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The Dark Season – Part 3

February 20, 2012

“The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”  Good words and strong medicine to our “feel good, get rich, me first ” culture from someone who knew the feel of a broken mind. If you were hailing a cab on the streets of late 19th century London on a Sunday morning, the cabbie would automatically ask, “Goin’ to Charlie’s?” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, pastor of the famed Metropolitan Tabernacle and one of the greatest to preach anywhere, stood in front of thousands every Sunday. But how did he spend Sunday nights? Often in deep depression. He would lay on the floor at the feet of his wife, Susie, while she read to him. “He would weep and I would weep too,” she said.

Spurgeon isn’t alone. The mental illnesses foreshadowing many suicide attempts bubble unseen beneath the surface of people all around us. But nowhere does this happen more cruelly than in Christian circles. The happy, prosperous, successful, shallow sugar-coating of much in Christian circles leaves little place for people who live in darkness of depression, swing on the pendulum of bipolar illness or endure the taunts of schizophrenic voices. This is especially sad because we follow a Jesus who championed outcasts and embraced those nobody would touch. We also follow the Christians who were the first to promote and establish humane treatment for the mentally ill. Maybe we’re afraid because we don’t understand and therefore don’t realize how much help is available. But they’re all around us in the dorm, on campus, in our churches and families.

Many did great things for God. William Cowper, kept alive on suicide watch by his friend, John Newton (“Amazing Grace”), and Christina Rossetti wrote hymns in the grip of clinical depression in a time when no medicine was available to help. Their darkness only makes their lyrics more profound. Others include Emily Dickinson, G.F. Handel, John Bunyan and J.B. Phillips  For a look at how some Christians found pain of mind and body something to be embraced the became a door to power an usefulness, see “Wounded Heroes” or “Coping” both by Elizabeth Skoglund. A good Christian title treating both the medical and the spiritual aspects of mental illness seriously can be found in “The Masks of Melancholy” by John White. These three are all out of print and can be had as used for a steal.

But you should really get to know Kathryn Greene-McCreight. She tasted her first depression around age 12. After sporadic bouts with it for years, she plunged into her first clinical depression in postpartum after her second child. Kathryn was working on a biblical doctorate in Yale at the time. Five years later, she went bipolar. She’s had five major hospitalizations including two courses of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and maintains her mental balance through the right cocktail of medicines. She’s still a wife and a Mom, earned her PhD and serves in Jesus’ name. She tells her story in “Darkness Is My Only Companion” (Ask for the Geezer discount – 20%). How she uses Scripture as medicine is worth the price of the book; she applies the Bible like peanut butter on warm toast. Passages like John 1:4,5 and Psalm 139:1-12 especially ring true for those bruised in mind.

One great fear of the mentally ill around us lies in that, being found out, we will be pushed away by those we love. Another great fear that follows on the heels of this comes when the mental illness takes away who we are; we go away and don’t come back. Eleven hundred college students will do this permanently this year leaving people scarred for life in their wake. Maybe somebody around us that others shun needs a friend – a friend who can steer them toward help, treatment and Jesus.

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