Have you ever felt like everything was going well, things were finally looking up…and then The Thing happened? Have you ever looked back at your life and seen the exact moment when everything fell apart? Have you ever thrown yourself at the feet of Jesus in prayer and said, “Why is this happening?”
Maybe that moment was the loss of a loved one. Maybe it was when you got laid off. Maybe it was a failed relationship. My moment of “Why have you forsaken me?” came along with the mental health crisis I went through when I was 17 years old.
“He Abandoned Me”
During my teenage years, I struggled with depression and anxiety and many of the things that typically come along with those disorders. I had grown up with a strong knowledge of my faith, and what I thought was a close relationship with the Lord, but as soon as I began to struggle with mental illness, I essentially abandoned my faith. I distinctly remember looking at my relationship with God during this time and thinking, “I didn’t abandon him. He abandoned me.” I felt as if God had seen me in the moment that I most needed him and had walked away.
Eventually, I made it through the depression and anxiety and was “healed.” But my relationship with God was anything but healthy. My mind could finally think clearly again, but my soul was clouded with the belief that God had left me in my time of need.
I didn’t want to, but I finally decided to give God another chance, to “hear his side of the story.” In one powerful moment of prayer, God showed me that he had never left me, but instead had been carrying me through the hardship. While that moment was incredibly healing, the wounds of mistrust were still there.
So I was left with a choice to make. Would I forget that God had saved me and stop fighting for our relationship, or would I let God into my heart to heal my wounds? Thankfully, through the grace of God, I was able to make the choice to let God in to heal my wounds. But oftentimes, that healing looked like self-reflection and self-correction—examining my disordered thought processes and trying to see the truth.
Look at The Whole Picture
My biggest mistake during my mental health crisis was that I was so hyper-focused on my little slice of life, on my own perceptions, that I missed out on a great chance at sanctification. If I had approached this hardship with the mindset of, “This is really difficult, but maybe I can learn something from it,” I think that I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.
Mental illness oftentimes makes us so self-focused that we spiral out of control. I was so focused on how terrible I felt all the time that I ended up making myself feel even worse because it was the only thing I thought about! That’s not to dismiss the heartache and difficulty that mental illness puts you through. It’s a heavy cross to bear. But God can work with even an attempt at finding joy in the sorrow, in searching for light in darkness. What he can’t work with is a heart so used to the darkness that it refuses to search for the light.
Confront God and Speak Honestly to Him
I think many of us have been raised to think that prayer is supposed to be praising God at all times, no matter what we feel. But I think an honest, angry prayer is worth more to God than a thousand empty praises. Tell God how you feel! The only way to mend human relationships when you’ve been hurt is to reconcile with the individual, hear them out, and talk about what happened. Our relationship with God is no different. It’s okay to tell God, “Hey, I’m really mad that I had to go through this. Why did you let this happen?” The key is to listen for the answer. You have to be humble enough to realize that maybe you can’t see the whole picture. Again, that’s not to dismiss how you feel—because your feelings are valid and you are allowed to feel however you feel about what happened. But wouldn’t it make the suffering just a little bit easier to bear if you let God show you the goodness he wanted to bring?
Know that mending your relationship with Christ after a time of hardship isn’t a linear process. There will be times, years after you thought you were okay with it, that you’ll find yourself asking once again, “Why did you forsake me?” That’s okay. Keep going back to him in prayer. Keep trying to heal. Be relentless in pursuing his heart, as he is relentless in pursuing yours.
Be Patient in Searching for the Good
It took me more than two years to be at peace with the reality that I had fallen so far during the time I was sick. It took me longer to finally find the good in the suffering—to actually be grateful for it. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I could possibly be grateful for the hardest time of my life—but I am. If I hadn’t been so empty, I wouldn’t appreciate how full of life and love I am now. If I hadn’t been so deep in despair, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the miraculous joy that now permeates my life. If I hadn’t gone through this, I wouldn’t have been able to understand and help friends and family in the unique way that I am now equipped to. Your moment of peace with the past may take months, years, decades. Maybe you won’t find peace with the hardship until you’re in heaven. But I promise you, that moment will come if you are open to it and you are looking for it. God fulfills every desire of your heart.