A mental health reflection I led at Buckhurst Hill Baptist Church:
It was the darkest of nights, tiny pinpricks of stars were scattered overhead as they had done over thirty years before, pointing the wise men to a Bethlehem stable. The time was coming when Jesus would taste the death that those strange gifts were preparing Him for. Jesus was under a weight of pressure and pain that few could endure. He chose to sit at the foot of the Father in prayer. Abba. Daddy, he cried. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’. The Son of God, who a few short days before had ridden into Jerusalem triumphant, now cries out to His Father in unspeakable pain, his sweat tainted with blood. That night, thousands of years ago, Jesus’ heart was breaking.
His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is a picture of pain that speaks to each of us. It is a picture that speaks particularly to the one in four people who will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives. I am one of those one in four and mental illness has pushed me to seek God in new ways and take comfort in the God who became Immanuel, suffering not only the physical pains of this life, but the anguish and heartbreak of humanity.
The betrayal and the fear, the pain and the of burden despair. It is the kind of pain that begs for escape, a pain that begs for release. It is the cry heard from those suffering from the effects of depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, when it is doubtful that the dawn will ever break through such a dark night.
Mental illness may be invisible to the naked eye, it may not leave a physical scar, it may not result in sweat tinged with blood – but it is no less real and deserves no less compassion. It is not a sign of weakness, or lack of faith – indeed some of the heroes of the Christian faith are thought to have suffered from mental illness; Martin Luther, J.B Phillips and C.S Lewis to name but a few. But their stories are not characterised by mental illness – and neither should today’s sufferers, rather their courage in facing the battles and God’s grace and love which carried them through for, as C.S Lewis puts it; ‘God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain, but without stain.’ It is the comfort that is writ large through the Bible and which speaks particularly to those dealing with mental illness, either in themselves or in a loved one -it the God of heaven coming down in human frailty which says:
You Are Not Alone.