Those of us within the Christian faith have an exciting and important role to play in the nurturing and recovery of mental health. When people are struggling, hurting or in pain, they will often turn to the Church or their spiritual leaders for support and care before going anywhere else.
What is our message of hope that we can offer to people suffering from depression? As people of faith, do we speak differently into suffering than the rest of the world? How do we answer people’s desperate questions like: who am I if I cannot do anything right now? If I cannot do my job, and if I can barely be a mother or grandfather, who am I? All my roles have been taken away, so what is my life worth? What am I worth?
I’ve asked these questions for years and years, yelled them at God at times.
When I was six, my little sister, Jillie, died of leukaemia. At this time I arrived at a life-long conclusion and made a life-long goal: my life-long conclusion was that when something bad and sad happens, I am abandoned by my mommy and daddy. Knowing at the time that I could not survive on my own, my life-long goal became never to do anything that would make mommy or daddy sad and leave me. So I became “Susie Sunshine,” the perfect child who did well in school, was good at home, never late for curfew, always did my chores, and NEVER was sad or mad, especially around my parents. I was the perfect child.
Or so I thought.
Of course I wasn’t, but I had myself convinced that I was.
However, there was a hiccup in this survival plan: after all, I had never really challenged, opposed, or stretched my parents. I had not given them a reason not to love me. Consequently, I stood upon shaky ground—not very secure, or so I thought.
However, with a whole lot of therapy in the ensuing years, and a maturing in Christ, it’s been a completely different story. I have slowly risked telling God things that I thought would make God sad and angry, things that “Susie Sunshine” definitely shouldn’t think and say. Contrary to what I would have bet money on happening, I have not been abandoned (and left alone) by my Heavenly Father.
What the Spirit has revealed to me—and what I have slowly lived as an answer to the questions of my worth—lies in the heart of the Christian faith. Our role, our ultimate purpose as God’s children, is to fulfill the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Reflecting this kind of love of God to the world, we are then called to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Seems like a high calling, right?! Downright overwhelming when one is depressed.
But I have found there is good news: not one bit of our worth is based upon our ability to fulfill this role or not. Our worth is based on the fact that each one of us is a beloved, chosen child of God. I have come to believe that it is very important to remember that it is nothing that we do that establishes God’s love for us, nothing that we do that guarantees the Spirit’s presence, and nothing that we do that promises Jesus will help us through this pain. It is all grace.
Herein lies a great gift of depression: when we cannot do anything, when all our charm and talent and great skills are gone, when the rug has been ripped right out from under us, this is when we deeply experience the truth of living in Christ. The fact that Jesus chose to drink of the crucifixion cup means that we can live with hope, healing, and eternity. Mental illness is a stunningly bitter cup to drink. The key to perseverance, to being able to continue breathing during dark times, is knowing the essence of our identity. Just as Jesus did.
In the very core of our being lies the truth that we are unconditionally loved by our creating and redeeming God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is nothing we can do to earn this love. It is free. This truth undergirds our very ability to embark upon and continue the forward journey. This is the great hope we have to offer a hurting, depressed person and world. We do speak differently into suffering. We have a great hope in the power and love of the risen Jesus who still wears his wounds. The same power that enabled him to turn toward Jerusalem is that which will hold us and keep us until that Day. In the meantime, we hold out the Light of the World—the Light of Eternal Hope—into others’ darkness and into our own.
Sue has a background in adolescent nursing and clinical counselling and is a mental health advocate. She is the author of Be Held: Daily Inspiration When Facing Depression, which stems from her 25 years of lived experience. Sue believes faith and mental health walk hand in hand, so it is a passion of hers to write about that in hopes of offering a gracious vocabulary for the road. Close to her heart, as well, are her five lively, lovely grandchildren and her lively, lovely mother. Of course, the mostest closest is her dear husband of 40 years — yes, they were high school sweeties and married young!