WATCH THE VIDEO INTERVIEW
Update on The Sanctuary Podcast:
During these extraordinary times, while we can’t be with each other physically, we can reach out through screens and over phones, and we can share our stories with each other. Join Sanctuary’s CEO, Daniel Whitehead, as he interviews pastors, front line workers, ministry leaders, and friends about their experience of the pandemic and where they are making meaning and finding hope in the ups and downs of this season.
UK-based writer, Amy-Louisa Robinson, shares candidly about living with lupus and its impacts on her mental health. She charts the turning points of her journey in seeking God for healing, and articulates the importance of living with vulnerability and honesty amidst deep, long-term suffering.
Read Amy’s blog post, “Travelling With God Along Our Crooked Paths”, on The Sanctuary Blog.
Running time: 45:09
Release date: July 24, 2020
Resources mentioned in the show:
For your quick reference, here are nationwide emergency numbers and crisis lines:
- Canada: 911, Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566
- British Columbia: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
- United States: 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- United Kingdom: 999/112, Samaritans: 116 123
- New Zealand: 111, 1737, Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800-543-354
- Australia: 000, Lifeline: 13 11 14
Daniel Whitehead: So, welcome to The Sanctuary Podcast. My name is Daniel Whitehead, and I am the CEO of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, and during COVID-19 I’m also the host of our podcast. During COVID-19 we’re doing things a bit differently: we’re talking to friends of Sanctuary’s around the world, people that we know, people with different vocations, backgrounds, experiences to try and bring a bit more light to this whole area of faith and mental health. Today I’m joined by an old friend of mine, like a genuinely old friend, and a friend—as in a friend I’ve known a long time, not someone who is old—I’m joined by Amy Robinson from England. Hi Amy.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Hi, thank you for having me.
Daniel Whitehead: Oh, no, it is a genuine joy to have you. I mean it’s always a joy to talk to my guests, but today you know that I really do mean that, I’m not just saying that because—I was thinking, Amy, how long have I known you? I was thinking it must be like—
Amy-Louisa Robinson: I mean, when did we—
Daniel Whitehead: Fifteen years?
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Well, when did you start going to Fareham church?
Daniel Whitehead: So this is the church I used to lead that I knew Amy from. So yeah, I mean, I don’t even know the answer to that, probably 2003, 2002. So maybe eighteen years, eighteen years.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: I would say as long as then because our, like, groups were already mingled.
Daniel Whitehead: There you go, yeah. So Amy went to a church just down the road from the church I used to lead, and her parents actually led that church. So—and then Amy married a good friend of mine, someone I used to mentor: my good friend Ben. And yeah I’m telling them your story, that’s like your own.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: You can. I’d love to hear it from your perspective.
Daniel Whitehead: I don’t need you here, you can just go and I’ll just tell them about Amy. Yeah so Amy married Ben, I actually—did I officiate, I officiated at your wedding, didn’t I?
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, you did, you did.
Daniel Whitehead: Of course I did, I did yes I remember that.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Well, my dad actually did the vows.
Daniel Whitehead: That’s right, that’s right.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: But you did everything else.
Daniel Whitehead: Yes I did the entertaining parts, that’s what I did, yeah.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: The entertaining parts, the welcome, the funny jokes, the icebreakers, the talk about love—which was brilliant.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Good, I’m glad you remember it.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Which was twelve years ago now.
Daniel Whitehead: Wow, amazing. There you go, amazing. So Amy, tell people a bit about where you’re from, your life, a bit about you, yeah.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Okay. I was brought up in a family of four. As Dan mentioned earlier, my parents were church leaders, so I think faith and busyness and community and the craziness that comes with a big family and church life was definitely what I experienced growing up—very fun, very fun, very creative. We lived in a little town right by the sea, and my dad actually owned a café, so my childhood is—a great memory of walking across the beach with a free ice cream. I got married to Ben, who I actually didn’t know very well before that. He was around, and Dan knew him much better than I did when we were teenagers, and he sort of came on my radar last minute; we got married very quickly. Ben studied and did his university experience in our first few years of marriage, so that was great because it meant that we had a lot of time together, a lot of just like long summers, a lot of fun. We still felt like—because we married quite young—we still felt like we were living a bit of a young person’s life. But then five years ago we had our first child, who was a son called Leo, and two years ago I had my second child, which is a daughter called Felicity.
