Written by Clinical Resident Amanda Brandimore
Why do so many people suffer from mental illness? How could there be a good, loving, and all-powerful God that allows so much suffering to exist? If you have experienced mental illness in your own life or are walking with those who have, you may be all too familiar with these questions. As humans, we are wired to make meaning of our lives, to weave our experiences and interactions into a story that holds together. You are not alone in asking, and they are questions that are not easily answered. I’m not here to offer you any such quick fix, but I do want to share with you some thoughts on a book I read recently that has much to offer on this topic.
A Woman’s Struggle with Faith and Mental Illness
In her book, Darkness Is My Only Companion, Kathryn Greene-McCreight offers her personal narrative of how she wrestled with her faith in God while dealing with her mental illness. I deeply appreciated Kathryn’s raw presentation of the depths of her suffering, along with her inability to see God, goodness, or hope. She asks the hard and uncomfortable questions of existence: Why this suffering? Is this suffering good? Is darkness my only companion? And she does not provide superficial answers to these anguished questions. Rather, she learns to borrow what hope and faith she can from her family, friends, and other believers until she is able to see God again.
When faith comes into the picture, it can be hard for believers to sit in that loneliness and doubt. We want answers, and we want hope. We can be quick to jump to the resurrection, to leave despair behind and cling to hope. In our attempts to do so, we can unintentionally communicate to the one experiencing the mental illness that their experience is invalid or due to a spiritual deficiency. However, Kathryn reminds us that with mental illness, it is the brain, not the soul, that is sick. The soul is the image-bearing creation of God. It draws its purpose and value from the love of God, and his love makes it possible for us to reflect that love back to him. Obviously, mental illness disrupts the soul’s ability to love. Yet it does not result from a sickness of the soul, but rather of the mind. She says, “My brain certainly was sick, and my mind was sick, but God held my soul firmly throughout, keeping me longing for him—even though it felt as if I had been abandoned.” Beneath the anguish, her deepest longing and desire for her Creator was not deadened.
What We Can Learn
This vulnerable and reflective account of a Christian’s struggle with bipolar depression is a model for those of us who experience mental illness, as well as for those who do not, in how to bear suffering faithfully. She models lament and stares down life’s deepest questions. The church has much to learn from her in being present to those in pain, in being steadfast, in being an advocate, and in the Christian call to bear each other’s burdens. What is the gospel after all if not lending our neighbors what hope, strength, and faith we have until they can recover on their own?
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness and your hope and strength are fading, I would love to walk alongside you. Whether faith is an important part of your story or not, I know how important it can be to have others to sit with you in your pain. Please contact me today so we can start that journey together.