I find delight when I write. More delight when people read what I write. And even more when readers respond to what I write. But I am perhaps most delighted when someone is moved in such a way by my work that they offer me an encouraging word or, one that challenges me to do better.
Like this from a reader named Bev:
Tony, I understand the focus of your email is mental illness. However, it seems that examining your mental illness and dwelling on it makes it more intense. I suffer from anxiety, and yet, I know that if I were to spend too much time thinking of it, it would be worse. There are so many ways to become and stay stable that I don’t want to spend time irritating a wound. Today the sky is so lovely, and I will dwell on the good and the beautiful. There is a prayer I say every morning. It goes: Father I thank thee for the night, and the blessed morning light, for rest and food and loving care and all that makes the world so fair. Help me to do the things I should and be to others kind and good. In all I do and all I say, to be more like you everyday. Amen. Best Wishes to You, Bev
Bev, this post, and likely many to follow, is inspired by you.
It’s true I write about the dark side of mental illness a great deal. There are many harsh realities to face when we live with or are impacted by mental health diagnoses. For some this is consuming. There are times we are filled with self-loathing, bitterness, anger, even hatred that leads to harm towards ourselves or others. This can be attributed the disordered brain chemistry, physical abuse, or emotional trauma.
But this is not the whole story.
Our identity is not fixed for us. Even the brain is more pliable than rigid. Certain things we do or are done to us can decidedly off-set the chemical imbalance in our brains. Try Bev’s chemistry experiment. Appreciate the lovely sky. Dwell on spiritual things — the good, the beautiful. Pray. Express gratitude for “the night, the morning list, and rest and food and loving care and all that makes the world so fair.” Let your prayer of gratitude flow into a call for action. “Help me to do the things I should and be to others kind and good.” Most important of all, strive to reflect the One who makes all things possible, in whose image we were created and who restores us to this beautiful image in spite of whatever ugliness exists around or within us.
A beautiful thing happened in my corner of Creation last night at my mental health support group Faithful Friends. We have a member, I’ll call her Robyn, who joined our group some time ago. When she first came, she couldn’t even sit through a full meeting. She was so troubled, she would burst out in tears and run out the door. But she kept coming back. Eventually, she made it through the night. Then, she began to share what was in her heart. At first it was almost impossible to understand. Her words would drift off into apocalyptic images. It was like we were witnessing a psychotic episode. Often we had to reign her in.
But she kept coming.
Eventually, her words began to make sense. Her stories were packed with pain and trauma. Yet, as she shared, it was like she was a helpless victim of the universe instead of an active participant.
Then, there was last night. Last night. she was filled with gratitude over some significant positive steps she had been taking. She shared what a difference these were making. But she didn’t stop there. She admitted that she had been feeling distant from God for some time. The image of God she had grown up with was a stern, rule-making. She was looking for a gracious heavenly Father who would embrace her. We assured her she to keep seeking and God would make himself known to her. At the end of the meeting, totally unexpected, a group member gave her a bouquet of flowers.
This morning I woke up to this text, from Robyn:
I read a nightly devotional that has been spot on every day. Tonight’s devotional mentions being thankful to God for the little things, even if it is seeing God in a little flower. Funny thing.. [D] gave me a bouquet of beautiful flowers from her garden tonight at group. At that moment I thought… “God, I am thankful for this beautiful flower that you made.” Even in the chaos, there is encouragement.