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“Of Depression and Christianity”
Most Sundays, I go to church in the morning and listen to the morning’s sermon. The title of this one was “No Longer…Sick and Tired,” and it talked about how we all say we’re “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” (And here I am thinking, “I’m so sick and tired of the phrase “sick and tired.” But that’s beside the point.)
The main story spoken about was about the woman who bled for twelve years nonstop, and how she thought was, “If I could just touch Jesus’s robe, I’ll be healed!” The pastor explained that while it was a big deal for her to bleed for 144 months, if you look at that time period, they were still living under Leviticus law. The Leviticus law stated that if a woman is bleeding for an extended period of time, she was considered unclean. So not only was she miserable, but she had to profess to others that she was unclean. If anyone touched her, they had to ceremoniously wash their bodies to purify themselves.
The pastor said, “Imagine how humiliating it was to have to do that! Imagine if you had to stand in front of everyone and announce your affliction to them, and if they touched you they thought they were going to get what you have!”
And all that went through my head were two words: mental illness.
(Funny enough, the example he used was “cooties.”)
We live in a world where the second someone learns you have a mental illness, they want absolutely nothing to do with you. They become scared and believe that if they make the wrong move, you’re going to attack them (even if your depression is more destructive towards yourself than others). They want to lock you in a cage. You could lose your job. You could be disowned by your family and friends, ending up worse off than when you started. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of the repercussions of what might happen!
You know who else face a backlash? Christians who suffer from mental illness.
Oh yes. I’m going there.
There are so many Christians in the world who feel like they have to keep their mental illness a secret because they know beyond a reasonable doubt the reaction they’ll get: “You’re not praying enough. You’re not seeking God enough. If you would just seek Him and pray more often, you wouldn’t have these suicidal ideations. You wouldn’t have anxiety. You wouldn’t have psychotic episodes.”
As a Christian living with depression on a daily basis, I’m sick and tired of hearing this. Yes, there are some instances when praying and reading the Bible and living for God are able to help. But when you already do these things and you still feel that heavy weight over you, it becomes discouraging. “Maybe if you just did more, you’d be healed. Maybe if you cried out to God more, He’ll take this away from you.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on my couch or my bed or even laid on my floor and just cried out for God to take my depression or even my own life away from me. Just go ahead and get it over with! I’ve felt worthless and had trouble remembering what the point to my own existence is. For twenty years, I had considered myself God’s only mistake, a culmination of every spare part He had, and He pieced me together and said, “Well, I guess this is a thing.” My whole life felt like a penance I had to pay! The scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where Rocket just snapped and said, “I never asked for this”… I replayed that scene at least three times and absorbed every word because I could feel his pain. I didn’t ask to exist, and here I was, suffering.
I believe in God. He’s my whole world. If someone pointed a gun at me and asked if Jesus was my savior, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. I pray constantly. I read a devotional almost daily. And yet… my depression is because I’m not seeking Him enough?
Earlier this year, my best friend suggested I write down at least one positive thing about myself a day. I took it a step further and wrote three. Before doing that part of the routine, though, I’d look through my YouVersion Bible app and write down four verses about God’s love and about His deliverance. Four verses about what God said about me. One day, I was hit with John 9:2-3 (AMP):
“His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man or his parents sinned, but it was so that the works of God might be displayed and illustrated through him.'”
After reflecting on it, I replaced the blindness in my mind with mental illness. The same principle applies. Yes, circumstances can affect our mental stability. But sometimes it’s not what we did that causes these issues. Sometimes they just…are. Wonky brain chemistry, an inability to see or hear, an inability to walk. Those aren’t always caused by something we did.
Dare I say it, but I honestly believe living as a Christian with depression has actually enhanced my walk with Him. During those moments when I want to do is give up, I’ve cried out to Him and begged for Him to kill me, knowing He won’t do it. But what He does do is gently tell me, “You’re okay.” I don’t believe it at first. How could I? I’m freakin’ miserable over here!
But eventually (could be minutes or hours), I slow my crying, take a deep breath, and bask in the calmness that overtakes me. He doesn’t ever turn his back on me. It creates a trust, a bond that can’t be shaken. I know for a fact that the next time I fall into that pit of despair, I can call on Jesus’s name like He’s my only lifeline – because He truly is. And I know that the second He saves me, I’m going to turn around and tell others that He so mercifully saved me instead of just leaving me there to waste away.
So…as confirmation to the Christian with mental illness: Lack of prayer and/or lack of belief is not always the cause.
As people are fond of saying nowadays, it’s okay to have Jesus and a therapist. It’s okay to be on antidepressants or antipsychotics. You can use this to glorify God and lift Him up when the episodes end. You can use this to reach out to others and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through! We can face this together! You’re not alone!”
Remember: You are loved, always and forever. Keep holding on, and take care of yourself the best you can.