Trusting God through mental illness

Written by J. Matthew Hildebrand

Some of my earliest memories are from listening to U2’s sixth studio album, Rattle and Hum. My youth pastor loved U2. We listened to the album the whole way from Winnipeg, Manitoba to Matamoros, Mexico.

The chorus of the song, Get Out Of Your Own Way, holds back no punches: “Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside / I could help you but it’s your fight, your fight / Get out of your own way / Get out of your own way.”

I believe Bono’s challenging lyric is consistent with the Christian proclamation, which says “…we are more than conquerors through Him (God) who loved us.” (Romans 8:37). Because of Jesus’ love on the cross, we are indeed conquerors. God’s love for us is so much bigger than any obstacle we may face in life. And we are not alone.

Yet though I have victory through Jesus, I still battle with my sinful nature. I am still prone to standing in God’s way. The self, not the world, is often the biggest source of opposition to God’s good purposes. Colossians 1:21 says: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.” How am I perhaps still alienated from experiencing God’s love?

For myself, I am guilty of the sin of self-reliance. I have the misconception that I can handle any obstacle on my own wisdom, strength, or sheer will. This independent way is in direct contradiction to God’s desire for community.

This independence has led to me struggling in isolation with my mental health. In Christian Church circles today, there is still stigma over mental health and how to seek help. Should help include a doctor, counsellor, pastor, medications, group therapy, etc.? Many in the Church today still feel quite strongly that one should simply believe in faith and be healed. They are also quite vocal. That’s how I was taught growing up, and there is some support in Scripture for this posture.

However, there is growing awareness against a Christian faith that makes a linear correlation between health and godliness.

Many godly women and men of the faith have struggled tremendously in numerous ways. Biblically, we can look to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as an example of a Christ-follower who struggled without receiving relief (2 Corinthians 12:7).

By exposing and naming out loud my struggles with mental health professionals and with trusted people, my illness loses some power. But it doesn’t magically or simply go away. The journey towards mental health is a stepped process for me and it can sometimes be a long one. This is especially true when we are attempting to recover from deep seated trauma, wounds from our childhood, or issues of the heart. Those matters often take longer to heal.

But, if I resolve to overtake these internal obstacles on my own strength, I do so at my own peril. I lose out on life and community. I need the help of both the Christian and medical community to live a life of wholeness and joy.

There is hope. Psalm 18:29 says: “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.” We do battle with our internal demons when we confess that we are not alone and when we ask God and others to help to see ourselves as the Father does, with eyes of love.