Daniel Whitehead: Very good. And the thing I’d say about Ben, as if it needs to be said, is Ben is one of the funniest people I know, but he’s also—
Amy-Louisa Robinson: He’s amazing.
Daniel Whitehead: Annoyingly talented in so many ways. Like, he’s hilariously funny, very sharp mind, humour, brilliant musician, can play multiple instruments. He was at the London School of Economics, which is one of the top universities in the UK, and just seemed to just do it in his stride and then, but just like the, the loveliest man you’ll ever meet, so there you go.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, he is incredible, he’s incredible. We’ve been best friends right from the beginning and we’ve remained that way. He is, he’s just been the most amazing person I’ve ever met—definitely—and the closer that you get to knowing what he’s like through and through, just the better it is—doesn’t get complicated or messy, it’s just more beautiful. So yeah I feel very, very, very blessed.
Daniel Whitehead: Absolutely. And not that I’m prone to these things, but just as an interesting aside: the thing I would say about Ben is, when you attribute—with the greatest respect to his parents, who you know, also, I mean I know Ben’s mum way better, you know she’s been amazing how she’s been a rock for her kids. And I used to know Ben’s dad pretty well before. But the thing I would say about Ben is, if there’s something that has made Ben who he is, you really, I think you really would point to God. Like honestly Ben is—he has leant so hard into God, that yeah, anyway, it’s not an episode about Ben but.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: It could be.
Daniel Whitehead: I just like talking about Ben.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Me too.
Daniel Whitehead: But let’s talk about you now. So one of the things Amy, Amy has been doing—is Amy’s actually been working with our team. Amy’s—we’re going to release a blog by Amy very soon, which may have come out by the time this comes out. But Amy’s a very talented writer who is just kind of, I don’t know, vocationally just sort of, I don’t know, stumbled into that, I don’t know… but she’s got a real talent for putting words to what’s going on. And one of the main reasons I wanted to get Amy on is: Amy, I think Amy has potentially a, a new perspective for us to think through around this whole intersection of faith and mental health. And that is, I mean, Amy will share more, but Amy lives with a chronic illness, and one of the interesting challenges that I have seen for people living with a chronic illness, particularly if you’re from a tradition that places a strong emphasis on immediate visible healing, as like one of the, really the only valid sign of God’s presence, is there is an inevitable strain that comes in trying to hold those two worlds together. So, Amy, I wonder if you could speak a bit to that. Just introduce us to, yeah, what your life has been like, and diagnosis and just what that’s looked like in your life.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Okay. Gosh, it’s a big story. So I originally started feeling quite unwell when I was about eighteen. It was a good and a difficult time to start having symptoms of something really difficult, because I think—good in that I was a very buoyant, still, teenager. I was very happy-go-lucky in my perspective towards life, but also difficult because I was right on the verge of becoming independent and wanting to start discovering what life was going to mean for me, what I was going to run after. And I was the type of person that was just full of dreams, and I thought that all of them would be possible one day if I wanted them to be. So eighteen—when I was eighteen, I started having some, just on-off odd symptoms like I’d wake up in bed and I wouldn’t be able to bend my back, and then it would go by midday. And the next day I’d wake up, I wouldn’t be able to bend my knees, it would go by midday—and it would go on and on like that. I saw a few doctors, no one really knew what was going on, until eventually when I was nineteen I had what would be called an extreme flare of an autoimmune condition. So I—unfortunately for me, they didn’t discover the autoimmune condition until I was mid-flare, which is probably the worst way round to do it because it gets very extreme and out of control and you haven’t yet started putting in measures for holding your body in a safer place. But I got taken to hospital. I was so extremely ill—that was… the first week was definitely fighting for my life, the doctors were, you know, not convinced that I was going to live. It was—my whole body was just unwell, and within that week they diagnosed me with, actually something called mixed connective tissue disease. But the main component of that disease is lupus, which is an autoimmune condition where your immune system gets quite confused about what is a foreign entity in your body and what is your own body. And so it goes—not only does your immune system multiply out of control, like it just multiplies and multiplies and multiplies and multiplies—but also it then starts attacking your own body. And the only way you can really manage that is to suppress your immune system, to just stop it having the capacity to multiply.
