I knew that I was an ACoA (adult child of an alcoholic) but I did not know I was an ACMI until I read Vicki Hornung Reyes, “A Closer Look at Children of the Mentally Ill in Missions in the April issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Apparently California psychotherapist Eva Marian Brown created the term “adult child of the mentally ill” (ACMI) to describe people who had grown up “with a parent suffering from a serious psychological impairment that profoundly affected the functioning of both the parent and the family.” You can read more about Brown and her book, My Parents Keeper on her website.
Reyes asked the following question, “How do adult children of the mentally ill react in cross-cultural settings?” As an ACOA and an ACMI, I would love to see more research done on this topic. As I discovered in my dissertation, we don’t have an overabundance of research on missionaries to begin with. Again, Reyes says, “Although it takes effort to uncover research about other types of adult children involved in missionary service (such as adult children of alcoholics), it is extremely difficult to find any specific research on adult children of the mentally ill in a cross-cultural situation.”
Reyes provides the following definition of “Mental illness” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI),
A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning…Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. (2013)
I would classify myself as an ACMI because of major depression episodes in one of my parents. Again Reyes says, “Offspring of the severely depressed also seem to be very prone to depression, as well as other serious mental illnesses, according to a longitudinal study done by Marian Radke Yarrow and fellow researchers (Radke-Yarrow 1998, 192).” And she cited the following, “Those with at least one depressed parent had about a threefold higher risk for developing mood disorders (mostly major depressive disorder) and anxiety disorders (mostly phobias), more than twofold greater risk for alcohol dependence, and sixfold greater risk for drug dependence. (Weissman et al. 2006)”
Reyes provides ten characteristics of Adult Children of the Mentally Ill
- They often have painfully low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness.
- They are often victims of abuse.
- They have experienced a “lifetime of losses.”
- They are often “parentified children” (Brown 1989, 1).
- Many have felt alone growing up.
- They are usually very compassionate.
- They often have a great need for structure and predictability (Brown 1989, 128).
- They have probably not been able to share their story with others.
- They are generally very hard workers.
- They dislike artifice and are usually painfully honest both about themselves and what they observe around them.
According to Reyes, “ACMIs can make very competent workers.” She lists some of potential positive characteristics
- ACMIs who are accepted by mission boards have proven to be very resilient.
- They are “copers”—those people described by Agnes Hatfield who make efforts to “master conditions of threat, harm, or challenge when the usual strategies are insufficient”.
- They have found the healing love of God, the Perfect Parent, and want to share this love with others.
- ACMIs usually have the gift of compassion and can empathize with the many victims of abuse and trauma worldwide.
As expected, being an adult child of mental illness may lead to struggles on the mission field some of which Reyes suggest.
- Because of a lack of normal social experiences, support-raising may be initially awkward
- Relatives may not support the ACMI, either financially or emotionally when he or she leaves for the field.
- The ACMI may feel guilty for leaving the care of the parent to the spouse or other siblings
- The ACMI’s poor self-esteem may plummet when he or she arrives on the field until he or she feels confident using a second language and living in a new culture
- The ACMI may feel isolated because he or she is unable to share his or her story with many people.
- The ACMI may struggle with the chaos of living and working in certain cultures. • The ACMI may overreact when there are church splits or mission upheavals because of his or her background of chronic loss and abandonment.
As an ACOA and an ACMI, I wish I had taken the time to process my family of origin issues before becoming a cross-cultural worker. Perhaps, in 1985, when I became a missionary, missionary organizations were not as aware of mental health issues and member care was a fledgling field of study. I suppose in a lot of ways, I have ended up in the area of member care because of my own journey as a missionary processing my family of origin issues.
I do like the way Reyes concludes her article. May this give hope to other cross-cultural workers who are ACOAs or ACMIs. Reyes writes, “ACMI missionaries can enjoy a successful and joyful ministry, but they may require time to recognize how growing up with a mentally ill parent has affected them. If childhood trauma is recognized before leaving for the mission field, ACMIs can focus on healing and may avoid attrition in the future. With the support of mission leaders and member care providers, these resilient, compassionate gospel-sharers can help bring hope to a hurting world that so desperately needs to know the love of a perfect Father.”
Gratefulness and generosity are two spiritual disciplines that can free us from the bondage of envy.
Kevin Woo in an article on August 16 2011 of the weblog of Sound Mind Investing tells a simple story in which one act of generosity began to release he and his wife from envy’s grip. Kevin says, “We are still learning and believing God to transform us into more generous givers, trusting His faithfulness. Be encouraged. Generosity is an antidote to envy.”
You can read Kevin’s article on the SMI website (a site I have been a member for a number of years now), AND, Kevin references an article by Tim Challies, which is also a reflection on envy.
Challies discovered the evil of envy in his own heart when he began to begrudge another person blessings that came into their life. I suspect there are others out there who may struggle like Challies and myself in applying Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice.” Why is this so hard? Challies suggests the problem is envy in our hearts.
