Mental health (or lack thereof) is a troublesome bundle of confusion sometimes.
I am thoroughly convinced of the fact that depression is a medical problem, and I am delighted that clever wizards have made a drug that has (by and large) made me better.
I think that this comic by Robot Hugs is very true and useful and right:
And yet, it’s hard to get away from the fact that by the very nature of the mental aspect of this illness, there is something more than just chemical imbalance at work.
We’re mysterious beings, and we can’t separate emotions and brain chemicals into neat little boxes, and that has made things a wee bit complicated as I’ve tried to work out how depression and Christian faith mix.
Being a full-time professional Christian with depression has not been easy.
Firstly, there is something quite numbing about this chemical imbalance – there has been sadness at times, and there has been crippling anxiety at others, but there have also been days of total, apathetic, nothingness, where all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and disappear from the world. At times like that, it’s hard to pray and sing and care at all, let alone preach the gospel to anyone else, and I found that pretty hard to deal with. I love my job a lot, and to suddenly find myself unable and frankly, unwilling, to get up and go to work was quite disorientating, and a little bit frightening.
Secondly, there is a perception that in order to be a professional Christian, one needs to be ‘sorted’. I know that isn’t true, and has never been true, particularly in my own experience. I have consistently been quite a far way off sorted throughout my life as a Christian, and that didn’t change once I started getting paid for doing ministry work. And yet, with this new malady came new doubts: could I and should I still be doing this job?
Happily, UCCF (them what pay me), were and are incredibly kind and patient and helpful, plus, the drugs started working and the symptoms eased and I stopped waking up every morning with a crushing sense of dread, and started to love my job again.
But also, during the last year I have been working my way through 2 Corinthians with a number of different people, and have seen a couple of things that have been incredibly helpful during this season of darkness.
Firstly, one of the markers of Christian life, and Christian leadership, is suffering. In 2 Corinthians Paul explains that he has been getting it in the neck from various people (the ‘super-apostles’), who are basically saying that the fact that he’s been having a hard time (beatings, imprisonment, riots, sleepless nights, hunger, etc) is because he’s not really an apostle, and so he’s not being blessed by God. Paul spends most of the letter explaining that the Super-Apostles are morons, and that everything they’re teaching is total & utter bollocks (admittedly he doesn’t use those exact words…), and that in fact, suffering is part of what it means to be a Christian leader:
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down are pretty awful, but they don’t disqualify you from telling people about Jesus. He was afflicted and crushed, perplexed and driven to despair, persecuted and forsaken, struck down and destroyed for our sake, and in our suffering and persevering, we’re able to speak about him in a different way.
The gospel is a treasure beyond price. The fact that it’s being spread by such a rubbish and broken jar of clay like me, shows how glorious it really is.
Secondly, there’s this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s suffering, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Aside from the overwhelming desire to buy Paul a thesaurus, reading these verses is and has been an immense joy and, surprise, surprise, comfort to me over the years.
God comforts us in our suffering – joyous news, for sure. But also, he uses our sufferings, and the comfort we have experienced through them, to bring comfort to others.
In the utter crapness of this serotonin-shortage season, the knowledge that God is both comforting me, but also using me is, surprisingly enough, immensely comforting to me.
I want the hard things in life to have been worth something. I want to be able to see good come from them. I want to be useful and helpful, and it is such a comfort to know that even when things look and feel like failure, God is at work and using them.
And perhaps, not ‘even when’, but ‘because’.
It turns out that being a chipped and dirty jar of clay is actually a handy thing, because it shows the beauty and perfectness of the gospel in all its brilliance.
In summary: not crushed.