(from A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder (2008), by Marja Bergen)

Only months after the Good Friday service in 2006, God gave me an idea that wouldn’t lie down. I saw a need to start a faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. I knew there was a need. Several people in our church could use a place where they would be able talk about their struggles, including me. Secular support groups were readily available, but participants there did not feel comfortable talking about God. Yet for those who believe in Jesus, discussing faith issues is important in dealing with emotional problems.

Our pastor liked the idea and we set the wheels in motion. I won’t go into detail about how we went about deciding how to organize the group. It was a process that took time. Where would we meet? How would we let people know about it? Would it be for our church alone or would we advertise in the community? What would a meeting look like? Who would facilitate the group?

The last person I considered for leading the group was me. I could not see myself doing anything like that. Yet as our plans progressed, I received the courage to take charge of the project and decided I would try facilitating. I felt very nervous about this at first. But a change of heart gradually came. A few months later, when we were ready to have our first meeting, I was eager to lead, confident that I could do it. This kind of courage, so new to me, was not of my own making. The church was praying for me and for the group. It was a program the pastor and many in the congregation were excited about and supporting wholeheartedly. God was definitely with us in this.

We called the group Living Room, a name coined by Dr. John Toews, a psychiatrist and author of No Longer Alone: Mental Health and the Church. Dr. Toews is a proponent of better church support for people with mental illness and helped inspire the organization of our group.

Living Room became an outreach project in partnership with the Mood Disorders Association of BC (MDA), a secular organization that trained us how to facilitate. My pastor would not let me start until I had a co-facilitator. We found Janice, a great support for me and someone I could not do without.

We advertised in the MDA newsletter, as well as in the local community newspapers. The calls steadily trickled in until four months later we had twenty people on our list of attendees. Many others called as well, people who may join in the future.

Though my main focus is on the participants, I do mention my own struggles at group meetings. This helps them know I’m one of them. When I talk about my feelings, they are encouraged to talk about theirs. We study Scripture and share our suffering with each other, relieved to discover that others understand.

Relationships built on authentically sharing our vulnerabilities become strong ones. Because we have all suffered, we have compassion for each other. We share the same language. When the participants believe in God and talk about how God works in their lives, the bond becomes even stronger. Not only do we share similar emotional problems, we encourage each other’s faith. We share God’s love with each other.

An amazing thing happened to me as a result of leading these meetings. Though we talked about sad things, I felt uplifted when I went home, emotionally and spiritually. After meetings, I pray, thanking God for this gift. It is hard to describe the joy I found in this work.

My desire to give support rather than always being on the receiving end has been met. Living Room provided me with that. I was helping others deal with their problems. To give is to receive. The more support I gave, the less need I had to go to others for help. I felt stronger, happier and more whole than I’d ever been.

When I think back to the needy person I once was, I’m amazed at where God took me.