Many of us ask why am I here? What do I contribute to this world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why me?
Are there times that you feel insignificant and have feelings of worthlessness? Are there times that we need to prove to ourselves or to others that we are worthy, that we must have some value to someone? Do we wonder why bad things happen to us, we don’t deserve to be treated this way! Sometimes it seems nothing we do provides the reassurance and purpose we are looking for.
When I was 32 I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and ended up on medication for nearly two years. As a Christian I grappled with whether I should take the medication the doctors were recommending or trust God for the solution. I saw it as an either/or scenario. I don’t know why it was such a big issue at the time because on reflection if I had broken my leg then I would never question whether or not I needed medical intervention. So I agreed to take the medication which helped, over time, to stabilise me so that I could function and achieve some daily tasks.
Mental health is a difficult illness that, as a society, we either ignore or overreact to. Responding to mental health problems is something that isn’t always in our realm of experience however it is an area that is increasing in our society and whether we are the patient or a concerned friend or family member there is something for us to learn.
God has something to say
We ask ourselves has God really got something to say to us in our 21st Century world, a place of incredible technology and wonders that are only being discovered? Does God have a solution for us today? Is God even interested in our modern-day problems? We begin by acknowledging that God is not an alternative to medicine. We can, and indeed should, have access to both faith and science.
Where do we start to come to terms with this disease of our modern culture and society?
As someone who has suffered, for what in hindsight was a brief time, I can categorically say that God does care, God wants to help us and has the means to do it. The question is are we ready to listen?
Depression is a lonely place, a place no-one knows unless they have been there themselves. My first experience of motherhood hadn’t been ideal, I was a single parent until my daughter was 5 years old, I had feelings of inadequacy and always believed that I fell short as a Mum. During that time my parents were amazing and did everything they could to support me, my Mam even gave up her job to look after my daughter so that I could earn a wage to make ends meet.
It was a different matter for my second child, I had met and married my husband Neil and together we planned to save to pay off all our debts before we added another child to our family, this took us 5 years to achieve. I had great expectations of how different our family life would be and that bringing a child into an established family, with not only a Father and Mother but a big sister too, would be the perfect setting to achieve my goal of being the best Mum I could be.
However, my expectations were too great, I wanted to be the perfect Mother, I didn’t want to give into my previous feelings of inadequacy, I wanted to show the world that I could be the Mother, God had called me to be. But the reality was so different; I hadn’t understood that God’s gift of a child was to be shared by many not a means to justify who I was.
After 6 months of attempting to live the perfect life; of getting up at 6am to do housework, raising a new born, ferrying my 11 year old to her various activities, supporting my husband with his demanding job, volunteering at church for various events, the cracks began to appear.
One day it was as if a black cloud arrived overhead, it seemed that the entire world had stopped; I couldn’t even summon up the energy to get dressed each day. Our eldest daughter, who is now 31, has memories of me sitting in a chair unresponsive to my baby’s cries, she would find him in my arms needing a feed or in his cot being ignored, I in turn have no memory of these events at all. It is only by God’s grace that the family has managed to grow together during this experience as opposed to being torn apart.
The expectation of being the perfect Mum had turned my focus onto my performance, my drive to show the world that I was a good person, that I had value. For most of the relationships I had had I felt inadequate, I felt I had nothing to offer anyone, that if I wasn’t here no one would notice.
On reflection the 18 months of the depression was a blur however what shines through the whole of that experience is God’s intervention. I learnt so much of what it was to depend on Him, to know his care and compassion. He taught me how to combat the depression, how the depression was my body’s way of telling me it wasn’t coping. He taught me how to overcome the desire to give up and give in. He showed me, through his word, that I had a choice of whether I stayed in the darkness or stepped into his glorious light.
The schemer of lies
It’s obvious now that all the negative feelings and thoughts were lies, lies that the devil wanted me to believe. During the time of depression it became impossible for me to discern between what feelings were true and which were lies.
One day I wrote a list of all that I thought or felt and asked my husband to write down next to each one what was the reality. This must have been really difficult for him to do because much of it was personally aimed at him which must have been hurtful. But the breakthrough really began when I started to apply God’s word to my feelings. I would work through the bible and ask God to show me what he had to say about these negative feelings. Could God really show me the truth, could the truth of who Jesus is really set me free?
However, the most challenging part of the entire process was coming face to face with the core issue….my focus on self.
Self is the source of the problem
Depression is a difficult condition to deal with because it has both physical and emotional consequences. On a physical level, we do need professional intervention and as a society we have some solutions that can bring some stability for a time however on a spiritual and emotional level we need someone who really knows us, someone who really loves us. Whilst our friends, spouses and relations try to do all they can, it can feel that it isn’t enough…that our needs are not being met. The more people try to help the more demanding we can become because we believe no-one understands where we are coming from or what we are going through. Depression turns us in on ourselves; our only focus becomes a selfish one and we begin to see the world as a self-serving place.
