Clyde Kilby’s 10 Resolutions for Mental Health and for Staying Alive to God in This World
Once a day I will look at the sky and remember that I am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
I will suppose the universe is guided by an intelligence.
I will not fall into the lie that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding 24 hours, but rather a unique event, filled with wonderful potential.
I will prefer reality to abstractions.
I will not demean my own uniqueness by envying others. I will mostly forget about myself and do my work.
I will open my eyes and ears by at least once a day simply staring at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I will simply be glad that they are what they are.
I will often remember back to when I was a child and think about my dreaming eyes of wonder.
I will frequently turn to things like a good book and good music.
I will enjoy each moment, not always worrying about what the decade before me will demand from me.
I will bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic but rather acknowledge that each day strokes are made on the cosmic canvas that in due course I will understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.
“Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”
Clyde Kilby, who is now with the Lord in heaven, was my teacher in English Literature at Wheaton. He did as much as any other teacher I have had to open my eyes to the ministry of God in the skies.
What if I told you that the universe was built for romance. To be sure both scientists and psychiatrists might see that idea both simplistic and perhaps even dangerous. And while we may not understand life as clearly as we could, it surely isn’t a passionate romance– or is it? Please consider: Why couldn’t the universe be the arena of a furious courtship between Jesus Christ and His followers? I’m one of millions who believe this is precisely the case.
I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Song of Solomon the last few weeks and have thinking a lot about this very intense allegory between a shepherdess and her lover.
It is full of passion and of public declarations of love and desire. Kisses are exchanged. A dialogue is developed, and truths are volleyed back and forth from character to character. Sometimes it’s hard to follow, but the book is an exquisite work of God’s love, and grace, and passion for your soul.
We can, and should cry out for a revelation of Jesus’ presence. He really is there and He is waiting for your response.
“Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth, because your love is better than wine. 3 The smell of your perfume is pleasant, and your name is pleasant like expensive perfume. That’s why the young women love you. 4 Take me with you; let’s run together. The king takes me into his rooms.
Scripture as a whole leads us to believe that romance is much more substantial then we dreamed it could be. But if we can, we should visualize Jesus’ love for us as being his motivation for doing what he has done, and is doing. Love is what keeps him from letting us go!
My illness can be heartrending; it drives me straight to Him, and I cry out for Jesus’ hand. I may sink, but He’s right there to pull me out. My depression is His invitation to intimacy. Things can get pretty ugly, pretty quick, if I decide not to reach out for His outstretched hand. Trust me on this. (Matthew 14:29-30). I swim like a stone.
There are piles of scripture that declare His heated love for you. I believe there exists a holy romance that Jesus has for your soul. Love continues to motivate him to reach out repeatedly for you. Your devotional life (as Christians like to call it) is nothing more than your dialogue with Him as He saves you from a certain destruction.
The ancient Jews regarded the book of Song of Solomon to be the ‘holiest of holies’ of scripture and set apart to be read during Passover.
“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.”
Songs 4:9, ESV
Captivated over me. Hmmm. Quite often I wonder what He sees in me. Why should I be honored like this?
I think that our pastors and teachers need a “theology of romance” to clarify the place of discipleship in our hearts. Good theology is always warm-blooded. Instead of cold doctrine we need a fervent passion to work it through our lives. We are a bride after all– the bride of Christ, and we must be reminded of that by good pastors who understand. “I am my beloved and he is mine.”
“Who is this sweeping in from the desert, leaning on her lover?”
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”
—Ambrose of Milan (340-397)
Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression, writes Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Author of “Darkness, Is My Only Companion” and Episcopal priest. Here is an excerpt where she introduces the depression of Christians.
In his Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis says that suffering is uniquely difficult for the Christian, for the one who believes in a good God. If there were no good God to factor into the equation, suffering would still be painful, and ultimately meaningless.
For the Christian, who believes in the crucified and risen Messiah, suffering is always meaningful. It is meaningful because of the one in whose suffering we participate, Jesus. This is neither to say, of course, that suffering will be pleasant, nor that it should be sought. Rather, in the personal suffering of the Christian, one finds a correlate in Christ’s suffering, which gathers up our tears and calms our sorrows and points us toward his resurrection.
In the midst of a major mental illness, we are often unable to sense the presence of God at all. Sometimes all we can feel is the complete absence of God, utter abandonment by God, the sheer ridiculousness of the very notion of a loving and merciful God. This cuts to the very heart of the Christian and challenges everything we believe about the world and ourselves.
I have a chronic mental illness, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression, but now is less offensively called bipolar disorder. I have sought help from psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals; one is a Christian, but most of my helpers are not. I have been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over many years, and have been prescribed many psychiatric medications, most of which brought quite unpleasant side effects, and only a few of which relieved my symptoms. I have been hospitalized during the worst times and given electroconvulsive therapy treatments.
All of this has helped, I must say, despite my disinclination toward medicine and hospitals. They have helped me to rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer I believe God wants me to be.
During these bouts of illness, I would often ask myself: How could I, as a faithful Christian, be undergoing such torture of the soul? And how could I say that such torture has nothing to do with God? This is, of course, the assumption of the psychiatric guild in general, where faith in God is often viewed at best as a crutch, and at worst as a symptom of disease.
How could I, as a Christian, indeed as a theologian of the church, understand anything in my life as though it were separate from God? This is clearly impossible. And yet how could I confess my faith in that God who was “an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1) when I felt entirely abandoned by that God? And if this torture did have something to do with God, was it punishment, wrath, or chastisement? Was I, to use a phrase of Jonathan Edwards’s, simply a “sinner in the hands of an angry God”?
I started my journey into the world of mental illness with a postpartum depression after the birth of our second child. News outlets are rife with stories of women who destroy their own children soon after giving birth. It is absolutely tragic. Usually every instinct in the mother pushes toward preserving the life of the infant. Most mothers would give their own lives to protect their babies. But in postpartum depression, reality is so bent that that instinct is blocked. Women who would otherwise be loving mothers have their confidence shaken by painful thoughts and feelings.
Depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It’s walking barefoot on broken glass; the weight of one’s body grinds the glass in further with every movement. So, the weight of my very existence grinds the shards of grief deeper into my soul. When I am depressed, every thought, every breath, every conscious moment hurts.
And often the opposite is the case when I am hypomanic: I am scintillating both to myself, and, in my imagination, to the whole world. But mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. Sometimes, when it tips into full-blown psychosis, it can be terrifying. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it: there is no pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps.”
And yet the Christian faith has a word of real hope, especially for those who suffer mentally. Hope is found in the risen Christ. Suffering is not eliminated by his resurrection, but transformed by it. Christ’s resurrection kills even the power of death, and promises that God will wipe away every tear on that final day.
But we still have tears in the present. We still die. In God’s future, however, death itself will die. The tree from which Adam and Eve took the fruit of their sin and death becomes the cross that gives us life.
The hope of the Resurrection is not just optimism, but keeps the Christian facing ever toward the future, not merely dwelling in the present. But the Christian hope is not only for the individual Christian, nor for the church itself, but for all of Creation, bound in decay by that first sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles for you …” (Gen. 3:17-18).
This curse of the very ground and its increase will be turned around at the Resurrection. All Creation will be redeemed from pain and woe. In my bouts with mental illness, this understanding of Christian hope gives comfort and encouragement, even if no relief from symptoms. Sorrowing and sighing will be no more. Tears will be wiped away. Even fractious [unruly, irritable] brains will be restored.