Do you remember the scene in the movie Rudy when he’s trying to get accepted into Notre Dame but it’s not looking good so he goes to a priest for some advice? The priest says that in thirty-five years of religious studies he’s only come up with two hard, incontrovertible facts: “There is a God. And I’m not Him.”
When I first saw the movie I thought that was the most pathetic answer ever. You’re a priest and that’s all you got? Come on, man. Over the years, however, the priest’s answer has grown on me, because as I’ve grown in both years and spirit, I’ve discovered that
- one of the more challenging and comforting aspects of faith is the realization that I am not God.
Confessing I’m not God is challenging because while I say I believe in God I mostly live as though I were God. I am the expert, I know what to do, I am the one upon whose shoulders rests success or failure. I choose what it is right and what is wrong based upon my education, my experience, and my gut. My words say there is a God. My actions say that God is me. Setting aside my ego to actually trust in God’s sovereignty is a daily struggle.
On the other hand, confessing I’m not God is wildly comforting each time my depression and anxiety rears its ugly head to torment my body and soul.
You see, I count myself among the 1 in 4 Americans who struggle with their mental health each and every year. There are days when I wake in the morning only to be met by an immediate and unprovoked ocean of anxiety flooding my brain. Other days I wake and discover I have neither the desire or strength to get myself out of bed. I did not choose to suffer these maladies nor did I do anything to bring them upon me. Rather, they are simply aspects to the reality that is my life.
Why do these harsh realities help me find comfort in the declaration that I am not God? Because in this admittance comes the realization that
- I need not — nor can I — save myself. So I thank God that I am not God.
But what, exactly, does that mean?
Can I pray the depression away? Can I attend enough church services to convince God to heal me? Can I increase my faith to the point where I’m so filled with the Holy Spirit that I transcend my suffering?
That’s not to say I don’t bring my depression to God in prayer or beg God for healing in my moments of pain. I do! What I don’t do is ignore the resources that God — the Ultimate Healer — has provided for healing.
For me, and many others who battle their mental health, that means availing myself to therapy, medication, and a strong support network of a trusted community. For too long Christians have hyper-spiritualized mental illness by marginalizing these healing tools. As a result, countless children of God have suffered in ways that could have otherwise been otherwise.
We would never ask a believer to forgo chemotherapy for cancer or a diabetic to skip out on their daily injections of insulin. Likewise, we must avoid the temptation to characterize issues of mental health as wholly spiritual issues. Instead, we need to acknowledge depression, anxiety, and other forms of psychological distress are every bit as bodily as any other form of disease.
Fortunately, we have a God who chooses to rescue us in our bodies with His own body.
When God decided it was time for humanity to more fully understand His very nature, He chose to come in a body. It was in this body that He taught us, loved us, died for us, and rose again in power to redeem us. Of all people, Christians should be the first to embrace the idea that our deepest suffering need not wait to be relieved in the life to come but in the life that is here and now with the tools given to us by the here and now.
Gone are the days when mental illness was seen as a mysterious force that could only be treated by mysterious means. These days we know a great deal about how to help people think, feel, and act better.
We go to therapy. If appropriate, we take medication prescribed by trained physicians. We allow people we love to hear us, us love us, and normalize our pain. If the body of Christ is to be truly serious about treating all the bodies that belong to Christ then we must not be afraid of the means by which these bodies find their healing.
- Encouraging Christians to seek out the resources offered by the mental health community is not of minor importance but in many cases, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
All of which brings me back to the wise old priest Rudy went to see.
I am not God, for which I say, “Thanks be to the God of all healing!”
Written for Devotionals by Ryan Casey Waller, author of Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don’t Want to Talk About.
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Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. — Matthew 11:28
Depression is hard. Thank You, God, that these days we know a great deal about how to help people think, feel, and act better! And, thank You, Lord, that there is healing in Your wings! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you. ~ Devotionals Daily