Lupus is a difficult one because it’s one of the only ones that is very systemic in its nature, which means that it can—flares can be very different. They can, you can have—one time it can attack one part of your body, the next time it can attack something different; it’s very unknown. I actually figured that out the hard way, because the first flare where I was in hospital for a month, it didn’t subside for about three years, so that was a very, very long drawn-out, painful and difficult time. But it was all sort of in my extremities, it was all in my joints, it was all in my muscles; I was very thankful actually that I didn’t have any organ damage. But it was just very acutely painful every day. And then a few years later I actually had another type of flare which was organ-based. It was my brain and my heart, which I think that one was probably much worse for me, actually, because it involved a lot of my internal world, like what—my mental stability—what I saw as my ability to communicate, myself, my own identity… that was, that became a very dark night of the soul, that flare. Yeah.
So when I first got diagnosed, I think I was part of a very charismatic, beautiful Christian community who actually were very, very loving and have taught me a lot about love and goodness and life. But like you said, Dan, it was a difficult thing because the way that we would often face suffering was to manage it or resist it or find ways, you know—actually if I think back to all of the things that we did, it mostly looked like trying to control it. It’s so uncomfortable to open yourself up to the vulnerability of deep suffering, even for the person looking on, let alone the person going through it, that your main way of trying to work round those moments with someone is to try and constantly take it to a different place, a lighter place, an easier place, or a place that can be fixed. I’ve always had a deep, a deep hope to know God. I think that’s always been a high value for me, so getting sick I would naturally do what I had already decided was faith. What was, what God would want me to do. I was always very zealous to do what I believed God wanted me to do, and I think what I’d learned up until that point—what I believed myself—was that God would want me to be speaking positive scriptures over my life every day, asking for healing all of the time, be consistently focused on the problem, so that I could change it into something that looked more like God’s love. And I think probably for the first three years, that really did describe how I related to being ill. I was always trying to live in, almost in a façade, in an illusion of life, a made-up reality where I wasn’t sick, and where I could carry on doing all of the things that I thought I was always going to do. I didn’t really listen to any of my body’s or mind’s limitations; I had no, no grace for that, I sort of still viewed myself the way I always had. And I felt like that was proof of faith. And the funny thing was that that is what is validated, you know—lots of people would say to me, “Oh you’re so amazing,” because you just don’t ever get down and you’re constantly talking about all the things God’s going to do, and really it was, it wasn’t trust. Deep, deep down it was fear; it was the inability to be real. It was the inability to not only let God in to where I was at, but for me to be present with myself where I was at. I was constantly asking God to come and meet a version of me that I was making up. And that’s a very difficult thing because God is real and he loves what’s real, and I had no way of getting to my reality because that world was so shrouded with shame. It looked like, it looked like weakness to engage and embrace the reality of my life. And it looked like failure; it looked like you were giving up on God. And what’s really funny is that it took God years of softening me for him to be able to invite me into vulnerability with him, into my reality, you know, to actually start to engage with and embrace the truth of my life, of my body—to find, to love it, to love what was mine, to love what had become mine, to love my story, and to then eventually find that God was there. God was there when I chose to show up, he was there already, waiting for me to arrive almost.
Yeah, I think it was the second flare that happened that was very, like, all the internal mix-up. It’s a difficult thing because when you go through very dark times, I don’t think you can ever pin it on one—you can’t say it’s one specific thing that’s going on in you. Everything else, in being human, it’s much more complex than that. And I think I was, you know, my heart was physically flaring, which meant that the tissue around my heart was swelling and putting pressure on my heart. So I was in this perpetual state of anxiety, like twenty-four seven, I couldn’t eat or sleep; it just felt like deep, deep darkness, deep depression. I couldn’t organise my mind, and no matter how dedicated I was to the resistance of the reality, you know, pushing myself into the positive, forcing, you know, forcing myself to live in the idea of prophecies rather than in my day. I just couldn’t make it work anymore. It was like I got to the point where—probably the accumulation of not living in truth or love for a few years and having these constant denial mechanisms, and thinking I’m doing the right thing, but also not feeling free in any way, and then—and it building up and building up and building up—and then you start embracing the reality that, actually I didn’t get healed, it’s been a few years and I thought it would have gone away by now. And I almost—because I think I shielded myself so well at the beginning—I think I only felt the trauma, I only had to grieve the trauma of getting ill years down the line when I finally allowed myself to feel the trauma.
