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church, mental illness, understanding and grace

You lock the door; wish for deadlocks.
You wish for the satisfying clunk of knowing the world has been turned out.

You stand at the window. Night steps from behind the gnarled trees on the far side of the road, watching you. The moon brandishes its white grin, admiring its reflection on the black, gleaming mailbox.

Your phone chirps. You turn it off, not looking at the message.

This is who you’ve become lately.
Weary. Isolated. Paranoid.

Just a man padding around his house on wooden floors that creak in the silence.

You sit on the edge of the mattress, check the locks on the window one more time, slip an Ativan under your tongue and wait for sleep to overtake you.

The demon’s slow whisper becomes the wind outside, and the wind becomes a breeze, and the breeze becomes your breath, in and out, in and out, and you’re riding this Serotonin hit into the depths of night.

This is the first thing I notice, always, when my mind starts to get sick.


My body instinctually shuts down, shuts out the world, and it’s a terrible thing because in shutting out the world, I shut out the beauty right as I’m shutting the pain. Like cancer, mental illness attacks my life cells, the ones that make a person smile and hug and laugh. And I kill them off, one by one, watching the way they shrivel, this dance of death and life just withering away.

But tonight, although I may not smile, I am safe.

It’s hard for the church to separate spirituality and mental health. Instinctually, we assume these two points correlate on a graph somewhere next to our names in the Book of Life. Like maybe God, in his spare time, has developed an algorithm to chart the dedication one has to His plan. Thus, if someone becomes depressed, surely their enthusiasm for God’s plan must be waining. If someone struggles with anxiety, surely their trust in God isn’t intact. If someone struggles with guilt, assumedly they don’t believe in the repentant plan of Salvation.

And the someone steps up and points out that cortisol, dopamine, serotonin and brain mapping can be used to diagnose these things and the algorithms are briefly consulted, and we assume God puts an asterisk on the bottom of the chart which reads: Tread gently. Love carefully. Question everything. Not all is as it may seem.

But what I think God means is this: The ground is always level at the foot of the cross. Grace abounds there for everyone who might reach for it. Love first. Understand maybe. Do your best. It’s okay. I’ve got the rest.

Then you find this friend. Maybe two.

You find this person who wears Jesus on their sleeve, and when you show up at their door, they pull you in and find a Kleenex box because they know by the look on your face that you’re about to destroy their living room with your grief. But none of that stops them. They give you a steaming mug of coffee and you cru into it and tell them how you wish you could be healed, and you beat back the paranoia and try on this new cloak called Trust because these people have only and ever shown you love. Love without judgment. Love without, even sometimes, answers. Just the kind of love that listens. And you weep together and not once do they tell you that Jesus is lacking in your life or tell you that you’re doing it wrong but they just keep pointing to Him and it’s all you can do from just pulling a throw blanket over yourself and falling asleep on their couch because this, right here, is a safe place.

And the next day, you can’t text anyone, and you turn off your phone again, and it makes you sad because you remember how it felt to be heard. You remember how it felt to be loved and it makes you ache somewhere between your soul and your head.

The following day, you send a text message and thank them for being there for you, and it feels good to have a friend like that.

But you don’t stop there. You hug a coworker you know is hurting, and your world is a little bit better.

church, mental illness, and grace photo 1 church, mental illness, and grace photo 2

You’re out snowshoeing with your dog, and you’re staring up at the sky when you trip landing on your knees, and it’s then that you pray: Help me, Lord, you pray. “Help me to trust others a little more. Help me to love others as You’ve loved me. Help me to listen to the hurting world first, to never be critical because a critical spirit will never help a critical situation. Help me to… you pause… well, help me to always and forever look in your direction. Because the road to the cross isn’t a highway but instead, a narrow footpath of faith. Help me to remember, each night, to lock up the world away from me but never before inviting you in first.” You get distracted then because your dog has found a possum that’s still, curled up in the path with its tiny hands resting on its chin and you wonder if it’s really dead. And since you’ve lost your train of thought, you murmur, “And God? I don’t ask for a miraculous healing, but I do ask you continue to show me sure steps toward living a better life of service to you. And since we;re on our knees anyway, Lord, could you heal Ervin’s back hip and make it easier to lose this belly fat and thank you, dear Lord, for making dark chocolate and cheese.”

And you laugh. And it’s the most honest laugh you’ve heard in a longtime, and the sun is setting, dripping all this contentment over the western sky and you suddenly think that it might be the last sunset you’ll so you just take it in… And the beauty is so raw and real that your breath catches in your chest and you wonder if this is the last breath you’ll take, so you just breathe it in…

And you are grateful. Grateful for trust. Grateful for friends. Grateful for the church of people and couches and shoulders to cry on and all this messy grace that blankets your life. You’re grateful for healing, even in minuscule amounts and you’re grateful for second and third and fifty-seventh chances in spite of yourself.

Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish’s belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me.

Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O Lord my God. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.

They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.

Jonah 2:1-90, KJV