My brain was sick. That’s how I explained it to my then 2 ½ year old. The medical descriptions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t thoroughly describe the hurricane that was raging beneath my skull. I was in my worst episode of my newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. I couldn’t function, and yet I had to. My son needed his mom and Andrew needed his wife. Andrew’s and my business needed me. I was as depleted as a person could be. I wanted to die.
Just a few months before, the pastor from the church we were attending asked me to leave. That’s a long story, but the point is that I was without my mind and without a church. My spiritual community was fractured and so was my spirit. I knew I needed something to ground me to the truth. I didn’t have the wherewithal to get there on my own.
In September of 2019 I found myself navigating the twisting passages of an old church, looking for the room where my new Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) group would be meeting. We would be studying the book of Acts. Little did I know that I would resonate deeply with Paul and it would give me the direction and purpose I needed in my life.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
In the years since, I have found great freedom when I’m immersed in scripture. This freedom doesn’t, and can’t, come from my own strength. If that were the case, I would rarely find myself sitting in front of an open Bible. When my mental illness is raging, I have no mental strength to absorb scripture. In my own strength, the pages of the Bible are just ink on paper. I need accountability and I found that through that BSF group in 2019, then, in 2020, a church that teaches from the Bible, verse by verse, word by word. My church’s women’s Bible study group got deeper into God’s word, Matthew’s gospel, than any other Bible study I’ve ever been in. With this kind of accountability I find myself engrossed in God’s Word even when I feel I have no strength, and empowered to study further on my own when I’m stronger and feel hungry for truth. It’s those former times where I store the Bible up in my mind for the times when I find myself depleted.
The Unsound Mind
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
For much of my life, my mind has been anything but “sound.” I’ve struggled with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental illness my whole life. My illness really started affecting me at around age 16 and came off and on like waves, getting stronger and stronger until I snapped twenty years later in 2019. For this reason, I’ve struggled with Bible verses like 2 Timothy 1:7.
The phrase “of a sound mind” in the Greek translates also to, “moderation,” “discipline,” and “self-control.” When I’m in the throes of my illness, I do not have any of those things. But God doesn’t tell us that this virtue is to come of our own accord. No, it comes from him. It is his gift to us.
Aside from being on the right medications, I find that my mind is most sound when I’m regularly in the Word, but that when my mind is unsound, getting to my Bible takes so much more effort. But scripture meets our mind in its unsoundness. When our mind is crying out in pain, there is scripture to match our anguish. The psalms, especially, meet us where we are and redirect our minds to what is good and true.
Psalms help us lament:
Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?Psalm 10:1 (ESV)
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!Psalm 130:1-2 (ESV)
Lamenting is a part of a healthy relationship with God. Crying out to him draws us nearer to his love. It invites him into our heart and allows him to meet us where we are.
Psalms provide comfort:
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.Psalm 10:17-18 (ESV)
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.Psalm 46:1 (ESV)
Allowing God to comfort us isn’t always easy. When we are in distress it can be hard to see how God fits into the equation. By acknowledging the truth of his love brings hope into the dark places.
In the Word of God we learn of people who cried out to him and see God answer their prayers. Hannah prayed for a child and God gave her Samuel who became a great prophet. David asked God to deliver him from his enemies then went on to be a great king. In the gospels we see healing and deliverance to those who begged Jesus for help and had faith that he could. By seeing how the faithful people in scripture are met by God, so are we met by him in our adversity.
When I am healthy, I find myself craving God’s Word. I love studying scripture. When I am not, I go there with tired heavy feet. I don’t follow many Christian leaders’ recommendations to read the Bible every single day. When I’m thirsty, I drink and really get to know the Word. When I’m tired, I let the scripture that I know ruminate in my head and depend on weekly church and Bible study to lead me to water. Like a camel, I store up for the bad times because I know they are coming.
When our mental health is suffering, it can be hard to hold onto God’s truth. However, running away from truth is only going to further our unsound mind. Allowing God, through his Word and our Christian community, to sooth our mind, we move towards healing and comfort. We grow closer to God through our time of need.