My family often bore the brunt of my selfishness, and sometimes still does. All too frequently, I have fallen into the self-absorbed routine of sleeping, eating, and pretending I am somebody else. These habits tend to destroy gratitude. So I need to remind myself often how fortunate I am to have a loving family that supports me, gifted doctors who understand mental illness, medicine that manages my condition, and a God whose mercy never ceases.
In addition, no longer did I suffer alone, but amid a great brotherhood of pain-stricken fellows who mistakenly believed, as I once had, that no one else understands our plight. Such people are everywhere in a fallen world. I have met victims of divorce, cancer, attempted suicide, murder, and other horrors. And really, we are not so different from each other. Pain has invaded our lives, a pain more powerful than our isolated efforts to overcome it. We each look within ourselves, trying to make sense of our individual calamities. And while there is nothing wrong with introspection, we run the risk of never looking outward again.
Of course, whether we suffer alone or with others, the question "Why?" will never be answered, at least in this lifetime. Who knows why God allows pain? Who knows why God sometimes seems to leave us alone? People have asked these questions since they first puzzled over the causes of lightning and rain. Bad things just happen, we say, and it isn't anybody's fault. There's no rhyme or reason. But even when we cannot grasp the sources of our misfortunes, we can strive to learn the right lessons.
The most important lesson I have learned from my pain is about compassion. I was once one of the Bible bangers who knew everything and needed nothing. Not anymore. If God isn't up there in heaven watching and waiting for me to screw up—if instead he weeps when I weep and celebrates when I take just one step toward a new and better life—then who am I to judge others harshly?
When my psychiatrist asked me why I still believed in God, I didn't have an answer. I still don't. I still don't know if the treatment was worth the pain. I have a multitude of problems, not all of them related to mental illness. I am not a prophet who has received great enlightenment. But I do have some hard-fought wisdom to impart.
Though my illness persists, I have finally met the God I had heard about but never truly experienced. A God who heals. A God who loves. A God I cannot logically explain to my psychiatrist. A God who manifests his genius by salvaging good from the evil in our lives. Someone unlike me. Someone unlike the well-meaning inquisitors who judged me and sought to spiritually cure me. Someone I never would have discovered without my affliction.
A God who calls himself Emmanuel—God with us.
David Weiss was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the spring of 2005. He lives in Tucson, Arizona, and teaches adult Sunday school at his neighborhood church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Previous Christianity Today articles on mental illness include:
A Christian Cure for OCD? | Psychiatrist Ian Osborn claims that trust in God can overcome mental illness. (November 12, 2008)
Light When All Is Dark | Our theology makes all the difference in fighting depression. (March 4, 2010)
My Encounter with Mental Illness | College is a seedbed for depression. Here's what Christian campuses can do to help. (August 2010)