Doesn’t mental illness prevent someone from being able to accomplish the tasks God laid out beforehand for them? No, not in the least bit. Let’s take some time to examine a wonderful passage of Scripture, bit by bit, to see what God says about the secrets of our hearts, those things we believe we have hidden from everyone, even God. We’re going to hang out in Psalm 139 for a while here, so buckle up.
“O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.”
God knows literally every single thing about each of us, and there is no shame in his view of us. He knows every thought we have, no matter where we are, and there is no sense of longing for us to be better people. No matter where we are, he is with us by his Spirit, and he knows everything we do.
The point of these verses is intimacy, not judgment. God understands the depressive thoughts crowding into our minds at times and sees nothing but love when he looks at us. This is another opportunity to communicate the depth of love and grace God has for those in the mental illness community. He has intimate knowledge of every thought in us, and he sees nothing but love through the forgiveness of Christ. This message cannot be communicated enough times or strongly enough to someone battling darkness, so give this message freely.
“You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!”
This is one of the most beautiful images in all of Scripture. God before us, God behind us, God upon us, and, by his Spirit, God within us. Indeed, this is nearly too wonderful to comprehend. Who are we that God would invest such time and energy into us, especially those who feel broken or unworthy?
The answer: we are his children. It’s that simple and that profound. Because we are his children, he surrounds us with his presence and paves the way for those good works to happen. Despite the brokenness we feel so profoundly, God does this because of his great love for us. God is literally surrounding his children with his presence. Even on the days when the battles are fiercest, God is all around.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
We have been known since the beginning of our lives. God watched the wonder of our development in our mother’s womb and knew the works he had for us even then. Before a moment of our life had started, he knew the works that would be perfect for us.
This does beg the question—why would God allow terrible things to happen, why would God allow schizophrenia to exist, and why would God allow the events that caused the PTSD to occur in the first place? If each day was recorded in his book, why did he allow some days to be recorded?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but it comes down to this: we live in a busted world. You will have to field questions like this from those you trust you, because it is disappointing and confusing, especially for those who struggle because of victimization of one sort or another. For now, the best answer is that this is a broken world crying for redemption from its sickness.
Those of us in the mental illness community are just as called by God to accomplish the good works God prepared beforehand as everyone else. We are all equally called. We are all equally prepared. Those who’ve struggled against the darkness are perhaps even more prepared, because we have tasted of the brokenness of the world in unique ways.
We have felt the overwhelming anxiety of a billion thoughts all swirling around our head at the same time, coalescing into what feels like an insurmountable mountain. This gives us the authority to speak into the lives of those with anxiety with an understanding others might not have.
We have known the darkness of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Perhaps we have even been on the inside of a mental health ward. This equips us to speak with knowing compassion to those who are battling the heaviness of overpowering negativity. Even if we are in the midst of it right now, we can still commiserate with them and remind others they are never alone. Let’s be honest—being heard is a powerful antidote to many mental illnesses. Though not a way to complete healing, being heard is part of almost every solution.
We have experienced the frenetic highs and lows of being bipolar and feeling out of control in both extremes. This gives us the ability to first identify those bipolar tendencies in others. We can look upon them with compassion instead of judgment or confusion. And we can step into their lives with hope and a sense of the love of God for them.
We have endured the scars of PTSD, and the ways in which the smallest thing can trigger an out-of-whack response that has nothing to do with the present and everything to do with the past. We have seen in our own lives the way this trauma can upend a perfectly good day out of nowhere and ruin it, with no chance for recovery. We can come alongside those whose perfectly good days have been upended and hug them, providing a safe space to just be.
I could go on. We have known the pain of our own pasts, so we are more than equally equipped to serve God. The very illnesses we have battled are the very things that equip us to see God in the dark. The reason we are able to minister to those who are struggling or brokenhearted is that we have experienced struggles ourselves or seen them in the lives of those we love and care for.