Purpose in the Pain
When I was 17 years old, I spent a night wide awake with a great sense of urgency that God was moving me to clean up my home town. I didn't go to bed that night, nor the next. Instead I spent those hours conducting a clean up operation. I marched through the streets, picking up litter, and later, when morning came, I saw a group of children with sweeping brushes shouting 'we are cleaning up the world!' My heart smiled, as it seemed that God had given them the clean-up mission too. Next on my agenda, I visited the home of some guys I knew. It being the depths of night, they were sleeping, but the door was unlocked so I let myself in. Typical dole-dossers, they had a kitchen with empty cupboards and pans full of mould. Whilst they slept, I scrubbed. In the early hours, I phoned a friend and insisted she bring me some bleach and rubber gloves. Confused yet willing, she arrived and joined me in my task. When all the downstairs rooms were sparkling clean I went to the corner shop and bought provisions to fill the cupboards and now clean fridge. The inhabitants of the house began to wake and were stunned to discover that their environment had altered so much over night. My work here was done.
A few years later I had a longer period of wakeful urgency. This time I felt God was telling me to go and preach to the firefighters who were on strike at the time. It was the middle of a bitterly cold December night yet I walked for about an hour to the picket line where I challenged the group of firemen with the question 'if you were to die in a fire where would you end up? Heaven or Hell?' I urged them to read the Bible and get to know Jesus. I distinctly remember one man's response: 'have you been on the juice love?'
I have never invested so much in studying the Bibke and prayer as I did during this period of my life. I had few friends locally, and those I did have since told me that they found me becoming increasingly intense so they backed off. Around this time I asked God for a husband. I felt lonely and vulnerable, in need of someone to take care of me. A few days after praying this, a new man came to my church. This was a rare occurrence, our tiny congregation was made up of pensioners and children, so I was certain this was the husband sent from God. The man was open about his past, he was a recovering heroine addict and had recently been released from prison. I was certain of God's intentions for us so I persuaded him to come with me to apply for a marriage license.
fortunately, my mother, who lived a few hours away, had recently visited and had been concerned about my behaviour. It took several weeks and much distress for all involved, but eventually my GP persuaded me to 'return to the bosom of my family' and I allowed my parents to take me home with them. Things did not improve over night, but I was in a safe place, I was loved and cared for, and I was receiving medical treatment. Over the next few years, after more periods of mania and depression, my initial diagnosis of psychosis was replaced with a diagnosis of bipolar.
Having been hurt by Christian friends suggesting I was to blame for my illness, and church leaders asking me how I had come to be possessed, along with the feeling that God had let me down, I turned my back on my faith for a few years. It wasn't until a friend in Australia got her pastor to email me with some damage control that I started to consider returning to church. When I did go back it was in drugs and drabs, but eventually my faith started to grow again, along with my trust of other Christians.
Now I am part of a wonderful church family who are understanding of my need for firm boundaries and support my desire to use my experiences to help others. I have recently discovered the Mind and Soul website and I have arranged to meet with my pastors to discuss using the Mental Health Access Pack in our church.
My my health is much more stable than it was, with the help of medication, good diet and exercise, and a brilliant support network of family, friends and church, I still have times when I have to clear the calendar, when I recognise the early warning signs of mania creeping in, the lows still happen too, but they aren't as low, or as dark as they once were. I still occasionally come across potentially harmful theology and unhelpful advice, but I have learnt to challenge it rather than be hurt by it.
Today, in an email from my pastor, she encouraged me with Joseph's words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20
'you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of any lives'
to know that God can use the difficult experiences I have suffered to benefit others doesn't take away the pain, but it does give the pain a purpose. I am heartened by the work of Mind and Soul and so impressed with the recognition of the need for sound theology surrounding mental health issues.