On Serendip

The following originally appeared in Friends Journal, August, 2002, where it was noticed by Anne Dalke. It is presented here as a contribution to discussion both of the relationship between religion and science, and of issues in mental health The original is copyright 2002 by the Friends Publishing Company and is reproduced with their permission.

A Story About Grace

by Mariellen Gilpin

Recently my niece Amanda and I had the following e-mail correspondence:

I have been reading and hearing a lot about God's grace. What is meant by grace? I thought maybe you could answer this question.

Love, Amanda

Hi Amanda,

Basically, grace means gift from God. Examples are better than definitions, so maybe it'll help if I tell you a story about God's grace. It's a story connected with my mental illness. For a number of years, I had been angry with a person who figured very largely in my hallucinations. One of my devices for taking control of the illness has been to ask the voices I hear-what I now know are aspects of myself-how "we" are feeling. My analogy is that I have a hairline crack in my psyche, and the normal lines of communication between the parts of myself have been broken. So talking to my voices and learning how "we" feel has rebuilt some of those connections that were broken. If my broken parts have a channel of communication that is legal, so to speak, it makes it easier for "us" to avoid hallucinating in order to talk about those feelings. You might say these are bedtime conferences with myself.

For years I had been listening to myself be angry about the role this person had played in my illness. Each night I listened, thinking, "This is a process. Letting go of anger requires me first to fully experience my anger. I will listen to myself rant. One of these days I will be ready to let go." Each night I reminded myself of all the ways my own behavior had fed into the situation: I was part of the problem, and I should be fair with the other person. Night after night I listened, and my voices would begin, "I know this is tiresome, but he really was a malicious twerp." And I would agree, and then remind my voices yet again of our responsibility. Each night I asked God to help me reach a place where I could let go the anger.

About two years ago, I was so sick of listening to myself rant that I said to God, "I can't let go this anger by myself. I don't want to be angry anymore. I don't need the anger to protect myself. He's out of my life. I may hallucinate more without the anger, but I'll take that risk. I will simply handle it if I hallucinate. Please, just take away the anger."

A few nights later, I hallucinated a big one--all four major delusionary themes at once, plus a few brand new ones thrown in for good measure. The next day or two I worked to regain my hold on reality. And I wondered why I wasn't angry at myself for hallucinating.

I was just regrouping, without the usual self-recrimination. What was going on? It was two days before I realized that was God's answer: God had taken away my anger at myself for being mentally ill. I had prayed for freedom from anger at the other, and was given, gratis, freedom from anger at me. If that doesn't convince people there is a God who answers prayers, I don't know what it would take: I asked for one thing, and got another thing it had not occurred to me to ask for, and it was the key to resolving the issue. Once I wasn't angry at me, I was able to look at the past in new ways and in a few weeks was enabled to let go the anger at the other. And I seldom hallucinate now. When I do, it's no a big deal. There has been such a sense of peace and joy and freedom. Such a gift; such a rare and wondrous and totally surprising gift.

That's a story about grace. Does that help define it a bit?

Love, Marielle

Mariellen Gilpin is a member of Urbana-Champaign Meeting in Illinois. She celebrates the many ways God has helped her deal with mental illness.