“When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. ”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
I recently received an email from a reader who has been diagnosed as mild bipolar,and is really struggling. As a follower of Jesus, she has taken part in deliverance ministry and has received “words” from prophets declaring that she does not in fact have bipolar disorder. This person feels desperate to find God, has been fasting and spending many hours seeking him, yet is still finding herself in alternating periods of feeling OK and then having extreme depression. She expressed that she feels backslidden and that somehow this whole situation must be her fault.
in this post, I’d like to address some of her concerns and maybe offer a little hope. What I offer are my opinions, but I’ve had plenty of years of experience to base them on. So, in an attempt to be organized, here are some thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Mental Illness is NOT your fault.
I’m going to admit a bias here…I get really huffy when anyone, especially members of the Church start implying or outright stating that it is someone’s fault for having mental illness. To go back to the Bible, Jesus never claimed that anyone’s illness, whether it be physical or mental in the case of the Gerasene demoniac, was their fault. Mental illness, especially bipolar, is complex and is influenced by a myriad of factors. Judging someone in that state is as ludicrous as telling someone with cancer that it’s just their fault and they should get over it.
2. Look at your health with a holistic perspective.
I certainly do not want to speak unkindly of the people that supposedly gave this reader words from God. However, I’m not one to dismiss what medical professionals advise. The sad fact is that much of Christendom has a very stunted understanding of mental illness. They view it as too black and white of an issue and try to reduce everything in life to sin or not. This, in my opinion, is just too naive a view on life and the way God works.
My belief on prophetic words is that one shouldn’t just take them at face value and do nothing after that. I’ve know people who spoke of things that came true, and I’ve known of people who offered words who later were found out to be quacks. If this person in fact isn’t bipolar, further work with professionals over time should reveal this fact. But the crux of the matter is that just telling her she isn’t bipolar and leaving it at that isn’t really helpful. Science and psychology are nothing to be afraid of, and the two of them, combined with a faith in the Divine, can often work together to find solutions.
First point – you’re not backslidden unless you are intentionally turning your back from God. Even then, I’m loose with the term because we often turn away from God because we don’t understand him, are afraid, or are dealing with stuff that feels overwhelming.
2nd point – I just don’t believe in a God who is sitting around judging everyone nonstop and commenting on their backslidden-ness, and then allowing their lives to be crappy as punishment of a natural consequence. God is love, and the aforementioned whatever does not speak to me of true love. Jesus says we are accepted, children, and God is through all and in all. If this is the case, then we don’t need to worry about getting it right all the time or even about fixing our problems yesterday. God is leading us through grace, and we have all the time in the world.
4. Mental health journeys are marathons, not sprints.
It used to bug me to no end when God didn’t heal me from my junk right away….I had done everything my counselor had advised, I forgave everyone I thought had so much as sneered at me, I had engaged in spiritual warfare against every thing I could think of, I had recounted every engagement with the occult like reading fortune cookies….you get the point here. I had done the formulas. I had worked my rear end off. And nada.
But as Ann Voskamp says, all is grace. And this not healing me right away was grace. Why? Because I was able to move past pain management, I learned that I could be fully alive while in the midst of hard pain, I began to see God in bigger ways, and I learned to face my fear head on and know that it wasn’t going to kill me. And now, as ridiculous as it seems, I look back on my journey with an appreciation. Not like a happy-happy-joy-joy kind, but with an entrenched understanding that grace and pain and life were worked deep into me, and it grew more love, compassion, concern for others, and hope.
As much as we would want to speed through our journeys, it just doesn’t work. In fact, I’ve found that with my spiritual journey, the faster I try to go, the more stressed and neurotic I become. Much of life and grace have to be received, not grabbed.
5. Community is critical.
For this reader who is really struggling, I would suggest that a good solid community is critical for her to get through the hard times. Not community that condemns her, or berates her, or tells her to pull herself up and get over it – but rather, people who have suffered themselves in life, who understand that mental illness is not a joke and is not a sin issue, and who are willing to walk the distance with her
I will always say to people that if they are among others who are condescending toward them, who minimize their problems, or who just tell them their problems are the result of sin and not enough faith…..WALK AWAY. And if you don’t believe me, go look at Jesus and remind yourself of how he treated people…he never harmed people mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
For some reading that has really been transformative for me during my own journey, visit my Resources page.
Seeking to fully live,