One of the greatest evidences of God’s love to those that love him is,
to send them afflictions, with grace to bear them. ~ John Wesley
I’ve been living with bipolar disorder for over 36 years (two-thirds of my life) and co-occurring addiction disorder since my mid-teens (I have 29 years clean now). Most of these years were fraught with struggle and dismay. I often felt hopeless, wanting a better life but feeling like I was drowning in quicksand.
It was during these times that I would try to connect with God in any way possible. I even went so far as to watch the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the Christian Broadcast Network and hear them state that I was forgiven with the condition that I pray the sinner’s prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus,
I know that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for my sins and rose from the grave to give me life. I know You are the only way to God. So now I want to quit disobeying You and start living for You. Please forgive me, change my life and show me how to know You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, although I prayed this several times, my healing wasn’t automatic. And I’d like to say that I didn’t quit disobeying God (or in other words, take my will back). But I held on to the hope that one day, some day, I would be relieved of my afflictions.
So, I kept praying this simple act wasn’t enough. I had to work on myself. I had to push and push and push myself to get through many a difficult day. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed and others where I could make miracles happen by the misbelief that my powers were from ordained by God.
Looking back at those times I am amazed at truthfully how ill I was. I mean I easily could have taken a wrong turn and ended up becoming yet another social science statistic, namely being a person who suffers from a severe mental illness and is unable to function in society. Yeah, it was that close.
But something happened. I slowly saw a change. I had periods of clarity. Times when I got a glimpse of what real stability looks like. And I liked it. Once I had an intervention with my therapist I realized that I didn’t want to live my life bouncing in and out of mental wards. I got into a drug recovery program and things began to change. The first several years were still challenging however I was no longer experiencing the wide mood swings and delusional thoughts of my past.
It was also during this time that I reconnected with the church. I joined Pilgrim-St. Luke’s UCC (later to become Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC). I found a church home where I was loved and respected. I joined on Pentecost, five months after I got clean and have been a member for 29 years.
For the last nearly three decades I have grown spiritually and have co-created a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have a loving family, a career that is more of a calling than just a job, and wonderful friends. My life isn’t perfect, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I still pray. I pray that God continues to guide my feet and show me the way. I know in my heart of hearts that God still hears my prayers and responds in the way that best suits my needs, not my wants. I know that God has a plan. For me and for all of us.
Prayer isn’t the only tool I use. I still see a psychiatrist and take medication. I exercise and meditate (although this has been a more challenging discipline). So, I know that I didn’t just “pray away” my illness. I also worked really hard. And it has all been so worth it.
If you find yourself in a difficult place and are feeling hopeless, know that God loves you and only wants the best for you. Sometimes God’s plan for us doesn’t align with the one we see for ourselves. But know that when you suffer, Christ is suffering with you. Because he did die for you. And it is in his death that we are liberated.
God loves you. Christ loves you. And so do I. We may have never met however I pray for you every day. I pray for those who are living with mental illness and addiction. I pray that you find relief from your suffering and have everlasting peace. God’s grace is sufficient.