In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the young son asks his father, “What’s the bravest thing you ever did?”
The answer, grim but honest: “Getting up this morning.”
We don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world like the one depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but for many it’s grim enough. This month is nearly over, and yet I’ve only now realized that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Those dealing every day with mental affliction – the many who find it difficult to crawl out of bed in the morning – don’t need a calendar to remind them.
The black dog of depression scratches at their door, demanding to be admitted.
Begging to be fed.
A poll recently released by Gallup reveals that depression rates among American adults have reached new highs, with 29% reporting having been diagnosed.
I recently reread the chapter on anxiety in my first book, This Life We Share, and winced at how shallow it seems now, how trite in its brief treatment of such a vital topic. While I stand by the takeaway – that prayer has the power to sever the conjoined twins of legitimate concern and toxic worry – I failed to address the myriad types of mental affliction we experience:
Exhaustion, clinical depression, mental illness, melancholy.
Despair, mental disorder, trauma, burnout.
Sometimes, simply, a failure to thrive. The loss of a will to live.
Reader, forgive me.
Many of you share my faith in a good God, Elohim in Hebrew, who spoke the world into being through the power of his word. Only with the pinnacle of his creation – human beings – did God use his hands in the creative process, forming us from dirt, filling us with the breath of his Spirit.
“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” Genesis 2:7 NLT
Out of nothing, something.
Out of nowhere, somewhere.
Out of no one, someone.
I’ve been reading Alan Noble’s new book On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden & Gift of Living, in which the author speaks bluntly of suffering.
“Life will inevitably crush you, at one point or another,” he writes, “and your response to that suffering will testify to something.”
We sing about it at Christmas, don’t we?
“And ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!”
– It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
The burden of living can crush us, bend us low, crumple us like a discarded soda can.
I recall a time 25 years ago when I lay in a fetal position in our tiny home office, pressed down not by physical illness but by the emotional toll of what Mike and I simply refer to now as that demonic situation. The children tucked safely into their beds, I lay on the floor curled into a comma, unable to rise, unwilling to move.
I heard the doorbell ring and then ring again, as members of our church’s a cappella group gathered in our parsonage to rehearse.
The music drifted into the room where I lay, and as it rose like incense, my spirits slowly rose with it. The situation did not change, would not change for nearly a decade, but the power of the praise unleashed and unfettered in our home brought me to my feet. Literally.
It’s a lesson I’ve not forgotten.
Competent counselors and trained spiritual advisors are often of great help, and yet there is no magic bullet for depression— no secret formula, no pharmaceutical wonder drug that can Cure All Ills.
“Even when you are confident that you have a mental illness, there are no finely articulated lines, no clear objective markers, to tell you where your agency ends and your illness begins – where normal, reasonable sadness ends and your depression begins, for example. Or what is the result of some biochemical problem, and what is the result of a dour personality or self-centered negativity…
“Good counselors and doctors will tell you this. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies would like us to believe there are objective diagnoses, easy answers, and successful treatments. Sometimes there are, but not usually.
“We put unrealistic expectations on these fields when we demand objective answers for something so deeply subjective and personal, something that can have genetic, biological, interpersonal, spiritual, economic, and circumstantial causes all at the same time.” Alan Noble (emphasis mine)
We recognize that typically there are no easy answers, no products to rid ourselves of depression as if it were simply a pest in the house. We can’t deny that nearly all of us will experience seasons of mental suffering.
But what we can do is to stop judging ourselves – and others – when we are pressed down by sorrow, when beneath life’s crushing load “our forms are bending low.” It’s part of our human condition.
If you are a church member, volunteer, or pastor who wants your church to become known as a safe place for those dealing with mental health challenges, I recommend a free virtual event that will be held this coming October10: the Church Mental Health Summit.
I’ll be attending. If you’d like to join me, the link for a complimentary registration is posted below.
In her book Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt, my friend Diana Gruver writes:
“We need people who can hold us up during our struggles with depression. We need people who can shout back to us from further ahead. Depression is a fierce enemy, they say, but it need not be your victor. It need not have the last say. Your usefulness is not over. Your God has not left you. The water is deep—but the bottom is good.”
As is God, who formed us with his own hands as his beloved, witnesses to ourselves and others that life is worth living, and we are infinitely worth loving.
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27
And those same hands hold us still.
Who might you know who is suffering mentally, whatever the myriad of reasons?
What can the people of God do to come alongside His children who are struggling with mental health issues?
- Maggie Wallem Rowe
For a free registration to attend a live, one-day virtual summit on mental health on October 10, click here: https://hopemadestrong.mykajabi.com/register.