Envy for Challies is “a deeply private but destructive form of covetousness. . . . Envy is evil, competitive and selfish.” He provides some helpful quotes from Os Guinness and C.S. Lewis. For Challies, the cure for envy is contentment.
Here is a link to a previous post I made on Envy after reading Michael Mangis book, Signature Sins. According to Mangis, the antidotes to envy are “contentment, gratititude, joy and satisfaction.”
Here are a few passages from Scripture about envy
- “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” (Proverbs 14:30 ESV)
- “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Eccl 4:4 ESV)
- “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;” (1 Cor 13:4 ESV)
- “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”(1 Peter 2:1 ESV)
Here is a short meditation as I have been thinking about 1 John 1 and reading the poem, Cleanse the Thoughts by Walter Bruegemann
Why do I try to hide
When I am already fully known by You?
My secrets ooze out of the pores of my life,
despite my best efforts to keep them hidden.
My shame keeps me
from the help that I so desperately need.
Your wooing voice cries out to me,
Allow yourself to be known.
Join in the celebration with the saints,
our blood-bought victory,
our bondage-breaking liberation,
our friendship-restoring redemption.
Allow yourself to be known
And to be loved
as a less-than-perfect
image-bearer of the King.”
During my retreat last week, I meditated upon and ended up memorizing the following portion of a poem called, “All Desires Are Known,” by Walter Brueggemann in his book, Prayers for a Privileged People. Maybe it will encourage others of you as it has me.
We spend our energy managing our desires,
waiting on them
investing in them
trying to hide them.
But you know,
and you know by your presence how to change our desires,
because in your presence,
our desires lose their power
as we receive again your look of love,
your powerful embrace,
your steady summons,
and then we know our desires
are all too self-indulgent,
interrupted by the precious Psalmist,
“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth
I desire other than you.
You have made us to desire only you,
you, our beginning and our end,
you, our food and our rest,
you, our joy and our peace.
Turn us from our desires that obsess us.
Unburden us that we may know
our true desire and end in communion with you,
you, who desire us as companion and lover.
A repost from 2011
Many Christians seem to be afraid of longing and desire. Perhaps for good reason.
Many of us know where longings and desire may lead us. Trust me I know!
- Pursuit of power
And we could go on and on. We all know the verse, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” found in Jeremiah 17:9. After thinking about this, I decided that I need to go back and re-read Eldridge’s book, Awakening the Dead since I can’t find any notes on his book. Eldridge deals a lot with the heart. The Bible talks a lot about the heart!!
Another problem with desire is found in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.”
And finally, I thought of James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
No doubt what Gary Thomas writes is true, “Pleasure divorced from God leads to pain and misery. . . Pleasure divorced from God’s governing hand becomes treacherous.” A rampant pursuit of our desires ends up in destruction. We must avoid both ego inflation and ego deflation according to David Benner. In ego inflation, “The first way of responding to eros is to pursue the gratification we desire without much or any attempt to channel the energy. This is a life of hedonism.”
But, neither do the following work:
- Denial of our desires or ego deflation. More from Benner, “While ego inflation inevitably involves being burned up by passion, ego deflation involves slow death by boredom or depression. Shutting down our passions also leads to alienation from our selves, others, and our world.”
- Repression of our desires
- Ignoring our desires
So, what is the alternative? Understand our desires, feel them, embrace them and direct them towards God. Refuse to allow my desires to be satisfied by ungodly means. C.S. Lewis wrote, “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
I need to be aware of what quenches my thirst, fills my hunger, and satisfies my desires. A big problem is deception, is it not? If we deny our desires, we will look for them to be met elsewhere, some place that is not healthy. Gary Thomas writes, “We become most vulnerable when we are desperate—and that’s precisely when we need to take the most care about our choice of pleasures.”
Consider the five love languages and what happens if we deny or ignore our longing for love expressed in a way that meets our need.
- Words of affirmation: if not met, we may try to manipulate and perform so that others will express these words.
- Quality Time: if ignored, we may tend to cling, smother, or otherwise gain the time we long for.
- Gifts: when they don’t come, perhaps we may become possessive, hoard, go on impulsive shopping sprees or covet what others have.
- Acts of Service: when we are not served, do we tend to nag, demand, manipulate?
- Touch: if touch is our love language and we pretend it is not, we may become vulnerable in many inappropriate ways.
So what should we do? When I feel desire or longing, I need to identify the root of deeper longing behind that desire. Am I really looking for intimacy? Relationship? Community? Respect?
Finally, I guess we need to know what we do when our desires are not being met and ask ourselves if our actions are appropriate? Ideally, our desires and longings drive us towards God, the one who most deeply and ultimately meets the longings of our soul.
Reading over the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” has led me to thinking about longings and desires again. Jesus is saying in the above verse that the things that we long for others to do to and for us, we are to try to see these longings met in others. As I thought about this a few weeks ago, I wrote in my journal about my own longings. “Consider your own longings–longings for relationship, longings for significance and security, longings for respect, peace, love, kindness, touch, affirming words, a sense of meaning, longings for contentment, delight. Yes, these are good and to the extent that I long for those from others, I can turn and invest these into others.” I went on to journal about the darker longings but that is for another post. For now, I want to repost these words attached to a slightly edited blog post from July 2011.
