
LACK OF MOTIVATION AND ACTIVITY:
- Your friend is characterized by non-productivity. Even slow movement apparently requires much effort, and inactivity is preferred. Interests or goals seem to be completely missing. Your friend assumes no purpose in life.
- There is reason to live. And you might be looking at a wonderful opportunity to introduce purpose to your unmotivated friend. Isaiah 43:7 says that everyone was created for God’s glory. While the purpose and goal of living for God’s glory may click readily in your mind, it doesn’t in your friend’s mind. Be prepared to explain repeatedly that every thought and action reflects a choice, either self-glory or giving God glory.
- In Reseda, rising above ongoing struggle with schizophrenic thoughts and behaviors, Talia takes on the goal of teaching her children the joy of heaven. The bright, productive lives of her children reflect her success, and even her grandchildren carry the torch she lit (I write as one of them).
- Possibly, like Talia, your friend has faced unspeakable trauma. This is not to be denied, but neither is the truth that there is a path of overcoming through which your friend can view that trauma as an opportunity to glorify God. It may take a lot of conversation before your friend understands that the current attitude actually stems in self-glory (self-protection). Be patiently available. As Paul said in Philippians 4:9, after teaching the thoughts necessary for joy and peace in Christ, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
LIMITED OR NONEXISTENT AFFECT/EMOTION:
- Your friend doesn’t seem to care. All you see is apathy, withdrawal, and, at best, inappropriate emotional expression. How should you respond to your friend’s incongruous countenance?
- Sometimes we ask the wrong questions. Rather, ask what would be appropriate for your friend in his or her unique life, and begin with thoughts and actions rather than emotions.
- Scripture is the authority on what normal, appropriate emotion includes. Scripture teaches that joy is 1) a choice, and 2) in the Lord. Thoughts are the starting point, not emotions (Philippians 4:8).
- Patiently model and teach your friend the two thought-paths to joy in the Lord — prayer and thankfulness in all things. Ask your friend to join you in memorizing and meditating on 1 Thessalonians 5:15-17 — “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
- Your friend reacts slowly, seemingly unaware of how to make even simple mental judgements. Enough stick-to-it-tivity to keep a job? Well maybe for a short while, but it fades fast.
- The path of character grows by persevering through trial, as Romans 5:3-5 teaches. Begin by helping your friend persevere through a small trial. Endurance under pressure is the beginning point of developing controlled cognition.
- Teach your friend to choose ahead of time to think, “What would please Jesus?” Philippians 2:6 says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Beginning with small decisions, whatever opportunity comes along, help your friend to choose obedience in thought and action.
- Remind your friend that self-control is a fruit the Holy Spirit, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:24 [ESV]
- “Even a child is known by his doings, whether they be pure and right.” Proverbs 20:11
POOR OR NONEXISTENT SOCIAL FUNCTIONALITY:
- Your friend prefers isolation, without interaction or contact. Obviously, one-way friendship isn’t easy, but it may be just what your friend needs. This may be your opportunity to love.
- Take this passage to your own heart first, so that you can help your friend to work on it with you. 2 Peter 1:5-9 [ESV] For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
- We all need the cleansing of former sins, because we all fail in the above list.
- Sit down together, read the passage, and ask your friend about the qualities one at a time. “What does faith mean? How do you see faith in my life? What about your life?” “What does virtue mean? How could we help each other supplement faith with virtue?” And so on, covering knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly affection. You might be surprised.
- Training means adding a bit more weight once you’ve achieved a certain level. Helping your friend reflect Christ a little more, one quality at a time, may be just the weight you need to help you increase in faith, virtue… and brotherly affection with love.
- Your friend reports delusions. Hallucinations. Voices. Are these real, you wonder?
- If it’s a person living in your home, whose voices and hallucinations happen at night, you face what may seem a monumental task, like Jakob in Reseda.
- Listen carefully, and you will find that delusion and hallucination hold variations of truth that your friend has found preferable. Something is lacking in your friend’s relationship with God and man, and rather than deal with it in the healing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:24), your friend chooses delusion.
- To the deception of delusion, God’s response is strong, full of hope and courage. John 8:32 [ESV] And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
- John 14:6–“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.” All understanding of truth must begin with Jesus, and truth must be defined according to His Word.
- Your friend can fight the deception of delusion with truth, just like Talia in Reseda. Ephesians 6 outlines armor to take up in the fight against delusion, in which the first piece of equipment is the belt of truth. In Philippians 4:8, Scripture insists that the first, foremost thought must be truth.
- Help your friend to interpret and understand delusion by studying and obeying the Bible — 2Timothy 2:15 [ESV] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
- John 17:17 [ESV] Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Scripture, as it claims, includes real help and lasting hope. To love well, we will address the symptoms of schizophrenia in a new old way — with God’s divine prescriptions in Scripture — the anciently tried and absolutely true way.