My wife recently said something to me I, in my often navel gazing regarding mental and spiritual issues, had either disregarded or never entertained. She pointed out that for her, living with my mental illness made living out her vows a struggle because of my often unpredictable behavior and their sinful consequences. It put in stark contrast how I thought my problems had affected her and how they actually had. It reminded me that though not sinful in itself, my mental instability, if not lived in the constant presence of the promises of God fulfilled in Christ, my life is a wild car chase careening into a crowd of people. And that crowd is foremost my family by blood and by confession.
Mental illness is a peculiar affliction. It’s almost impossible to inoculate against, is explosive in its effects and gives no quarter; as unpredictable as a Norse Berserker and as merciless as the worst tyrant. And it teaches humility with a sledgehammer; sowing chaos beyond those close to the afflicted, extending to everyone in the vicinity like an emotional claymore.
Whether it’s bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or any other of the multitude of varying conditions, there is always an opportunity to glorify God and enjoy the comfort of his promises (2nd Peter 1:3-4). Though we should be wary of proffering empty promises of mystical comfort; mantras of peace, peace when there is no peace. But we have liberty in Christ to know and claim the promises of God for our own comfort. And it gives meaning to our suffering. And it enables our suffering to acquire purpose without claiming it as a blessing. Instead, it gives substance to the comfort we receive that we wouldn’t otherwise enjoy (Romans 8:18-28).
And the effects it can have on the spouses and children of those with mental illness is often overlooked because of the plainly obvious struggles of those who, like me, live with the constant companion of an often unpredictable condition that can build resistances to both medication and cognitive remedies. It becomes a stumbling block in the pursuing fidelity of vows to spouse and God we have made in the midst of his holy assembly.
Mental illness isn’t just something I deal with, but something that my family deals and to a lesser immediate degree, my church deals with. It isn’t just a spiritual condition that can be remedied through prayer and contrition. Nor is it merely a medical phenomenon that can be dealt with by a regime of medication and therapy. It takes both spiritual salves and the utilization of common gifts we have received through medical science.