More and more in my spiritual walk I’ve come across spiritual leviathans who battle daily a mental nemesis. These people, in many cases, have come to accept, as Paul did, they have a thorn in the side. That is a spiritual miracle, right there.
We don’t know what Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was. But to know that he suffered, and that God would not relieve him of it, is such a comfort to us who have our own thorns. Indeed, it ought to encourage any honest human being, for we’re all broken – if we’re honest.
It has captivated me what I have learned and witnessed and experienced from the spiritually mature whose thorn is mental illness. They may even read these words and think, ‘No, surely not I.’
But I like to think in terms of what God must be thinking.
Imagine how spiritually tough one needs to be to get out of bed in the morning when all one wants to do is die asleep.
Comprehend the difficulty for the person who is forever simply trying to survive in the normal (whatever that is).
Grasp the history of a person who has endured a cacophony of abuse from the very dawn of their vulnerable life to this day, and yet they called out to Jesus and He became their Lord!
Envisage the constant drone of exhaustion sapping a person who is also driven, somehow, by the complement of searching out joy.
It is not for us to gush about Billy Graham nor Pope Francis nor Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. We ought to be dizzy with inspiration for the account of the average Joe or Joanne who endures their 24/7 existence when plagued by mental enslavement. God is indeed close to these. This surely helps explain their piqued spiritual acuity – although, again, these very people would deny the rigor in their deportment.
We need to reframe what spiritual health even means. It is probably not what you or I automatically think it is. It’s more basic than that. Its center has to be about the gospel.
The saved are the broken who see the truth and accept that living broken is an acceptable exchange to receive the peace with God.
What is it then? It’s certainly not knowledge, well not knowledge alone. It has to be about wisdom, even if mental health prevents consistent sound behavior. It’s certainly about understanding. Knowledge and understanding, together, and no wonder these kinds of people with these kinds of struggles have the potential to make excellent shepherd ministers (Jeremiah 3:15). I trust a teacher who has strode the road, for a teacher who knows yet hasn’t lived the journey is poorer for it.
God knows what each person is up against.
And for anyone to be sanctified through what makes others crazy is a miracle of grace for the humility of such a person to lose their life to save it – to let go of the wrestle, and to accept God at His Word of eternal forgiveness.
Whoever is forgiven much, who agrees to receive that forgiveness, loves much (Luke 7:47).
Whoever suffers much, who agrees to receive help, is also blessed with God’s sanctification much.
Steve Wickham is a writer and pastor who holds degrees in Science, Divinity, and Counselling.