Praise our God, all peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:8-12)
No matter what we have gone through—as people living with bipolar or people living with other limitations—we can rest assured that God is there for us. Here, the Psalmist encourages Israel to bless the God who has blessed them so much. Even though God tests and tries us, God ultimately gives us the strength to endure – to survive and eventually thrive in the midst of our trials.
If I could choose my medical profile, I would likely not opt to have bipolar. Yet, in the midst of my bipolar life, God has strengthened me such that I’ve come through it a better person. Through the intensity of my emotions, God has enabled me to better empathize with the hurts of humanity, to feel them in my gut, like the Bible says Jesus did with “bowels of compassion.”
When I went back to pastoral ministry after my first diagnosis in 1995, people responded to me in various ways. There were some who kept me at arm’s distance, perhaps concerned not to over-stress me, perhaps worried that my mental illness was contagious. Many others, however, reached out to me and confided in me their own battles with mental illness – either personally or in the lives of loved ones. Until then, they had kept quiet about it in church, not wanting others to know (fearful of how they would respond). I found them eager to unburden their hearts and minds through conversation and prayer about something they felt so deeply.
There was one older woman I visited who, as soon as I stepped through her door, challenged me with the statement, “I thought Christians weren’t supposed to get depressed.”
I smiled and took a deep breath. Then, I shared how some of the greatest Bible heroes went through terrible periods of depression. Moses prayed to be relieved of his duties as Israel’s leader. Elijah wanted to end his life resting in the shade of a sycamore tree. David—a man after God’s own heart—called out profusely to God to pay attention to his struggles. I opened my Bible and read a few passages in the Psalms where David cried out for emotional relief from God.
I saw a tear form in her eye, and she told me her story. She had battled crippling depression for years and had been told she was wrong to feel that way. Her challenging comment was not one that came from within her own heart. It was one imposed on her. It was something she had heard countless times from well-meaning, yet seriously misguided friends in faith.
Being Christians doesn’t mean we never get depressed. It means we have Someone to turn to, who lifts the “crushing burdens on our backs,” who leads us through fiery trials and floods of emotions to places of abundance where there is enduring joy and peace.