I began and abandoned this post a month ago. I couldn’t find the words—or the courage—to finish it. For so many reasons.
Then came the heartbreaking news of Robin Williams.
Which was quickly followed by a tsunami wave of God-awful responses from Christians, flooding the internet with harmful, ignorant, and abusive bullshit in the name of Christ.
So, it’s time to find my words and use them.
I think I was in seventh grade when he took his life. I didn’t even know the much-older boy in my school, but I remember being deeply shaken. I remember everything growing eerily silent when we were told the news.
I had questions I didn’t even know how to ask—or who to take them to even if I did.
“Join hands. Let’s pray.”
My Christian school didn’t know how to handle all the questions. The fears. The grief. The heartache.
How could they? How could anyone?
But for the first time, I heard the cruel whisperings that would echo the halls of my Christian culture-bubble for years.
And they echo even still.
The ones who say “suicide is selfish” and “if only he’d turned to Jesus” and “depression is a choice”… They simply don’t get it. They just don’t.
I know, because I used to be one of those ignorant people.
I grew up with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps-of-faith kind of theology. We hid our realities behind platitudes and trite clichés and Scripture-quoting smiles.
We lived in denial, and called it faith.
We named it and claimed it, clinging to a Prosperity Gospel that of course covered even our mental and emotional health. Doctors, counselors, and antidepressants were for those who didn’t believe enough…
But we were never promised health, wealth, or emotional well-being in this fallen world.
All He promised was that He’d be with us.
What I know now is this:
Depression is real. Mental illness is real.
They don’t signify weak faith. Or distance from God. Or unresolved sin.
They can’t be willed away by words of faith, hours in prayer, deliverance, repentance, prayer lines, or praise songs.
In no way am I saying God never uses those things to bring healing. But the conclusion that He only uses those things is so unbelievably damaging.
God also uses doctors, and skilled therapists, and treatment centers, and supportive community, and medication to bring balance to instability and hopeful illumination into darkness.
He made light from nothing; He can certainly make it from Prozac.
I know what it’s like to want out…
I’ve been there.
I understand those feelings of hopelessness that suck all the air right out of the room.
The darkness that presses in close.
The nights that are so bleak it seems as though the sun will never rise.
The depression that sits so heavily on your chest, your lungs imagine they’ll never expand again.
I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the empty bottle, tears staining my cheeks.
It was only my second year on the mission field, and life had suddenly grown impossibly hard. Inescapably dark. Everything caved in, and I saw no way out. No way through.
So handful after handful, I’d swallowed, wondering to myself exactly what a full bottle of ibuprofen would do.
I spent several days vomiting relentlessly.
Everyone thought I had the flu.
I didn’t correct them.
A decade later, I found myself in an even darker night of the soul. One that mercilessly persisted for years.
Clinical depression, the doctor said. Post-traumatic stress disorder.
I wanted to resist them—I could hear the echoes of righteous disapproval, reminding me that I should be able to praise my way out of my funk. But I didn’t have enough fight left in me to resist.
So I learned to swallow my pride each morning along with my Prozac.
And my eyes slowly began to see the abusiveness of some of the tenets I’d held onto for so long.
It is devastating to me when I realize again how many still see a conflict between faith and therapy/treatment. They are not at odds with one another, but when we imagine them to be, it doesn’t eradicate depression or mental illness. It only shames us into hiding behind a mask.
When we imagine them to be at odds, it keeps us from seeking help when we need it.
And it keeps those around us from seeking the help they need too.
The Church should be an arms-wide-open safe place for the broken (and by “the broken”, I mean all of us). Instead, all too often, the Church holds stones in her hands, ready and eager to cast them at those already wounded.
Reaching out, getting help, taking medication, seeing a therapist… Those are not signs of weakness.
They are enormous steps of bravery. Of strength. Of courage. Of—dare I say it—faith.
Faith that acknowledges God can work through anything.
Let’s start being known for championing these brave, faith-filled steps. We need to shake off the stigma by speaking of them more often, more boldly.
Let’s begin being more honest about our own experiences and struggles and journeys. Let’s be people and communities who are safe for masks to be dropped and brokenness to be revealed.
Let’s be those who generously lend faith and courage to our fellow comrades who might need to borrow some. In our empathy, humility, and love, let’s shine the light on the next brave step someone can take.
God made light from nothing; He can certainly make it from us.