“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Luke 5:12, NLT
The Bible text reveals that this man is desperate. His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’ He’s an outcast now, completely infected by something he never asked for; he is ‘unclean’ and completely without hope. There is no treatment, the doctors can do nothing.
The leper knows that without the touch of Jesus, he will never be healed.
He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced by anyone over the hopelessness of his condition. But somehow he has heard that Jesus can do real miracles. Could it be that Jesus can heal his sickness?
The leper comes and falls on his knees before the Lord, with his face in the dirt. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except for Jesus. What else can he do? He is with any real hope.
Our diseases differ, but our lives have been completely changed by our pain. We all have this in common.
Our pain and darkness vary. Some hurt more, some less. But we’ve all come to the place where we no longer have illusions of somehow being made whole. I sometimes think there should be a secret handshake or a password. We all share a comradeship— we’re all part of the same community.
We’re a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.
We belong to the fellowship of pain.
Lying in the dirt, we start to believe the unbelievable. Our faith doesn’t activate our healing, as much as it simply guides us to Jesus. We can kneel, and perhaps that’s all we need to do. His presence drives away the fear, the doubt, and the pain. He’s come, and somehow we begin to hope for mercy.
Only He can carry us through this.
I have struggled with deep dark depression. I’ve had to take meds. But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all my melancholy is driven out. He comes and I start to hope again. Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship? I think not. But isn’t about us becoming “angels,” perhaps it’s more about us learning how to kneel, and to allow Jesus to touch our hearts.
You must do this. Repeatedly. Over and over and over.
“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws.”
“The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”
In April 2002, I was sitting in a cavernous waiting room at King’s Crossin London, England. I was waiting for a bus to Cambridge, UK. I sat all alone and stared at the tiled floor at my feet. The doctors had warned me not to travel alone, but I ignored their advice.
And now I was starting to unravel.
Depression had followed me all the way from Alaska to England. I had pushed my limits and was completely drained and becoming confused. I began to cry out to the Lord, very desperately. Sometimes madly. (Read Psalm 88.)
As I sat there staring intensely at the floor, several pigeons seemed to put on a show, just for me. They were fat little guys, apparently scratching out a good living. Several very large windows were open, and these pigeons seemed to have no fear as they took advantage of a meal from bored travelers.
All of a sudden, something very odd happened.
A pigeon came across the floor and “presented” himself, right square in front of me. I watched him intently and saw that he was crippled, one of his feet was nothing more than a twisted claw. He had been profoundly injured in such a way, that he would never be the same. He was damaged, and yet somehow he survived (and he was thriving)!
It was like experiencing a lightning bolt. God’s own light switch was being flipped.
I saw that pigeon, and I saw myself, and it was a moment of clarity, a shining grace. In the mega-hustle of 13,614,409 people in London, and in the midst of my own profound mental crisis, I knew God’s caring touch and it gave me real grace, love, and goodness–far greater than all my sin and confusion. He was just letting me know that He was very, very close. (See Psalm 34:18.)
I began to remember my damaged pigeon, completely oblivious to self-pity. I started to call out to the Father out of my confusion. Within a few minutes, I found myself sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus, with the driver aware of my problems and who specifically guided me to the place I was staying.
I was being cared for. Between a crippled pigeon and the dutiful ministrations of a bus driver, I’d finally found my hotel. (See Matthew 6:26.)
I have come to realize that this trip to England was not for me to see Big Ben, Parliament, or wander the academic schools of Cambridge University. Rather I was brought there to make contact with a certain pigeon, who was waiting to meet me and pass on vital instructions.
The Father shared things that I need to know. British castles and churches are beautiful and worth seeing but I must admit I’ve forgotten much. But all I really needed was somehow given.
I will take everything Jesus wants me to have.
P.S. Two things:
If you can avoid it, don’t travel alone.
Please never call pigeons, “rats, with wings.” :-)
Here are things I’ve heard over the years that we must take a second look at. Here are some possible answers.
“There must be something wrong with your spiritual life.”
