A Startling Revelation
I walked along the sidewalk outside of the lackluster apartment complex I was living in for the year. As cars whizzed by in the seeming din of ordinary, I was listening to a book on prayer by one of my favorite teachers. When he made a certain point, my heart stilled and a whole new understanding opened to me.
He was saying that a single human author could not have written the whole Bible. It took different personalities, relationships with God, and types of calling to write God’s Word through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I pondered this, like ocean waves crashing over me, I wanted to raise my hands in deep joy and worship.
I was less than a year into my bipolar diagnosis. At times, I struggled deeply with shame and a distinct feeling of ‘less than’ because of the ravages of mental illness. I had yet to have a truly hopeful perspective about its presence in my life.
But something changed for me during that walk. As I thought more about the uniqueness of the Word of God, I realized, not only are there different ways of communicating, but also a wide range of emotions contained therein.
You see, those with bipolar disorder have been to the depths of despair, the melancholy of soul, and a wondering if God is there. Yet, we have also experienced the heights of joy and beauty of full-hearted worship of God.
Also, those with bipolar disorder have a range of genres with which they readily connect. For example, the theological truths of Scripture connect with what is often a highly developed analytical, left-sided brain. Yet, poetry and artistry are relatable because there is often, also, a penchant for right-sided brain expression.
I felt such a depth of thankfulness and praise as I came to these realizations. The same God who revealed Himself uniquely through His Word, using individuals with various ways of understanding Him, had made me. And it was all to His glory. I was all to His Glory.
My journey with mental illness took a decided turn toward a belief that God did not just intend for me to survive my days, but to thrive in them. As I pursued wholeness and healing, I would increasingly enjoy God, thanking Him for how He had made me.
Seeing the Glory of God in Mental Illness
With something so messy, like bipolar disorder or any mental illness, it is easy to believe the lie that its redemption must nearly fully wait for Heaven and God’s arms. But, no. This is not the perspective of God.
In our journey of growth and sanctification, the battles of a fallen world affecting one’s mind can be some of the greatest means of experiencing the glory of God. It happens through the strength needed to overcome the darkness by gaining understanding of ‘an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’ (II Corinthians 4:17b ESV). It also happens in embracing the glory of God in how one is made precisely for that glory. And, with this, there is the delight found in beholding Him:
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV)
The Role of the Body of Christ
Furthermore, this understanding of the glory of God being present, not only for the individual experiencing mental illness, but also for the Church of which they are a part, poses a radical means of liberating an increasingly present contingent who struggle with mental illness.
Too often, those with mental illness, myself included, are met with sympathy, which can translate to expressing grief over what one is experiencing. While those sentiments are heartfelt and sincere, they can potentially be damaging to the overall perspective of the one diagnosed with mental illness.
What if, instead, the Church could come to a place of seeing mental illness as unto the glory of God? Don’t misunderstand me, there is a deep need for entering this hardship of a brother or sister in Christ. But, there is, quite possibly, a greater need to offer hope centered upon the sovereign work of God in both creating each one of us uniquely, and writing each of our stories. Meaning, everything, even and especially mental illness, is a means of displaying the goodness and grandeur of God.
It’s not an easy road, this change of perspective. But it is not insurmountable. It truly does begin
with the glory of God. For, if we believe His glory, and enjoying Him, is our ultimate prize from now throughout eternity, then, is there anything too fallen it escapes the light-filled presence of our Great God?
Working Together to Encourage
One of the reasons I believe this can be so difficult is that much is ‘raised against the knowledge of God’ (II Corinthians 10:5 ESV) in the midst of mental illness. It can be exceedingly strenuous to ‘take every thought captive to obey Christ’ (II Corinthians 10:5 ESV) when one’s mind is compromised. Thus, how much more do we need those in a different place, to stand in the gap and take the thoughts of shame, doubt and fear, captive for us. Then, we need them to voice those words of hope into the darkness which shrouds.
Yet, the truth remains, those with mental illness, do have a hard, sometimes exceedingly hard, road to walk which no one else can walk for them. But there is no better way to walk it than to let the light of God’s truth, the depth of His brilliance, penetrate every corner of one’s mind, from every direction. That day, when God used a Bible teacher, full of love for His Word and His glory, I was simply placing myself in the path of the golden realities of what God says is true, and His Holy Spirit did the rest.
But too, others have shone the light upon my path. Specifically, I remember my twin sister taking my hand when I was just out of the hospital because of an episode of mania related to bipolar disorder. She said, with such hope, ‘God is going to bring you through this so completely.’ Hallelujah and Amen.
Together, we, the Church, can see that which the Enemy intends to cripple us, the Body of Christ, become something which profoundly glorifies God. One thought of His truth, one word of His hope, and one robust belief in the reality of His glory, at a time.
Abigail Alleman is a wife, mother of 3, missionary with Cru, writer and more. As she walks this long road home, she seeks to see God’s glory and good purpose in all things, including her journey with bipolar disorder. She blogs her love for God and the life He’s given her at abigailalleman.com and hosts a weekly podcast called Messy Life Mighty Love.
Missionary with Cru