It is in the nature of all humanity to worship. Worship lies at the core of human beings, written into our DNA. The question is not do we worship but who we worship.
Many of my friends with mental illness claim to reject God. As I dig further into their stories, however, I discover that it is not so much God they reject as those who claim to represent God. In my Christian faith family, we have many who fail to understand the nature of mental illness and who have made very wrong and damning statements about the subject. Mental illness has been described within the church as demon possession, as a lack of faith, as an attention-seeking illusion. It is little wonder folks with mental illness would feel shunned by the church and be discouraged from worshiping God in Jesus Christ.
So, where does one who feels shunned turn to for worship? I understand worship as devoting the first and foremost of our time, talent, and treasure. In our culture, there are a vast array of false gods vying for our attention. I will mention three that have diverted me. Drugs. Sex. And Fame (expecting Rock & Roll weren’t you?)
The pharmaceutical industry wants us to worship increasingly expensive drugs that promise miracles and never deliver. Many folks with mental illness put all their hope in new drugs, looking for a cure, rather than being content with medication that helps us live. Pills may promote healing, but they are just one of many contributors. Big Pharma wants us to believe the bulk of the price we pay at the pharmacy goes for research and development. What they don’t say is that a huge portion of their income goes back into marketing to promote once again that the latest (and often most expensive) drug holds the most promise for you, for me. Just ask your doctor about it.
From February, 1995 – January, 2012, I tried every FDA-approved medication for my diagnosis to find sustained relief. Fortunately, I had good insurance, so my out-of-pocket costs were comparatively minimal. This isn’t the case for many people with mental illness. When I lost my insurance for a six month period, I discovered that one of my medications cost $30/pill, or almost $1,000/month. Rather than go bankrupt (as some do), I asked my doctor to prescribe a generic that could mimic the effectiveness. He did. It still cost $400/month. And it didn’t work.
How can we shift our worship from the all-consuming money pit of the drug industry to something more life-enriching? I certainly don’t have the answer. And neither does your doctor. Or your pharmacist. Redirecting our worship requires a full orientation shift. We have to rely less on medication and more on natural ways of building up our bodies, minds, and spirits. Scripture says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. And we do many things that desecrate this temple. One way to worship the true God is rely less on medication and more on exercise, healthy eating, good rhythms of work and rest.
Second, just when you think our society has become saturated with sex, something else pops up that shows the climax is yet to come. A friend recently told me she read a study that contended men think about sex 100 times a day. How is this even possible? (And just who is counting?) The point is, sexual obsession is a cultural crisis.
I have fallen into this terrible trap. My illness does not cause it, but aggravates it. When I am in a manic state, I become hypersexual. Many men and women with bipolar take on serial sex partners, participate in adulterous relationships, become addicted to pornography. While I was faithful in my marriage, I did have an affair when we separated. And I have lusted with my eyes and ears with sights and sounds on my laptop screen.
To worship the one true God, we need to keep our hearts pure and our minds focused on spiritual things that provide eternal gratification.
The third false god I have bowed down to is fame. To date, my personal fame has been quite minimal. But, it is not so much how much fame we have as how consumed we become trying to attain it.
Over the course of my pastoral ministry, I worked tirelessly to be a great minister. I wanted to be known near and far for such things as my humility, compassion, sacrifice. Ironic, isn’t it? Tragically so. I worked so hard trying to be humble that I came to take pride in it. I worked so hard showing compassion that I become the savior of many who truly needed the Savior. I worked so hard making sacrifices, I wound up sacrificing my family on the altar of my ministry.
Once again, it is not my mental illness that causes such behavior, but it does aggravate it. I desperately want to function at a level I see others do. I want to be known for what I can do, exceeding expectations of pastors and writers without the limitations I have. I told a friend that it is as if my bipolar robs me of 40% of my functioning and rather than lead a balanced life and accept whatever attention comes my way, I spend all 60% (and then some) desperately grasping for my place in the spotlight.
To worship the true God is to balance our time so we fulfill all the commitments God has given us.
Worshiping these false gods gets us no where. They rob us of our time, our talent, our treasure. There is only One God who offers us eternal life, who makes our work worthwhile, who multiplies our investment of ourselves. Our heavenly Father who delights in our disorder, the sacrificial Son, who heals our wounds, the Holy Spirit who inspires us to be even better than we were created to be.