Yes, depression CAN be a result of sin. BUT depression is NOT always a result of sin! If it is, God will tell you loud and clear what the problem is. This saying piles on the guilt for the depressed Christian. It’s unlikely that their depression has a spiritual cause, and this implies that they are not good enough spiritually.
“Repent and ask forgiveness for your sin!”
Depression is a result of sin, in that if there was no sin in the world depression wouldn’t exist. But then, neither would diabetes, cancer, or any other illness… Sin caused the world to be not-perfect, therefore illness exists. It’s a sin to be depressed, any more than it is to have any other illness. Depression can be used by God to encourage repentance, but in that case, it will be crystal clear exactly what sin you should repent of. If you don’t know or have just a vague sense of guilt, your depression is not the result of sin.
“You need to have more faith.” “Have faith in God.”
Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” How much faith does it take to hold onto the Christian faith when emotions scream at you daily to give up, get out and turn against God? Very often a depressed Christian will be hanging onto faith by their fingernails in something that requires a ton of faith.
“Taking antidepressants is playing God, He can heal you.”
Yes, God can heal. Sometimes he doesn’t just flick a switch to make the illness vanish, sometimes the healing comes through the conventional ways of doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and medication. By persuading someone not to take their medicines in preference for a quick, supernatural healing that God may not have in store for them, the sufferer is being denied something that will help them, right now.
“Scripture says everything that happens is for your own good!”
The actual verse found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse in no way implies that the sufferer should sit back and accept the illness for the rest of their life. It also does not say that illnesses are not to be fought with the intention of a cure. While God may well have things to do with a depressed person, the illness is not a good thing itself, and it may take years before you see positive results from it.
“You’ve been prayed for, why has nothing changed?”
This can be expressed in several ways and spoken by one of two different groups of people: either the person who asked for prayer or those who prayed for them. We’ll break the underlying situation into two areas: something definite was experienced in the prayer time: chains were obviously broken and new freedom gained, or, nothing apparently happened at all. That is, “I know God set you free,” why aren’t you free yet?
“Depression is a self-discipline problem.”
Self-discipline is important to a Christian. We have to be disciplined enough not to break the laws of the land, and to obey our God. But no amount of discipline will get rid of a medical problem. This statement implies that the sufferer is lazy and could become better by sheer force of will. This is not possible and causes a lot of guilt.
“You’re depressed because you choose to be.”
Why would anyone choose depression? It is hell on earth. It destroys everything it touches. Families, marriages, jobs, churches, and ministries- faith, peace, hope, and love. Depression corrodes all that it touches.
Does a diabetic or cancer patient choose their disease? Does the blind or the deaf person wake up in the morning and decide they aren’t going to keep being handicapped? These are the questions I would ask.
“You just need to rebuke that spirit of depression and tell it to leave you. Don’t let Satan steal your joy.”
There are two problems with this statement. One problem is the assumption that depression is caused by demonic oppression. The other problem is the assumption that joy and happiness are the same things. Blaming a “spirit of depression” can be a wonderful cop-out. Just cast out the spirit and you’re cured! No need for long-term support, prayer, counseling, or anything at all! And with this statement comes the implicit assumption that once again it’s your fault you’re depressed, this time because you’re not “spiritual” enough to get rid of the troublesome spirit yourself.
Yes, it is possible that demonic oppression can cause depression. No, demons are not responsible for every case of depression. Imagine what would happen if this statement was directed at someone with cancer, hemophilia, or osteoporosis (“Just cast out that demon attacking your bones and be strong again! God wants to see you running marathons!”).
The second problem with this statement is that joy is equated with happiness. People with depression are not going to be the happiest souls in the church. I’ve heard it said that happiness depends on what happens, whereas joy can exist in very unhappy situations.
“There’s no such thing as mental illness, it’s all in your mind”
Saying this denies that there is anything actually wrong with the depressed person, and implies that they are just making it up. This piles on the guilt again! A mental illness can be defined as one that affects the mind; the brain is allowed to get ill, just as the liver and lungs are.
“It’s your own fault you’re depressed”
This is the kind of thing that Job’s “comforters” said, and it didn’t help then either. Bad things can happen to good people. Denying this hurts the sufferer.
