by Julie Anne Fidler, Contributor to BB
I accepted Christ as my Savior the day before my thirteenth birthday on May 4, 1992. Some people get saved and don’t feel any different than they did in the moments before they said the ‘Sinner’s Prayer‘, but I sensed that my decision was a huge one. I walked around for the next several months in a state of giddiness not unlike what I experienced on Christmas Eve or the night before my big birthday party. My parents enrolled me in a Jewish day camp that summer where I taught swimming to younger children and the staff and campers were kind enough to endure my ‘Jesus t-shirts’, Amy Grant music, and talk of salvation without objection.
I knew nothing about theology, having only gone to church a small handful of times in my life. I read the Bible verses given to me by the woman who said the Sinner’s Prayer with me. Most of them were about God answering prayer and how all we needed to do was ask Him for what we wanted, and believe He would give it to us. At thirteen years old, it seemed like a pretty good theology to me. I went about my life believing that God was a giant vending machine in the sky; just put your wish in the slot, and out comes your answered prayer!
Although I had wrestled with depression as a young child, it didn’t really hit me full-force until the eighth grade. I had been sexually abused by a family friend until I was eleven years old, and my family was troubled. I had reason to be depressed, but that was the year that my depression became so overwhelming that I wasn’t sure I wanted to live life anymore. The hopelessness and despair only worsened as I made my way through high school, a very brief stint in college, and eventually married life.
I have met countless people who credit their faith with getting them through the darkest times in their lives. I credit my faith for the same thing, only, for me, it wasn’t quite so simple. My faith gave me hope to carry on at times, and confused me to no end at others. I was a Christian, but I was not experiencing joy. I was experiencing crushing sadness, wondering how other Christians could be so happy. I knew the difference between right and wrong. I knew what sin was, and I knew that sin tempted even the best Christians. What I didn’t grasp was why I desperately wanted to do the right things, why I wanted to have a rich relationship with God, but I was so drawn to self-destruction at every turn.
Somewhere in my late teens or early twenties, I had convinced myself that I simply wasn’t holy enough. I was a bad person who didn’t want God enough. I was somehow spiritually flawed, I decided. I questioned the validity of my own salvation. I concluded that someone who really knew Jesus wouldn’t be so miserable or confused all the time.
When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at twenty-three years old, it was in a last-ditch effort to figure out if my problems really were the result of spiritual deficit. I felt like a failure for having to take medication. But after my diagnosis, I started looking back on my old journals to track how far back my problems went. As I read through hopeless page after hopeless page, I began to see a pattern emerge – periods of days or weeks when I felt on fire for God, followed by weeks or days of being too depressed to make the effort. I began to realize that my walk with God had always followed the patterns of my cycles.
I went through many medications before I finally found Seroquel in 2006. Seroquel all but wiped out my rages and helped me sleep. One beautiful Saturday morning in May of 2006, as I sat beside my husband watching my nephew play his Little League game, I looked around at the budding trees and realized I had joy for the first time in recent memory. The longer I took my meds, the easier my walk with God became.
I worked for a good friend of mine several years ago at a ministry for mentally ill adults. He was well aware of my issues, and I told him how hard it was to follow God when all I wanted to do was hurt myself, or sleep for weeks at a time. He told me, “God will not judge you for what goes on in your bipolar brain.” I don’t know what to make of that theology, whether I agree with it or not. But I got the point – God understands our pain and knows that we have limits.
But does that mean we can just dismiss God when we feel crappy?
The older I get, the more I begin to realized that God will not judge us for being tempted, or for feeling a certain way. Jesus was tempted and He felt everything that you and I feel today. It’s what we do with those things that matter. I have a mental illness, but I still have choices. I can choose to go to church and worship God when I’d rather sleep in and cry all Sunday. I can reach out to a friend for support instead of becoming a hermit until the sun shines again. I can read my Bible instead of wallowing in misery.
What my misfiring brain tells me to do and what I CHOOSE to do are often two different things.
We must choose to seek God when everything in us would rather be sick, lonely, and alone. I realize that some people have very severe mental illness and truly cannot choose these things. But for those of you who are like me – we still have options, and we need to exercise them.
We can’t always choose our circumstances, but even in our sickness, we can choose how we respond to them, through the power of the Holy Spirit.