Thursday, December 27, 2007

Darkness Is My Only Companion

At first, I was puzzled as to why this might be on the the "required reading" list for my upcoming theology course at DTS. However, having completed the book, I must admit that although the theological insights were meaningful, the practical application of a Christian's response to mental illness was most enlightening.
Unfortunately (I presume), many Christian leaders will not give this book the attention it deserves. However, let me encourage you to put aside your gender and/or religious bias and listen to what the author has to say. Reserve judgment until you have read the material. I personally believe you will be glad you did.
The book, written by Kathryn Greene-McCreight, is a first person account of the author's own struggle with mental illness. Her story is honest and the questions posed during her struggle are ones we most certainly all ask (whether we have mental illness or not), but rarely admit to them as she has in her book. I appreciate her balanced perspective as she shares her own story, discusses the theological implications to her questions and offers advice in how best to care for and comfort those going through mental illness. I benefited from all 3 sections of the book.
If I were to suggest that we all deal with some level of physical illness in our lifetime, no one would disagree. We have all had our share of colds, flu, infections and the like. Some more serious than others, some more frequent than others, but we are all afflicted by the corruption of a sin cursed world this side of heaven. But what if I suggested (and I do) that we all suffer from some form of mental illness as well. Perhaps it as simple as an issue of self-esteem or loneliness, maybe depression or anxiety - some more serious than others, some more frequent than others, but to some degree we are all afflicted by the corruption of a sin cursed world this side of heaven. I for one will be the first to admit that I could relate to much of the author's discussion of her bipolar disorder. Evidence of this personal struggle for me can be seen in previous posts (, Don't misunderstand me...I am not self-diagnosing myself or minimizing the true struggle of the author of this very good book. I am only suggesting we all have something to learn from her insight and should therefore take up and read.
This book helped me understand what I do to help others that is not all that helpful. You know how uncomfortable it is when someone is struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. What do you say? Or perhaps the better question is, "What do you not say?" I found this book to give very thoughtful insight for those who have a sincere desire to help others through their dark night of the soul.
Yet, since I have my own dark nights as well, I found the counsel of the author very helpful as she asks and answers the questions we all face. Her writing style allowed me to process her questions, my questions, along with her and find similar conclusions. This particular conclusion regarding the spiritual condition of a person struggling with mental illness was particularly helpful:
The soul is not the seat of sickness in the mentally ill; it is the brain, its synapses and receptors and so on, that renders the mind broken. The soul, as the self in relation to God, continues healthy in anyone as long as that person is in Christ, relating to and witnessing to God.

Throughout the book, the author maintains this high view of God and His sovereignty over His creation. It was helpful to look beyond the emotion and stigma of mental illness to witness the loving hand of God protecting the soul of the believer in Jesus Christ, even when the believer did not trust his or her own "feelings" of God's presence.
Ultimately this is a book of hope as the author leads us to the conclusion that God is even now in the process of making all things new. A time when we will all be made right. A time when the mental and physical consequences of living in a sin cursed world will all pass away. Until then, God gives hope to the weary and strength to the weak. I am thankful for having read this book to be reminded of this truth.

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