“Pull yourself together”
If you’ve been trying, someone saying this to you comes across as “You haven’t been trying hard enough, do more, and more, and more until you get it right.” So back you go, pushing more and more, and still getting nowhere because you cannot pull yourself out of depression by your bootstraps, and you can’t fix a medical problem by force of will.
“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”
(1 Corinthians 14:20, NASB)
Those of us who are broken have to think through many things. Jesus is our Teacher, and He fully intends to educate His disciples. Following Him is vibrantly alive, it’s never a static thing. Instead, I must deal with the issues of living, of having a growing faith that is becoming real at long last.
This really isn’t a “one and you’re done” experience.
The Bible describes a slow growth into the image of Jesus- -painstakingly learning about our frosty hearts, and how God keeps pouring His “super-heated” grace on the broken. We’re finally becoming ‘poor in Spirit’ and we’re learning to ‘mourn’ over our sins, perhaps we realize that we’ve fallen quite short of His will for us. (Matt. 5:3-4).
This list isn’t orderly or exhaustive, and it’s written primarily for the mentally ill Christian believer:
Stigma-This is one of the basic hazards that come with being a believer with a mental illness. People will whisper and treat you like you’re a moron, even in God’s church. You’ll try to become thick-skinned and ask Jesus for His help. He understands you completely. Even the Lord’s own family considered Him mentally disturbed. You’re in good company. (Mark 3:20).
Medications– This will be a stretching time as you must determine what’s best for you, your family, and basic functionality. There will be many opinions and definite issues that ‘disciples.’ must navigate. Some say that therapy and ‘meds’ are wrong. Your patience most likely will be required and you’ll need to seek His wisdom. He will tell you what to do.
Church—“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” must anchor us. We were built for real fellowship. It’s quite easy to attempt to go it alone, but that isn’t what God wants. Not being with others is a disease of the spiritual heart. I’ve chafed at this from time to time.
Therapy— To go or not to go? I happen to believe a good counselor is worth their weight in gold, but a bad therapist can be a real challenge to your faith. Figure out your tolerance level on this. Quite often I simply need a good listener, and listening is a skill that is developed over time. (It’s also a great indicator of the therapist’s ability.)
Marriage— A good spouse is often key to managing your mental illness. God has gifted them to deal with your disability; they’re your partner in this. Bring them into some of your appointments. Talk, and listen. Learn to pray and worship together. Read the Word out loud. Remember they are learning too. Your disability is shaping your discipleship to Jesus.
Family— They’ll often feel the brunt of your issues. It is good to be aware of this and adjust to their needs. Above all, don’t flog yourself for your failings. Allow God to redeem your situation. Trust in the Lord, and try not get in His way. He wants to renew things. Always look for creative ways to love your family. (Surprise ice cream does wonder!)
Work— Not surprisingly, some employers have very little tolerance for your issues, but the law says is that they can’t discriminate against a mental illness. I hope it won’t come down to that.
Fellow strugglers-– Finding other mentally ill believers is priceless. When I meet someone who also struggles with severe depression I want to give them a big bear hug. We instantly have a rapport that isn’t easily defined. Finally, there is someone who understands my battle.
Prayer–Desperate prayers have a tendency to get answered. Start praying for five minutes a day. Pray, do not complain. Be real, not religious. Talk with Jesus like he was your best friend. Prayer is the key to making the above work. Prayer is the “heartbeat” of heaven.
We have the joy of combining our discipleship with our illness.
This is a formidable task. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit stands ready to give us His wisdom. He graces us with intense spiritual power. The battle rages and times get tough. Perhaps “grittiness” should we should add to the fruits of the Holy Spirit? I’ve now walked with Him for over 40 years now, and I know Jesus has never left me alone. He never lets me ‘twist in the wind.’
The Lord truly will accommodate your illness with His power and grace.
He always does this for His children. No believer is ever overlooked or forgotten. He is constantly aware of you.
“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.”
— Alan Redpath
These are only some of the areas that are affected by your mental illness. A wise spouse, pastor, elder, friend, or therapist can do wonders when things get difficult. Sometimes we need a new perspective as we sort things out. God will often use others to bandage and heal us. That’s the way He works.
“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”