There is something incredibly alluring about the intensity experienced, particularly during manic phases of bipolar. Mania (or its more gentle sister “hypomania”) can induce fits of creativity that seem (and may well be) tremendously productive. But there is a cost. There is truth in the tired cliché, “What goes up, must come down.” More than this, when I have allowed myself to go up, I have often left important people behind.
Yet, there is genuine “delight” to be found in bipolar disorder, and this is the story I most want to tell in this book. Delight is first an expression of God’s love for us.
[God] brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:19)
Countless times, when I have been driven to the edge of a cliff, God has rescued me and set me on level ground. Why would God do this? Because God delights in me, even in my disorder.
Since God delights in us, we have a “delightful duty” to share in God’s joy.
May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.” (Psalm 35:27)
Of course, there are some disorderly occasions when delight seems humanly impossible, and even irresponsibly cruel. I write this just one week after 27-year old Matthew Warren, son of Rick Warren (author of the best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life) committed suicide. Now is not the time to delight, at least from a human perspective. The Bible tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” We grieve our loss in Matthew’s death, with the Warren family and all of his loved ones left behind.
Still, it is important, even essential to somehow come back to delight. As the Apostle Paul writes,
… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
We give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Matthew’s death was a terrible tragedy. The suffering endured by countless people who battle mental illness daily (and sometimes lose the fight) is not something for which we should be grateful.
Yet, for their sake, for our own sake, for Christ’s sake, we can (and should) delight in the disorder—call on the presence of God when God seems absent, point to the light of Christ in the darkness, share in the Spirit of love when we feel most unloved.
A few words about the subtitle of the book—Ministry, Madness, Mission. The book was originally conceived as a series of devotions on Psalm verses, reflecting on living with this particular mental illness. An early working title was From Sheol to the Highest Heavens: 101 Devotions for People with Bipolar Disorder (and those who love them). As I worked through several drafts, I realized I needed to say more about my own journey – in faith as well as with a mental illness.
As part of a workshop on “Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography,” I composed a narrative poem in ten parts (or seasons). This will serve as the “framework” for the “house” of my bipolar mind. It describes my call to ministry, my descent into madness, and ends at the point where my mission begins—to share my story of how God led me to delight in the midst of my disorder.
Finally, my purpose in writing this book is principally to give glory to God for bringing me through this crazy life no matter how much of a mess I make of it. I pray that the sometimes profane details of my life don’t cause you to stumble as you take the journey with me.
While I have written this devotional with an eye toward the millions who share my illness, my hope is that anyone who picks it up will find words of encouragement to delight in your disorder and meditate on the goodness of God in the land of the living.