A God’s-eye-view on mental health

I’m not going to sugar-coat the situation.

I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Although I only sought medical attention early this year, I have suffered with these conditions for many years now.

Now, I realise that having these conditions does not imbue me with a blanket-ability to discuss every case of mental health – because I only suffer from two, I am not a professional and depression and anxiety vary from person to person.

Nevertheless, like some of you I have experienced panic attacks, insomnia, rough dreams, constant fear and depressive and suicidal thoughts. From this – albeit narrow – experience of mental health, I really want to be of some help and encouragement to fellow members of the Mental Health Illness Community.

Mental health, with all its complexities, is insufficiently dealt with in society, and – particularly in the academic sphere – there is a gross misunderstanding of the very concept of health issues which surpass the shoulders.

The very fact that an unprofessional such as myself feels the need to ‘plug a gap’ in the narrative, as it were, reflects this, I think. One of the reasons for this is how ‘illogical’ mental health issues appear. For those who have not suffered similar things, it can be difficult to understand the complicated – sometimes abstract – intricacies of mental illness.

To be frank, this is, on the whole, not the fault of the person who cannot understand; I know many genuinely kind, lovely people who really want to understand, but simply can’t. To a certain extent it’s our duty to try and educate as far as we can, but after that point, understanding that some others can’t understand can be helpful.

That being said, I want to encourage some of you who are suffering much at this time. And no, this is not a “you should be joyful, you’re a Christian” kind of lecture, nor an “everything’s going to be fine” chant with no substance – I’ve had both of those preached at me (in a literal as well as metaphorical sense) and know that both can be harmful and discouraging.

Of course, both of these things are true! The apostle Paul exhorts all Christians to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4v4), as well as propounding the fantastic truth that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8v8).

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve had these verses quoted at you enough to make you feel a little despondent as to the church’s knowledge of the Bible!

Ultimately, the most important thing is searching the scriptures yourself and seeing the nuances of God’s message for the sufferers of mental illness, which I cannot fully offer in the comparatively short block of text as this article.

Nevertheless, I want to – try to – cover a little about how God’s word has spoken to me in my dark moments. I want to structure a few helpful truths by answering these questions:

  1. Who is God?

‘God is love’ (1 John 4v8).

He is the Creator, who knows the stars by name and sits above the circle of the earth, reigning and ruling, keeping the universe together in his perfect knowledge and wisdom: ‘For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1v16).

He looks after creation meticulously, with a care that only a God of love is capable of and would desire to exert.

‘the very hairs of your head are all numbered’

What’s more he loves humans particularly. Setting Adam and Eve as the crowns of his creation, God set them over all creatures and plants. Jesus states that the God who plans the life-time of a sparrow cares even more for humankind: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10v29-31).

By calling himself the good shepherd and vinedresser, Jesus wants us to understand that the care of a shepherd who has raised his sheep and protected them since birth, and the constant digging, seeding, watering, pruning and reaping of a vinedresser are still not equal to his love for us. He is not just a shepherd, but a ‘good’ shepherd.

God is powerful.

he rules over the entirety of living existence, both celestial and earthly. His voice is the voice of many waters, he is like a fire in his holiness – nothing but holiness can survive in his presence. He has the power to dictate what does and does not happen, and has planned all for the good of his people.

God is understanding.

Throughout the Bible he is described as a father who cares for his children, holding them in his ‘everlasting arms’.

‘You[…]put my tears in Your bottle’

Moreover, Christ in his earthly suffering went through human existence, and hence ‘we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4v15). One of my favourite verses is: ‘You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book’ (Psalm 56v8)?

We have a God who has the omnipotence to create our universe and sustain it, but also the care and consideration to take an invested interest in the individual. He both understands us and has the power over our mental health. We are in safe hands; he knows the plans he has for us (Jeremiah 29v11), and even if it seems difficult at the moment, even before we existed he knew exactly what he had in store for us: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2).

2. What has God done for us?

The Lord has created each person individually. He doesn’t passively survey a production-line of human babies, but cares for every human being as worthy of his attention:‘For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s  womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139v13-16).

‘In Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.’

Recently my sister-in-law birthed a wonderful little baby boy, Alistair. Birth is a miracle, each baby is individual, and having this reality quite literally ‘brought to life’ before my eyes has been amazing.

But apart from literal ‘shaping’, God shapes us spiritually as his people. He is sanctifying – continuing to perfect – us as we grow in him as a potter does his clay (Jeremiah 18). He uses difficulties to humble us and make us view more clearly and accept his plan for us. God cares, and he cares for individuals.

Ultimately, however, God’s greatest gift to humankind has been the sending of his son to the world to live a life free from sin, then go to the cross and suffer and die for sins which he had not committed so that we can be right with God.

