Simonetta Carr is a mother and homeschool educator. She has worked as a freelance journalist and as a translator, and is the author of the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her newest book.
Q. Most of your books are about notable Christians and written for children, or for families to read together. In what ways did the process of writing a deeply personal book like Broken Pieces differ from those books?
A. There is no comparison. For the other books, I do a lot of research and then process the information, choosing the main points to share with young readers and finding the best way to communicate them. It’s pretty straightforward.
Broken Pieces is completely different. As you said, it’s a deeply personal book. I wrote the first part (memoir) fairly quickly, soon after my son’s death, perusing all the diaries and emails I could find. It was OK to do it then. I don’t think I could do it now.
The second part of the book (thoughts and advice) is an attempt to offer my feeble recommendations to readers who might find themselves in a similar or somehow related situation. This is the product of much research, through books and articles as well as interviews to psychiatrists, psychologists, pastors, mothers, and people who live with schizophrenia. I collected many answers and some new questions. This part was equally personal, not only because I compared this research with my experience, but because I found myself in a situation where I had to test my findings in a practical way.
Q. Is the church body (church members) doing a good job of ministering to those with mental illness and their families? How can we improve?
A. Sadly, it seems that we still have a long way to go in this respect. I would say society in general has a long way to go, and the church is no exception. The best way to improve is through education. We are all busy, so naturally we tend to read only subjects that touch us personally, but mental illness is more common than most people realize and could be as close as the person sitting next to us in the pew. Or even closer. Schizophrenia, for example, tends to appear suddenly where we least expect it. The common saying, “If you don’t catechize your children, the world will” may be applied in this case too. If we don’t educate ourselves and our children to understand mental illness and a proper Christian response to it, we will simply follow the shallow (and often damaging) comments we read in the news every time a crime is linked to mental illness.
Besides education, or while we are getting it, let’s just look at our brothers and sisters as people bearing the image of God and offer our genuine friendship, fighting any feeling that makes us uncomfortable with something we don’t fully understand. In my book, I make frequent mentions of John Newton’s empathy, respect, and care towards his friend William Cowper. I also include a chapter on advocacy, which includes creating a loving and safe environment within the church.
Q. What are some tangible ways pastors and church leaders specifically can help families in their church who are affected by schizophrenia and mental illness?
A. I am not in the position of advising pastors. I would just repeat what I said about church members in general. Education is especially important, because people respect their pastor’s opinions. Sadly, there are still pastors who discourage people from taking needed medications and blame all mental illness on a person’s spiritual condition. I can’t speak for other types of illness, but I know that schizophrenia can rarely be managed without medications. I have seen my son – an exceptionally intelligent young man – struggling to discern reality within a vortex of voices and perceptions. Nothing helped, until the medications decreased the voices to a level where they could be recognized and managed.
Education is also important in knowing how to avoid words that may generate stigma or trigger paranoid feelings. It’s true that in some cases our society is becoming overly sensitive, but this is an area where caution is necessary.
My book include suggestions from pastors who had experience in this field.
Q. Are there three or four other resources on schizophrenia and/or mental illness that you recommend for readers who are eager to learn more.
A. I have a section at the end of my book with a variety of recommended resources. If you want to understand schizophrenia in general, the best book in my opinion is The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness, by Elyn R. Saks. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson is more exhaustive than mine on the church’s response to mental illness. There is also a fairly new book by Michael R., Emlet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications, that can be of great help to pastors.
As for websites, the go-to place is usually the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They have a lot of information. On the Christian front, CRCNA’s Disability Concerns provides many good resources.
Q. Last question: what are the books that have shaped you the most in your walk with Christ, and why?
A. Definitely a tough question. I read a lot and there are many books that have shaped my Christian life. Outside of the Bible, if you are looking for a monumental impact, I would say John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. When I first read it, I was a typical pragmatic Christian, the type that says, “Now that I know I am saved, just tell me what to do about my kids, my marriage, my devotions, etc.” I read the Institutes out of curiosity and it jolted me into a completely different mindset, getting my eyes off my navel and onto the glory, majesty, and love of our Triune God.
Many books have shaped my life in a less drastic, but equally profound way. Right now I am slow-reading Ralph Erskine’s Gospel Sonnets or Spiritual Songs, and it’s a feast for my heart, pointing me to the love of Christ in ways that few authors can do. And that’s really the only way to go through this pilgrim life with its obstacles, uncertainties, and sorrows, by “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” (Heb 12:1) or, to use Erskine’s words, by making the object of our “chase the God of glory in the field of grace.”