When I became a believer in Christ, I automatically thought my life would get better, that all my problems would go away because Jesus died on the cross for me. Don’t get me wrong, things changed. In fact, I became radically different. But since knowing Jesus, I have still struggled through depression and anxiety.
While wrestling through the whys, I spent a lot of time asking God if I was really a believer because there were days where I could not get out of bed, days that I was lying face-down on the floor battling anxiety, and days where I thought it would be easier to end my life.
A Thorn in the Flesh
I desperately hoped that my mental illness would go away once I fully gave my life to Christ, but it didn’t happen that way. Sometimes my heart is heavy and my heart hurts, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t at work in my life. Some days my head knows something my heart doesn’t, and those are the days I spend in bed. At times, those days can stack into weeks, but that doesn’t mean God is not good.
The Apostle Paul pleads with God in 2 Corinthians 12 to take away the thorn in his flesh, but God responds “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
The thorn in Paul’s flesh reminded him not to boast in himself, but to boast in Christ. Often I must look to Paul’s example and remember that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. We each have a thorn in our flesh that the Lord may choose not to take away, and for some of us that thorn is some mental illness.
Praying in the Pain
Many of my Christian friends struggle with some type of mental illness, whether that be major depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder. A common topic of conversation is, should we pray for God to take this away? For many years, I said yes, but I don’t personally pray that way anymore.
Now I pray that God would be glorified through my pain and through my suffering. I pray that He would hold me and keep me. I pray that He would be my Comforter.
Knowing Jesus does not mean that my anxiety will be cured. Knowing Jesus does not mean that my depression will be cured. But knowing Jesus does mean that I will always have a Comforter. He has compassion on us through all things. He comforts us when things are good and he comforts us when things are bad.
Hold Fast and Get Help
So what do you do when you find yourself in this position? What do you do when Jesus doesn’t cure your mental illness?
You hold fast. You wait. You cling to the people closest to you. You pray that His power would be made perfect in weakness. You pray that He takes it away — and if He doesn’t, you pray to glorify Christ through your battles. You embrace honesty about where you are, whether that is in the valley or on the mountaintop. You pursue healing, but you remember that if you don’t get it, Christ is still enough. On the days that Christ does not feel like enough, hold tight and know that He alone will get you through.
You seek help for your depression or for your debilitating mood disorder. You seek out therapy and Biblical counseling. You seek out medication (and you can be on medication for mental illness and still love Jesus!!). Find the thing that works for you, but do not settle in your mind that God does not love you because he hasn’t taken away your mental illness. You must remember that Christ is enough, even when he does not feel like it. You must remember that Christ wants you, even when you feel like no one else wants you.
When You Don’t Feel Like Praising
In one of his most gut-wrenching psalms, David is full of anguish because his mind knows that God is present and He is enough, but his heart does not feel that way.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Ps. 42:5)
David was desperate to hope in God, and it took him time to be able to do so. He commands his soul to trust and hope in God and determines that, despite how he feels, he is going to praise God. This is not always my initial reaction. On those days when I can’t get out of bed, my first thought is not to praise God for his wondrous deeds. My inclination is to lay in bed and grieve — but eventually, I must get up and praise God for who He is.
Don’t Walk Alone
If you, like me, are one of the 450 million people in the world who struggles with some type of mental illness, get past the stigma and find the help you need. Find the people you know you can call when things are rough or you are feeling like you are ready to end your life. Find the people who don’t quite “get” the struggle with mental health but want to, and hold them tightly. Find your therapist, and find the mood stabilizer medication that helps you, and don’t feel guilty about needing it. Even Christians can benefit from medication.
If you don’t struggle with mental illness, chances are you know someone who does. Be that person they need when their struggle is debilitating. Be there on the other end of the phone to pray for them. Learn how to help them cope. Offer them some stability when they feel like their world is crashing. And let go of your preconceived judgments about mental health.
So what do you do when Jesus doesn’t cure your mental illness? You pray, cling and seek.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Call 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
Emily Greer is a collegiate missionary in Worcester, MA. This article was originally published on her blog, emilykathleengreer.wordpress.com.