The Trinity was willing to disrupt their perfect heavenly communion so that Christ could die for the sins of unworthy humans. He took on our sins and bore the wrath of God – what we would have experienced in hell – in our stead. He died so that we do not have to experience that same second spiritual death and suffering.

Now Christ has returned into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for his people as the one mediator between God and humankind, and preparing a special place for his people: ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14).

‘God[…]will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able’

We now live in anticipation of his second coming, where we shall see him face to face, and praise him forever. Here he guides and guards us, not allowing any difficulty or trial to overcome us: ‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10v13).

And we have, at the end of the day, so to speak, nothing to fear: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1v7).

This may seem very difficult to align with mental illness. Often it feels that all is not well – we feel very profoundly abandoned, unworthy and many other things.

But these things are not of God.

God does not tempt anybody. All he is doing is allowing Satan to twist illness in order to tempt us, but God only allows Satan this ‘wiggle room’ so that we will grow as Christians and understand him and our purpose in this world to a much greater extent.

Never forget that ‘nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8v39).

God is good and takes no sadistic pleasure in allowing Satan to make us suffer. He only does this for our benefit, because he knows that we will be spiritually healthier through this suffering.

3. Who are we as a result?

At this point it’s probably fairly obvious.

We are the blood-bought children of God, we are the ones he has worked hard to create and who he loves individually and infinitely. We are wonderful, because a wonderful Creator has created us. We have an amazing future ahead of us, because he is preparing heaven for us. Right. Now.

We are here on this earth in order to bring glory to him, and so that we can grow into greater reflections of him. Only through suffering can we understand (and even then in a greatly reduced sense) what Christ has gone through for us.

And given the fact that the comprehension of the latter is what makes heaven so amazing, we have to go through suffering.

We are not purposeless, whatever the devil – or models on adverts, or our grades, or we ourselves – might say.

We are special, because God has declared us so, both verbally and in action.

We are loved. For God has loved us.

How to deal with periods.

None of us like menstruation. It’s not nice when you’ve got something like a hangry parakeet clawing through the good ol’ uterus wall; kinda feels like you’re the stomach contents of a sewer rat. So how do we deal with this?

Well, punching your annoyingly in-the-way brother, venting your inner volcano on your parents through the lava of mid-menstrual expletives and arguing with all of your friends constitute a good start…

No. Nononononono. As women, we’re stronger than that. And you know why? Because of ‘Christ who strengthens’. That’s the only reason, Ms Stomach-Contents-of-a-Sewer-Rat.

When pain claws through our very being, we can ‘soar like eagles’. We’ve been ‘knit in the womb’, we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, God has ‘sent [us] and known [us]’, He sent his ‘one and only Son’ to die for us.

I’ve been married to the wonderful Joshua Hawkes for six months now. He’s an amazing man. But it’s not always easy to be nice – not even to the best non-divine in the world. Believe me, there have been days where I’ve lashed out, grumped on him and neglected him selfishly on my period.

I am human after all.

Breathe those words in. Inhale them in their entirety – ingest the full meaning.

We are human. That means that we are the ‘image’ of God. We are ‘created by him and through him’. We are his daughters.

It also means that Jesus has been – and is – in his incarnate being just like us. Cliché verse, but girl you need it, so I’m gonna say it whether you like it or not: ‘For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

And Jesus is still on the right hand of God ‘interceding’ for us as the ‘one Mediator between God and man’. Isn’t that amazing.

Jesus was manifested as a man in his incarnate form. So he didn’t suffer the pain, hormonal imbalance and discomfort of periods. But unlike the males in your life, whether they be a father, brother, uncle, grandfather, friend, boyfriend or husband, he truly understands your situation.

Honestly.

Not like the abovementioned lovelies who may try so hard to comprehend our situation, Jesus really can and will suffer next to you. After the famous Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus made a significant promise: ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age (the world, or time)’.

Woah. Reread that.

Jesus hasn’t only fulfilled his promise to send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) in his physical absence from this Earth, He’s also promised to remain with us.

So next time you feel alone, misunderstood, yuk, angry and down during your period, don’t vent this into the people in your life.

Tell you what, I’ll let you in on something. As I’m writing this, my uterus is crying out in pain. I’m having to take breaks every few words because it’s so acute. But focusing on how I can honour God through this frustrating and trying experience (in so many ways ahhhh) is helping me.

It’s directing my focus away from the pain, the period, myself, in essence – and towards God and others.

Which in this instance, at least for me, is helpful. Not focusing on the problem which is unsolvable, and redirecting your attention to other issues that can be solved.

Like the washing-up, if you can; or hugging your mum or friend if they need it and are there; or just smiling when it’s so hard.

