How to Love God While You're Suffering from a Mental Illness
Dispelling myths about mental health.
Faith, by definition, means to have trust or confidence in someone or something. Or in my words, it means to have your eyes set, your focus unshakeable and to rest unafraid. When I picture a Christian who lives by faith, I see a woman or man bold, strong and unbreakable walking without fear, through whatever comes their way.
However, for a lot of us this isn’t what faith looks like most of the time, sometimes your faith looks more teary and swollen eyes, with a racing heart, holding on tight and waiting for the storm to pass. I find this to be especially true when I am in a season plagued by mental illness.
It’s being talked about more than ever before and it’s known as “an epidemic in our nation.” Yet, I find myself frequently confused about what it looks like to live with mental illness and to love the Lord “with all your heart, soul and mind,” in the midst of it. I have lived with mental illness, loved people with mental illness and worked at a psychiatric treatment center for kids struggling with mental illness.
But still, despite my extensive experience and knowledge about it, when I am faced with devastating circumstances or am in the midst of an episode, I still find myself saying to myself, “Everything happens for a reason, yes, this is all part of the plan! Life is an adventure, it’s all going to work out! Smile and get it together!”
And while that may all be true, mental illness can be a road filled with overwhelming feelings of condemnation, fear and rejection. And as I grow in my understanding of the Lord’s heart, His voice sounds different now from the way it did when I was a depressed 16-year-old. Then I felt like the Lord looked at me and said, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” “Smile! You’re supposed to be joyful!” or “What’s wrong with you, haven’t you read, ‘Be anxious about nothing?’”
But now, I hear a gentle and compassionate voice and I believe is His true words that say, “This is really hard, it’s OK to be broken.” “Rest in me, in your pain and sorrow and in your joy.” and “I am the healer of all things, come before my throne and receive my grace.” Those words soothe my soul, but most of the time I still walk away with a heavy spirit and a weight upon my shoulders that makes it hard to do anything. But I actually believe that this OK. And that is what the life of a Christian is supposed to look like—at least for a few seasons.
Jesus says, in John 16:20,”Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.”
But for my entire life I have interpreted it in my mind as “Very truly I tell you, life might be hard, but you always be able to force yourself to be happy and joyful … if you work hard enough! And you may be drowning in pain, but you will be able to smile through it and come out stronger and glad it happened!”
But Jesus knows that as much as I wanted the fantasy world I had created in my head, of false truth all seen through the lenses of rose colored glasses to be true; that’s not the Lord’s promise. He promises we WILL have pain, sorrow, be rejected, be abandoned and be forgotten.
But the story doesn’t end there. He promises that He will not reject us. He will not abandon us and He could never forget His precious child because He knows you, has always known you and will continue to pursue you amidst your victories and failures.
Because of this we can have hope. That maybe just because we are depressed, sad, anxious, manic, broken-hearted, feeling empty or mourning, maybe we’re not doing something terribly wrong. In fact, maybe we are doing something incredibly right.
Maybe the Lord encourages us not shove those “scary” emotions down, only for them to come back stronger and more uncontrollable. Maybe He wants us to feel those big feelings and trust that He will not allow them to overtake, crush or destroy us. Maybe we are aching with the pains of what is going to be birthed within our very hearts. Maybe crying yourself to sleep tonight is a sign of holy worship of trust that you are suffering but you know He will not forsake you.
Sometimes following Jesus doesn’t mean picking flowers, smiling ear to ear and dancing from joy. Sometimes it means that you are walking through the valley of death, you are in the desert for 40 days or you are being tempted beyond what you can handle, but with your red eyes, tear-stained cheeks and aching bones, and you raise your head to the sky and say, “Lord, Your kingdom come, Your will be done. I trust You and I may not be OK right now, but this also isn’t where the story ends.”