And then I went through that process of letting myself become exposed, and almost relaxing—I know that sounds funny because it’s, it’s like when you’re in this deep and dark and vulnerable place, the last thing you want to do is relax into it. Your fight or flight mechanisms are going off like crazy and you’ll do anything to fix it, and you’ll latch onto anyone that tells you they’ve got a method. But I just felt like God was inviting me to—to just be real and to let it be okay, to find a way of saying, “Today as this day is, is enough.” And actually instead of resisting it, I’m going to get to know it. I’m going to learn my limitations and love them because in whatever—even though I don’t like them, they protect me, they help me, they’re a form of love for me, and so I want to know them. And I started to—just stop comparing my day with an image of what I wanted my day to look like or what I had originally decided was successful in his eyes, or faith-filled in his eyes. And I actually started to realize it takes much more faith to just be human and not try and use spirituality to shield you from humanity but to let yourself be the whole thing, and to even start to rewire your brain, to see it as beautiful. Yeah, I think that was, that was the beginning of God breaking down a great dualistic divide in my mind. I think I’d always grown up with feeling like everything in the world fit within these categories of right and wrong, or light and dark, or positive and negative, and I had probably quite subconsciously—I didn’t think anyone specifically told me this—but I think I just learned that faith looks like your ability to remain in the positive side, in the light side, the good side.
Daniel Whitehead: Yeah.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: So, therefore, if you have anything that’s—if you have depression or anxiety or you go through darkness—you feel like your only job is to transform it from the darkness to the lightness. And long-term suffering doesn’t allow you that luxury. For a while you go through a momentum of thinking, “I can do this,” then you force it. And I think the reason why we force it is because we think that that’s where God’s love will be, or maybe if I can make the crossover, I will feel peace and I will know joy, and I will start to be free again? And it sets you up to fight with anything that doesn’t fit in that lightness, so you just, if that very…
Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, so you’re trapped.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: You’re trapped, yeah, and if that very thing is happening within your body, and within your mind, you, it’s almost like we validate this civil war that goes on inside of us. We tell us that that is the fight of faith, and really we’re damaging ourselves further. What we really need is the sweet mercy of love that meets us in the—I think what God’s started to teach me was that he doesn’t look at me with those categories, he doesn’t see any of it in—he doesn’t prefer one moment to any other moment. He comes towards me with, no, he doesn’t discriminate towards what is the substance of my day. What he, what he wants is truth. What he wants is me to be able to offer him me, and I can’t offer him me if I’m too busy shielding and fighting me. I have to—I have to lean into it, I have to say, “It’s okay, it’s good,” I have to let vulnerability—the vulnerability of being human—be a part of my life because it is a part of my life. And then once I’m really owning and holding what I have, and I’ve started to break down the cycles of shame that would have stopped me doing that before, I can—I start to just become much more at home, and then it’s much easier to invite God into a home that you are already in. You know.
Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, you know, Amy, it strikes me as you’re talking about this, what’s like a physiological challenge, a biological challenge, that obviously the strands of mental health are so clearly and obviously attached to that. You can’t separate them out, right?
Amy-Louisa Robinson: No.
Daniel Whitehead: And that whole—I think your story seems to reflect what many people face in the Church who live with a, either a diagnosed or an undiagnosed mental health challenge, is that this inner life and the outer life don’t match. They have to perpetually live without [them] lining up, and that creates this unsaid implicit shame. And that compounds the issue, because I’m sure carrying shame in your body is not going to help your body, and it’s definitely not going to help your mental health. I think Brené Brown said that “No, there is no good shame.”
Amy-Louisa Robinson: No.
