When the Church Makes Mental Illness Seem Taboo

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I have vivid dreams like some people have overgrown toenails. They are hidden, annoying, often times painful and biologically strange. And I remember most of them. Recently, there has been a reoccurring theme in my dreams that has horribly hugged my mind much like an ingrown toenail hugs tightly the skin. Ew. But really, ouch.

In these midnight mental movies, I am trying to complete the simple task of walking from point A to point B. But with every step, my frigid immovable muscles refuse to allow me to stand up straight. So I hobble along—limping, barely able to move, repeatedly falling and struggling to get up like other people in my dream. Panic runs through my body when I realize I cannot move like I am supposed to. I see my destination just a few yards in front of me, but I cannot get there. “It’s my PTSD, my PTSD has done this to me,” I calmly reassure those surrounding me in my dream, trying to excuse my awkward hobble. But really, I think I am just trying to comfort myself.

I am not comfortable talking about my mental illnesses; it is awkward and uncomfortable. I think it makes me look different, insane, less than. It often feels even worse in a Christian environment where having a mental illness is like bringing crazy Aunt Bertha to church… People know she is there, but are confused by her, don’t talk to her and try not to look directly in her eyes. I have depression, anxiety and PTSD, and ashamedly, I often try to hide them because they do not make me appear “spiritual.” After all, how would the good Christians of the church react if they knew you were related to Aunt Bertha? My mental illnesses do not define me, but they do afflict my daily life. They are some of my greatest teachers…teaching me much about the Christian life and what it means to follow God in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

These diseases of the mind have taught me about brokenness and suffering, and more often than not I feel like I am mentally limping, falling and never ever able to stand up like those around me. Just like in my dream. While I admit this dream seems improbable in my physical reality, it accurately reflects my mental state.

This panicky feeling of not being able to fully walk is true for many different types of suffering, but I believe it is especially true for people with mental illness. We feel as though we cannot get our lives straightened, are one step behind everyone else and keep on falling. Sometimes when walking seems too daunting or difficult, the floor is our friend. We give explanations to our suffering, trying to ease our hobble when God seems so painfully distant. We wearily cry, “It’s my illness, my illness has done this to me.”

Yet, it points to the bigger picture of our spiritual reality. We are broken humans trying to get along in a broken world wrecked by human sin and suffering. Each one of us is trying to hobble along, picking ourselves up when we fall, and trying our best to stand to society’s standards. And we lament, “It’s my sin, my sin has done this to me.” And it has. But, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a ESV). When we were fallen on the floor, Jesus walked among us. He gave sight to the blind, cast out demons and allowed the lame to walk again. He restored the ruined, and by His precious blood brought new life and light in a world full of darkness. Jesus stooped down into humanity, to pull us up into relationship with Him. He did not just help us walk, He gave us new legs. As His children, He gave us the chance to win life’s marathon when we once had no opportunity to go 100 feet.

But our world is still broken. Jesus has given us the opportunity to Follow Him while He completely transforms our entire lives, but we are not perfect. So while we can walk in newness of life with Him as He touches and every aspect of our lives, we will still have scars and a limp of proof of His healing power. One glorious day we will no longer limp, but on this earth we must live with the limp, the suffering. For this reason, we have all the more reason to praise Him.

Sometimes, God chooses not to heal us, but allows such suffering to bring us closer to Him. We learn to trust Him when nothing else brings satisfaction to the pain. We limp, but we can also lean into God. We press into His presence, relying on Him—the God who never fails.

I don’t understand why I must still struggle with mental illnesses. I do not know why God will not heal me. But I bring Him all of me, even my ugly brokenness that I wish no one had to see. I commune with Him in the secret parts of my soul. I cling to Him. I trust Him. He helps me to keep walking out or darkness and into His glory, into His light.

So, to the person crawling on the floor, never stop moving. Bring your whole self to God—doubts, tears, anger, all of it. Keep yourself real before God and keep going. To those who are walking with a limp, continue to cling to God and be a testimony of God’s faithful healing.

He gives me life and reason to keep walking. “It’s my Jesus, my Jesus has done this to me.”

Limp on, and lean into the Lord.

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