I don’t think this is escapism. I think this is re-direction. Understanding the problem is there, but partially solving it by acknowledging the larger picture, if that makes sense.

Ultimately, too, the larger picture that we share our brothers and sisters in Christ, is heaven. Consider that for a moment. One day Christ will ‘wipe away every tear’; He, the only one who truly understands us, will be with us forever; there will be no more pain, or fear, or discomfort.

All will be well because of what Christ has achieved on the cross.

So remember where you’re going, sister.

Your path lies heavenward.

And it’s not just a hormonal fantasy! It’s a reality in our Lord.

So stay strong.

Because not only are you a massively strong woman, brave and bold – the source of your strength means that you will always succeed.

You are and will always be, undefeated.

In the end Satan and pain and death and hurt and tears and negative emotion will be defeated.

And good will triumph.

Forgetfulness – Part 2: Missing the bus

Mention ‘The End Times’ to Christians and you will get one of two reactions: a low groan — ‘here we go again’ or a heated all-night debate. I believe this is a large part of our ‘forgetfulness’ problem with regard to the Return of Christ. To cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the end-times are everything; even to greatly-blessed ministers like John MacArthur the focus on his pre-millennialism theory can be OTT. Satan can cause the best of us to read far too much into the — mostly symbolic —numbers in Revelation to find out the date that Jesus clearly states ‘no man, no angel, not even I know’ (Matthew 24:36). Superstitious nonsense that people fall for – even the elect (Matthew 24:24). Revelation is an amazing and joyous book, more about Jesus than anything else; yet our obsession with these matters seems to kill it to the point where it becomes entirely unprofitable. Some people make it seem like the whole gospel itself is hinged on the thousand years or the number of the beast… Where is Jesus? Where is the cross?

Taking a leaf out of Paul’s book

Paul’s advice to both Titus and Timothy (young pastors) was to discourage talk over such matters, that we are never likely to resolve:

“Stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9).

“Command certain people not […] to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.” (1 Timothy 1:3-6).

That is not to say that we should not eagerly look into these things and work out our stance on these issues. Yet there is doctrine that is surely so much more important than these things — which can so often be divisive red-herrings and unprovable from Scripture. Instead we should look into what is profitable and honouring to the Lord — how about adoption, your privileges in Christ, the trinity, Jesus’ deity, etc.? — be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and check what your pastor says lines up with Scripture!

What should we do?

All the while we’re squabbling over the finer-points of the End Times in our hermit-holes, people are dropping into hell in their hundreds and thousands, every day. There’s a world dying out there!! For crying out loud brothers and sisters! Let’s get out there with the Gospel before it is too late and Jesus does return. God, in His infinite sovereign mercy has given us a role in the salvation of souls —as ambassadors of Christ  (2 Corinthians 5:20). I fear I, and perhaps others too, will have a lot to answer for on the day of judgement — ‘Why didn’t you warn people? I gave you friends, neighbours, colleagues and family to witness to, I gave you gifts to use for the work of My church; I told you to ask for more of My Spirit and I would give it you. Did I not tell you to go out into all the world and make disciples of all the nations?’

What will we say? What are our excuses now? ‘Oh I’m too busy with life’, ‘I don’t like talking to people’, ‘I’m not gifted in that way’, … There once was an atheist who said that one big reason he does not believe is because, if what the Bible says is true, Christians would be out warning everybody all the time and they’re not… — why believe a book about a man, if His followers don’t even seem to believe it?

The most selfish thing we can possibly do is not to share Jesus. The Casting Crowns song ‘Love you with the truth’ puts it brilliantly. Why has God let the world go on so long, considering His people were ready way back in the first century for His return? It’s because we know exactly when the world will end: when the last soul is saved, when the last of His flock is brought safely into the fold.

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

What love!

On the last day, we will be saved ourselves yes, but won’t we miss out on so much more? Daniel 12 (see Matthew 25:21 too), speaking of the End Times, says:

“At that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” [emphasis added] (Daniel 12:1b-3).

The last part is often termed, ‘the soul-winners’ promise.’ Are we soul-winners? When was the last time we pointed someone to Christ? Let’s all cut the lukewarm cold-hearted worldly two-faced ‘Sunday Christianity’ baloney that seems to define us and pray that He will give us a glimpse of Christ, draw us closer to Himself, fill us with His Spirit and give us opportunities to witness of the Messiah. Let’s truly ‘Love our neighbours as ourselves’. What is more important than doing the Good Lord’s work?

A hymn we sung on Sunday encapsulated this brilliantly. I was only going to quote the last verse – but reading it again, I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of it!

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of Christ dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of Christ my Saviour
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.