Daniel Whitehead: I was thinking this through with a colleague, because someone challenged that—someone from outside our organization—gently sort of challenged it and said, “Well are you sure?” and we’re going, “Oh, so can shame ever act redemptively?” Like it can be a jolt to us to change things, and I guess it could if you felt shame and then you went, “Oh I shouldn’t be feeling this; something’s out of sync in my life. I’m going to, you know, make some changes. I’m not going to live with different realities.”
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah.
Daniel Whitehead: But in order to do that you have to have a foundation of love and security. You have to know that I can rest on something that’s going to hold me, whereas if your whole life has been built around behaving one way and not appearing a certain way, and, you know, faithfulness equals biological health and probably a bit of wealth, because that’s just—our western culture validates that as well—it’s like, unless it looks like that, I am failing and I need to pretend I’m not failing. Speak a bit more to—when did you become aware that that was having a detrimental affect on your mental health, on like your sense of wellness, your sense of peace? When did you—was there a moment when you went, “Oh hang on, I have this, this kind of—living a lie or living out of sync with my outward appearance and inward appearance—is damaging my wellbeing. When was that point?
Amy-Louisa Robinson: There was a specific point. There was a moment where I, I actually, I actually got very angry. There was an—it had been a really, really difficult long season. The limitations had closed in my life very extremely. There was very, very little that I now had control over. And I just—I was carrying this sense of, like, “God wants to heal me,” and I felt like no matter what I was doing, I just couldn’t get it to happen, which is, you know, the mindset I was—I wouldn’t think that way now—but, and I remember just getting infuriated with him, like he was dangling a beautiful life in front of me but I was just never able to reach it. And I remember going out for a walk one day and just shouting at God, and just being like: “That’s it. I want you to heal me now, I want you to just do this, I want you to fix me, I want you to fix it.” And I just remember hearing God say to me, “Amy, if I healed you now, then healing would become a god to you and not me. You would always believe that healing was the doer of everything you needed, because that would be where all of your needs were satisfied. But I am here with you, but I’m here, but I’m right here. So every single thing that you need I can give to you, whether it comes in the shape of healing or not. Everything that you really need that’s underneath—like that peace and that joy—that you, that your soul is really searching for and you’ve just become convinced is only manifest in healing, is right here. And I can show you how to access it, how to let it in.”
And that was the moment that I realised that every way that I was thinking was setting me up to fail. It was—I realized that everything that God offers and promises was readily accessible for me, but I had no idea how to reach out for it because all my theology didn’t contribute to that process. So I honestly felt like I went down this journey very much on my own, where I just said, “Okay God, like, teach me from scratch, teach me.” And exactly like what you said actually, what you said about shame: one of the things about vulnerability that I think we find difficult is that it’s just very exposing in its nature. And a lot of things that we would never want to look at—so we try and morph it into something else so we never have to look at it truly. But I just started to really take note of what I thought, and of what I felt and of what I was believing. And I would just, like, if I felt triggered in a moment and I would start having deep anxiety, I would, I would always work it back to: What am I believing? What do I believe about you? What do I believe about myself? And what is, what’s missing? What truth should be where I’ve got a faulty perception of things? And I have to say it was very much—I wanted to learn how to look after my mind, I wanted to learn how to, you know, there were some parts like, the actual lupus part where it was physically putting pressure on my mind. I couldn’t change that, but I could give my mind truthful food. That was the way I sort of saw it: I want to start finding truth; I want to really, I want to test everything, I want to test every belief that I have and work it through to find out whether it really is made of the stuff of love and life. And if I couldn’t find that in it, if I found that actually, I think really that’s perpetuated by fear—a lot of it was perpetuated by fear for me. I think, yeah, I think most of the things that people, most of the attributes that people would have celebrated in me was all very fear-driven. And that was the hard thing to see because you start feeling almost like you’re getting more and more naked, and it becomes, you realize you don’t actually know who you are; you’re just like this accumulation of all these messy things. But that’s the beautiful thing about doing that vulnerable process with God: that he’s—he allows you to feel the vulnerability of exposure, and him taking things away, and the emptiness that that leaves you with. And then you just start to be hungry for what’s true, like, you know fill, fill that space with what is true, what is true, and you need to teach it to me in a way that I really believe it, I really see it and trust it, because I want it to be a part of my life. And I have to say, I mean, I just did that continuously, probably for about five years. I cried every day. It was a highly emotional process but I just—
Daniel Whitehead: You’re probably doing catch-up, emotional catch-up.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah.
