Writing a speculative piece for elsewhere earlier today, I described how I felt that God gave me hope during my worst illness, that when I came to believe in him, I felt a change. God is indeed our hope and our deliverer, and trusting in him makes things better. But not always. There are times when the blackness is so deep, the darkness all-encompassing, and we cannot feel…anything. Times when I have felt so depressed it was almost beyond depression, for I had forgotten what being normal was.
Times when I could not feel the existence of God, could not feel any emotion when contemplating Christ’s sufferings, could not feel anything at all. There was no hope, no encouragement and the words and promises of Scripture seemed hollow and empty. Just nothingness, irrelevant.
I was not angry with God, nor was I disbelieving in him. I simply had no ability to care about anything, no way of connecting with God or with humans. Yet I still wrote that God gave me hope in those times. Was I lying?
To a certain extent there is an element of rose-tinted spectacles about my memories, a revision based on hindsight. I revisit old memories here in my blog but cannot fully bring them to life because I am currently well. Hindsight enables me to, as in the poem “Footprints”, see God carrying me where I could not see that at the time. I look back on my illness and know that God was with me, that he protected me, in a way that didn’t always chime with me at the time.
Sometimes we are so lost in the moment that we cannot see a bigger picture, and I think that is particularly true of mental illness – it is a sort of self-absorption, of being subsumed in the pain to the point where we cannot see what is around us. I could not see the love of my friends at that time – and neither could I understand the love of God and the hope he brings us.
How can I say I trusted and hoped in God during those bleak times? To me this plays into the wider area of feelings, emotions and faith. Some people, when they talk about God, say that they feel happy and have a faith which is reflected in their emotions. There are times when that is true for me, but not always. I don’t know whether I would really believe it if it did – one thing being bipolar has taught me is that my emotions are not to be trusted! I don’t believe that we need to be happy, that we need to have an emotional response to God – at all, or at least at all times. To me there is a deeper faith that comes when we have no emotional response to God, at a time when we are not happy, but feeling awful. A faith that is there when we feel nothing, when the Son is shrouded in darkness, so it seems. It is then that trust is the key – I feel nothing, I cannot call myself a Christian because I am so separated from all that a Christian “should” be – but I have a trust in God that is not built on my emotions.
Sometimes it feels as though I believe but don’t really know why, as though heaven is silent and God is missing, somewhere. I made my choice those years ago, that even if God is not there, even if he does not care for me then I will still hold to the faith that illness wrenched out of me. I trust – when there is no evidence and my emotions seem to contradict my profession of faith – I continue to trust in him.
There are times when I do feel connected to God – although the violence of emotional response is not something I am familiar with. Sometimes I feel inadequate, when I watch on the TV people crying, or laughing, or dancing in the aisles with the love of God, and experience of his power. I cannot do that – I cannot feel so intensely without whipping out the doctor’s number. My illness has spoilt extremes of emotion for me, and I no longer trust them. To a certain extent I think my medication insulates me from “normal” extremes, as well. Certainly I see people looking enraptured and fail to have the same response.
I am not now in the business of telling myself off and punishing myself for failing to live up to a standard of perfection. I may be a classically repressed British person, someone who doesn’t feel extremes and who comes across more intensely in writing than in person, but I am no less a believer than my emotionally-charged brothers and sisters. Whether we are ill, or whether we are well, it is not our emotions, our feelings about God and the things of God that make us Christians – it is our trust in him that matters. When the chips are down and we are in that awful, almost emotionless state of pain – when we cannot feel close to God, nor feel his presence – then we may still be disciples by trusting in him, and he will carry us through such a dark night and into the light, whether that be suddenly or gradually, he will bring us, because we do not just hope in him, we know him. And that applies whether we feel we do or not.
- Singing Faith (testifyingtograce.wordpress.com)
- How Do You Find Hope When Overwhelmed by Hopelessness? (chronicillnesspaindevotionals.wordpress.com)
- Don’t Cancel Christmas – A Devotion (lthomason.wordpress.com)
- Does God always heal? (atwistedcrownofthorns.com)
- The Lost Get Found (stepintothecruz.wordpress.com)
- When Storms Threaten to Sink You (noomacity.com)