Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long? (Psalm 6:2-3)
Why is it so exhausting? The mental battle has reeked savagely on my physical self. I battled for years with depression. Always treading water. My spiritual walk though however has gotten stronger. I am a stronger more faithful Christian. Now my battle is trying to make it to places people expect me to go. Church is a big one. The guilt for disappointing is immobilizing.
The state of our minds impacts the condition of our bodies. A widow experiencing protracted grief is diagnosed life-threatening illnesses herself. A man going through a divorce suddenly has a heart attack. A college student questioning her self-worth develops anorexia.
Chronic depression can last years, even a lifetime, with next to no relief. It is more than just feeling sad. It is being blinded in a pit of despair, unable to see your way through the darkness. It is the valley of the shadow of death where even walking may seem like an impossible task.
S.B. has discovered, however, what the Psalmist did:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalm 23: 4)
God shines a light in the darkness of depression. We may not always see it, trapped as we may be in a cave of despair. But the light persists. If we keep moving forward, God will lead us by the light of Christ into greener pastures. We may still feel depressed, but we will have hope for better days to come.
Yet, as S.B. points out, this spiritual victory is not complete. We may grow in our personal walk with the Lord, and still experience the lack of fellowship within the body of Christ. Mental illness can rob us of the desire, the energy, the will to engage with other Christians. The Enemy plants in our minds subversive notions that tell us our brothers and sisters in Christ don’t accept who we are or the struggles we face.
Now, it is certainly true that stigma exists and faith communities can be notorious breeding grounds for persons who fail to understand or accept mental illness. Yet, my experience tells me that the biggest hurdle to overcome is not the stigma others place on me, but the stigma I place on myself. On mornings I do not make it to church, I lay in bed picturing all the faces in church that are judging me, when in fact, those faces are pretty much all in my mind. When I do make it to church, I find a great many concerned for my well-being, compassionate about my condition, and eager to help me grow spiritually.
In my life and ministry, I have found ample grace within the body of Christ. The place where grace has most been lacking is within myself. I beat myself up for the shortcomings my illness brings. Guilt over not meeting personal expectations causes me to press further into a cave of despair.
The Good News is God is with us even in the darkness. The light of Christ penetrates the despair our illness causes and that which we compound on ourselves.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 5.1)