However, this doesn’t just apply to mental health issues, the focus on self isn’t a modern-day phenomenon, from the beginning of time humankind’s core problem is the need to seek a self-focused life. Our modern-day solution says get in touch with your inner self, be kind to self, we are encouraged to reinforce self.
Depression isn’t something that only affects the sufferer it also has a significant impact on our family and friends who can struggle to know how to help or even know what kind of help is needed.
It is difficult for family and friends to find the right balance to help those with depression especially if they have never come across anyone with this illness before. Sometimes we can encourage the sufferer to feel self-pity through our desire to see them cured, we can over empathise or even try and blame their circumstances however this often only serves to reinforce that they are alone in their problem without the prospect of a permanent solution. This is because the sufferer looks for everyone else to be their rescuer and each time it doesn’t work they sink further into the darkness of hopelessness.
For me I learnt that it was my focus on self that stopped me from being objective about the decisions I made before and during the illness. My whole life I had been self-focused, obsessed with finding someone to love me, someone to take notice. I was one of seven children and never wanted to share my parents I always wanted to be their number 1. The depression only served to highlight this obsession with self; this need for significance wasn’t sustainable, something needed to change. My emotions couldn’t cope with the pressure of my own expectations so I ended up shutting down altogether not trusting that there was a way out of the darkness.
Our focus on self traps us in an endless cycle of serving self which motives us to have our needs met by anyone and everyone we meet. The bible teaches us that our dependency and trust on anything other than God is sinful, the focus on self is the source of all sin.
In fact the bible takes it a step further and demonstrates to us that the emotion that holds us in our sin and traps us is pride. Pride is an interesting word we either consider it as a positive thing ‘to be proud of our or other’s achievements’ or relate it to people who see themselves better than others, however there is another side to pride for us to consider which is much more subtle than that. Today, there is a lot of focus on low self-esteem which, shows up in our feelings of inadequacy, this only serves to pursue a focus on self. We are encouraged to find ourselves and seek others do what we need them to do or be what we need them to be, we strive to have our needs met and become angry or have fits of rage when we can’t get our own way, which is only pride in disguise. Feelings of self-pity or a victim mentality ‘it always happens to me’ has its source in pride. Lust – the pursuit of more has its source in pride and self-gratification.
1 John 2:16 ‘For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world’. (NIV).
It seems the world is a bit of a merry-go-round without a solution to our core problem. What has God got to say about sin, what is our maker’s solution?
John 3:16 ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’. (NIV)
We need to be rescued, we need a Saviour.
Jesus is our only hope because he was the one who willingly gave up his own life that we might live. Jesus gave himself as a payment of our sin not because he had to but because he chose to. Jesus humbled himself, made himself lower than anyone else to pay the debt of our pride. But why was a payment necessary, why did Jesus do what he did?
Not only does the focus on self, result in modern day illnesses and feelings of meaninglessness but it separates us from our maker, from our Creator God who created us to be in relationship with him. This is the process that God describes in Genesis 1-3 the incredible provision and beauty of God’s creation to mankind’s ability not only to destroy God’s best for them but worse to seek equality or autonomy from God.
Jesus provided a way for us to be rescued from ourselves, from the pride of arrogance, pride of self-preservation, pride of self-gratification, from the desire to rule our own lives to the life transforming moment of trusting that God loves us so that we can live a life learning of God’s best for us. Jesus tells us that this is called being born again, a new life.
A new start
This is the source of all hope, for all people. That Jesus promises us a new beginning.
Those of us who have suffered from mental health issues are at an advantage to many in the world because we know that the world’s solutions are filled with emptiness, nothing in this world really resolves the hurting heart, the seeking of significance, or the need of rescue. That is why the words of the bible are applicable for all today because at the heart of man we haven’t changed in thousands of years, we still think we are the focus, we think that the universe exists for our benefit, we think that others in the world are there to meet our needs.
God provides us with a permanent solution to our sin, one that not only deals with today but with our eternal future. Humility is the result of facing up to the sin we have committed against God, when we accept what Jesus has done for us while realising it was necessary for him to do it, we then gain a heart of humility so that we can begin to desire Jesus’ solution for our problems.
Have you considered what is God’s best for you? Is it that second helping of roast dinner, is it to win that argument, is it to accumulate more and more? It really helped me to take a stock check of my life, I made a list of all that ‘makes me happy’, how I spent my time, what activities did I engage in to cheer myself up. Then I considered ‘is this God’s best for me’?
When we learn to trust Jesus, he turns us away from self and he gives us a new focus. We begin to look to Him for all our needs. The bible calls this repentance. We can begin a new life with a new purpose; in the book of Philippians Chapter 2 verses 3-11 we are given a picture of what that new life looks like in comparison to the old way of doing things:
‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father’. (NIV)