There's a quote I recently read that goes like this: "Never doubt in the darkness what God has done in the light."
A reality of life on this Earth is that we will all go through times of darkness; times when God seems distant, silent, like a figment of our imaginations. Now perhaps these times are circumstantial — we grieve a loss, suffer an illness, experience a traumatic event. Or perhaps these dark moments are written into our DNA, they're a part of our chemical makeup, they come and go throughout our lives.
Mental illness — the “lack of serotonin uptake disease,” as I once heard someone suggest we call it — is written into my gene code. I had a grandma who underwent shock treatments and spent much of my father's childhood laying on the couch, too depressed to participate in life. I have siblings who have been deeply affected by their own mental health challenges and struggle daily because of them.
I'm not sure if I was the lucky sibling for whom that gene was recessive. Perhaps my unique DNA code interacted with our growing-up environment in a way that allowed me to experience life differently than they did. I've had my dark moments to be sure; but I don’t know what it's like to live with that daily struggle. However, I do know what it's like to live with someone who lives with that daily struggle.
And I know, through these experiences, that sometimes the hardest place to go with this pain is the one place where we should be able to be our most true and vulnerable selves ... with our church family. Our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our community of faith. We stand up and ask for prayers for our neighbor with cancer, our parent in failing health, our cousin who lost a job. So why is it so hard to say, "I'm emotionally struggling and I have no hope. Will you please pray for me?"
And just as we pray for the cancer to be healed, we pray that those who struggle with mental health challenges may be healed. And just as God can and does perform miraculous healing for those who are sick, God can and does miraculously transform those who struggle emotionally.
But just as there are times that, for reasons we don't understand, people are not physically healed and die from their illnesses, there are times that those who live with pain and suffering never find complete healing in this life. And they die with and from their illness.
When I'm going through a dark time, I find so much comfort in the words from the writer of Psalm 42: "Why are you downcast, O my soul, why so disturbed within me? And yet, I will praise God, my Savior and my God!" The Psalmist is literally dried up emotionally, crying tears day and night. His whole being craves God’s living water. And what does he remember? To go to God’s house, where there are joyous shouts, thanksgiving songs, a celebrating crowd.
What a beautiful picture of our role as a church family. This — THIS! — is the place where we come to find light and joy, hope and celebration in the midst of darkness. And where is the light? It’s not in judgment or fear. It is in grace and love.
It’s in a genuine smile, a warm hug, a listening ear, an earnest prayer. It is in understanding and empathy. It is in songs of praise and Holy Communion. These are the reminders we all need, especially when life is dark. God is love, God is here and as your family in Christ, we love you and we are here.
That’s one of the great joys of being a part of a church: a reminder that we don’t walk this journey alone. Even in the darkness, we shine God’s light.
The Rev. Wendy Ochs is pastor of Evangelical United Methodist Church in Billings. She's writing this column in May, designated annually as Mental Health Awareness Month.
The Faith & Values column appears Saturdays in The Billings Gazette.
Pastors, ethicists, educators or others who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; The Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 5910, or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to email@example.com.
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