Daniel Whitehead: On a lifetime possibly, when maybe—I mean I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but maybe you didn’t feel able to lament, mourn and grieve because there wasn’t space for that.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, absolutely.
Daniel Whitehead: I think one of the things, Amy, you’re talking—there’s a few really interesting strands there. I think of John Swinton, who’s one of our ambassadors—I once heard him—who’s a theologian in Aberdeen for anyone who cares to know: John gave this really interesting, I don’t think it was his, it was someone else’s, but this interesting definition of love, just a simple definition of love is to say to another person, “I see you as you are, and I’m glad that you’re here as you are.” And for us as people to be seen by God, and for God to say that to us, is what each and every one of us needs to hear. And as the people of God, we need to be affirming that in others. And when you talked about that point where you were crying out to God, saying, “God heal me, I need to be healed,” like basically this is the only narrative I have for understanding what I’m going through, now is the time you’ve got to do your job, because I’ve done everything I’ve got to do—
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah.
Daniel Whitehead: —and you offer God that ultimatum, and the still small voice comes back and says “I am with you,” like that’s enough. I’m with you, I’m present. It’s really interesting because, again, drawing on John’s work, John would say—and obviously I agree with him—that our western world, our modern world, I’d say we’re in late modernity—some people call it post-modernity—whatever you call it, this period of philosophical thought in our world, has geared us to view personhood as primarily being about biomedical wellness. It’s like, basically, unless you’re biomedically well, you don’t really serve a purpose in our culture because this is all about what you can produce. Your value is attached to what you can produce. The Bible paints a very different picture of the value of humanity, and that’s why Jesus got into so much trouble, because he was basically treading all over these religious systems and these cultural systems that put some people down, like lepers and women and children, and people who were bleeding like “You’re down.” The outer courts of the temple were horrendous and full of robbers and crime, and the middle, the centre court was, like, beautiful and ornate, and that’s what made Jesus so angry. So Jesus treads all over this, and it strikes me that if we’re really talking about a biblical vision of wellness for people rather than someone being medically well or looking like an Olympic athlete who’s wealthy—which is basically who we hold up in our head as being a successful person—that’s what Hollywood tells us, and very often sadly the Church implicitly tells us that as well—the Bible presents an idea of wellness which is entirely driven by our relationship to God. It’s the presence of shalom. It’s the presence of great relationship to God, and obviously vicariously and necessarily great relationship to other people, to creation and to ourselves. But the minute we can relate well to ourselves, we’re putting ourselves in a great position to relate well to God, but it’s predicated on us understanding that God and others look at us and say, “I see you as you are, and I’m glad that you’re here.” And for all the challenges of a, a health, wealth, prosperity or a—you know—and the trappings that come with that, I’m not denouncing, as I know you’re not, the idea of praying for healing and this is God’s healing it’s not mine, he can do what he wants, but sadly it seems from what you’re saying, that if you’re very, if you’re not careful with that message—
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah.
Daniel Whitehead: —and bang that drum too much, there are people there who aren’t experiencing that, that type of healing. They may be experiencing a different type of healing which is the relational healing, which I would suggest is more in line with the biblical vision of healing, but if they’re not, they can experience shame.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, absolutely.
Daniel Whitehead: And then the disconnect comes from inner life to outer life. And certainly for people in the midst of mental health or chronic disease, chronic illness, that is a, that is a major challenge that the Church has to be aware of, and think carefully about how they communicate those things.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, absolutely. I used to look at—so I remember getting to the point where, I was saying to God, “Okay, what sort of posture can I have every day?” and he taught me this just very simple method of saying “yes” to him. I felt like my only job, and actually, you know, to try and put a standard of success or health on someone that actually is very outside of their control is quite cruel. It’s a cruel measure, and I felt like God was saying to me, what—the wholeness of life, the wholeness of life, which in the end your body benefits from too, is in your “yes,” almost just your—exactly like what you said—I’m saying “yes” to letting God come close to me. I’m saying “yes” to him, allowing space in my moment today. And we start to find that when we start living in the beauty, of a “yes” we—that’s what we start to be able to give other people. I have a “yes” for you, even though you’re not fixed, or even though you’re going through suffering, I have a “yes” for who you are today, you know.
Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, yeah and there’s a—and there’s a great picture in that, Amy: When you think about the arc of the biblical narrative, you think about that—in Genesis and the Genesis narrative, when there was that break in the relationship between humanity and God, and humanity tries to cover up and hide, and suddenly put an appearance on to be acceptable to the other, in which case God—and it’s like ever since then God’s just been trying to meet us where we’re at, which we see in the Incarnation, Jesus coming to be a, you know, rural lower middle-class carpenter in a little dead end place, and that’s the image of God that we have, who’s there, who’s present with people, and with all the people that no one else wanted to be with. It’s like, here we are again with people in the midst, particularly in the work of Sanctuary, trying to support people in the midst of churches, many of whom don’t feel able to talk about what’s really going on, don’t have the language or the framework. And here is God, standing, just asking for a “yes” that says, “Yeah God, I’ll let you close, and I’ll let you close by letting others close.” But we need to have that safety, that place, a safe space, a sanctuary to be able to know that when we say “yes,” all we’re going to receive is, a loving embrace from God and hopefully from others, because the two are actually linked.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah.
Daniel Whitehead: How we—how we live and behave and act should be a reflection of who God is. And that’s how people can experience and encounter God, or at least one way.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Yeah, that’s right. I think it has to start off that, the simplicity of a “yes” is enough. I think, like, I did very extreme—I went down extreme measures to try and help my mind to learn this because, like what you said, I was so—you can have this way of saying “yes” to God, “yes God, come in so that you can do x, y, z, x, y, z” and our centre is still focused on how we can become bigger or better versions of ourselves. Even the assent of who we are, you know, constantly wanting to assent to something more. And I just remember feeling like it was really important to let go of all of those things. And I would say even if I never did anything with my life, this is enough; even if my limitation never eased up, this is enough; even if I’m never healed, this is enough. And that was almost what we were saying “yes” to, and I think that introduces a purity of mercy almost into the “yes”, where it’s not conditional, it’s not “yes, so that you can jump me back onto this train that I need to be on, which is to get to somewhere else.” It is just sitting in the moment with each other, and often that is the place where the most, you know, even though this is not the point, it’s almost the fruit after the fact, that you’re already whole with that sense of his love with you, but it does become the easiest place for transformation to unfold. But you just aren’t clinging to it anymore—if it happens it’s beautiful, but you’re just, it’s not needed almost. This moment is enough.
Daniel Whitehead: Yeah. Amy, thank you so much for sharing your candour and honesty.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Pleasure.
Daniel Whitehead: It’s—I mean I knew you—I knew you’d do this because I’ve known you a long time, but I just think there’s something tremendously empowering, and there’s a gift there you’ve given for people, whether people are living with a chronic illness or whether they’re living with a—I mean chronic illness, whether that’s a biological one or a mental one or somewhere in between—there’s just so much permission for people there to feel, and to know that God, God sees us as we are, and his promise is to be with us, and we can kind of leave, leave the rest to him.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Good.
Daniel Whitehead: Thank you, Amy.
Amy-Louisa Robinson: Thank you, thank you so much.
Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries exists to equip the church to be a sanctuary for all people, at all stages of their mental wellness journey, may this podcast encourage you to create safe space for your own story, and the stories of others as well as create change in communities that stigmatize those suffering with mental health challenges.
The Sanctuary Course is a small group resource designed to help initiate and guide conversations about mental health and faith, it is a starting point, creating a base of shared knowledge from which churches can explore the next steps, perhaps most importantly through the simple act of talking openly about mental health, the course helps churches begin to create safe spaces for people to share their mental health stories, and receive support in community.
Each theme in the course is explored from a psychological, social and theological perspective, and each session is accompanied by a compelling film focussed on an individual story, a person of faith whose journeyed through mental health challenges.
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