I am so glad that Christianity is not all about eliminating desire!
David Benner in Opening to God says, “The most typical evidence of grace at work within us is not awareness of duty but awareness of desire. You can trust your deep desires because they are a gift of God.” As Christians, God wants us to be aware of our longings within and His Spirit helps us to do the same. Benner challenges, “Pay attention to how the Spirit is kindling your desires. This is the source of prayer. Allow prayer to take the form that God gives you at this moment, and keep attentive to the leash of longing that will draw you further into transforming union with God.”
As I have spent the week in Psalm 37, verse 4 has captured my attention, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” A similar phrase is found in Psa. 20:4-5 “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!”
“Mish’ala is Hebrew for desires or petitions and is “rich with expressions of desire and longings of the heart.” ‘Anag or delight brings “A close interplay exists between ‘delight . . . in the LORD,’ and ‘desires of your heart’ . . . The path to true self-fulfillment does not lie in a preoccupation with self but in selfless preoccupation with God. When the psalmist sets his heart on God, God reciprocates by making him truly fulfilled. The sense here: ‘take great pleasure in.’”
Some parallel expressions in Psalm 37
• Trust in the LORD 37:3, 5
• Commit your way to the LORD 37:5
• Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him 37:7, 34
• Delight in his way 37:23
• Law of God in the heart 37:31
Result of a delight in Yahweh
• Inheritance in the land—9, 11, 22, 29, 34,
• God gives the desires of the heart 4
• Delight in shalom 11
• Not put to shame, abandoned 19, 33
• Does not fall 24, steps do not slip 31, holds onto God’s hand 24, 17
• Has a future 37
• Salvation, refuge, deliverance 39-40
But for the wicked or evildoers they
• just “fade away” 3
• will be “no more” 10, 36
• are “cut off “9, 22, 28, 34, 38 (same word used for divorce) and so the idea of being abandoned, forsaken, not part of the covenant
We must pay attention to our longings within. Here are a few more quotes from David Benner in Soul Spirituality:
- “Desire is right at the center of the spiritual life. A sense of obligation may sometimes be enough to keep you going to church, but only desire will keep you open to God and still seeking when your experience in church is filled with frustration and is irrelevant to your deepest spiritual longings. Guilt may be strong enough to motivate religious behavior, but only desire can lead you ahead on the spiritual journey. The absence of desire means the absence of spiritual life”
- “Spirituality has enormous potential as an integrating force. And it does this by allowing us to embrace rather than repress our deepest longings and passions and then to draw the energy from them to live life with abundance and resilience
- “Any spirituality that is life-giving will also put us in touch with our deepest longings and will move us into the world in a way that makes our life meaningful.”
- “Willpower may be sufficient for superficial behavioral changes, but only desire is capable of leading you toward deeper authenticity and integrity. No one drifts into such a life without intentionality, commitment, and a persistent desire to become more Spirituality is, first and foremost, our response to these deep aches of the soul. Although it may be frightening to trust our desires, they are always fundamentally spiritual.”
I also appreciate Mark Buchanan in Spiritual Rhythms:
- Prayer commits us at a heart level to what we endorse at a head level. Prayer mingles our tears and our longings with our observances and our assessments
- Righteousness, to put it succinctly and a little simplistically, is Christlikeness. It’s where your thoughts, your desires, your attitudes, your actions, your character are more and more conformed to his
And I find Gary Thomas in Pure Pleasure to be very helpful:
- But I believe I have a responsibility to recognize that God created me with a desire and even a need to enjoy certain pleasures. I want to consciously choose the ones that most serve his cause and the life to which he has called me rather than try to deny a legitimate need and then collapse into an unhealthy, sinful binge.
- In other words, while I ought to know what truly gives me pleasure, I also need to know my obligations and responsibilities. In certain seasons of life, a person’s personal desires must give way to the greater good of those around him.
- Be honest about your desires and realistic about your ability to live with frustration. Has denying your soul left you vulnerable to deceit and illusion? Have you put your integrity, ministry, and family in jeopardy by living as though you can go 24–7 without a break, without any fun, without any true pleasure?
- Desire divorced from God becomes decadence. Decadence, in turn, chases away true, godly pleasure.
- When I surrender my pleasure to God’s design, my desires become a reflection of his.
- Faced with lewdness, don’t become a prude. Faced with luxurious materialism, don’t become grimly abstinent and ungrateful. Faced with the unleashing of any and all desires, don’t become merely dutiful.
On this Monday after Easter, I am grateful that I follow the Overcoming One. By His resurrection, He has removed the fear of death that must inevitably come for all of us and His resurrection life is a foretaste of our own future resurrection life.
Heb. 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
1Cor. 15:19-22 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Cor. 15:52-58 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.