Simone Biles withdrawal from gymnastics finals at the Olympics has once again thrown a spotlight on mental health. She is probably the best gymnast we’ve ever seen and she’s delighted audiences around the work with her performances, but this year it was too much so she chose to withdraw and prioritise her mental health. Most people have applauded her decision but there has been criticism from some who think her decision is a little pathetic. That hasn’t surprised me at all. As a mental health sufferer myself I’ve experienced the same, I think all sufferers do which is why so many would rather choose to keep quiet. Most people are great and treat me the same as they always have, but there are some people I would rather didn’t know because they just don’t understand. Mental illness is simply an illness of the mind in the same way that measles is an illness of the body. Having a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy and it doesn’t mean you’re weak but some people won’t get that.
As a Christian, I have wondered why I have depression. Why hasn’t God taken it away? He certainly could do. There’s an amazing story in the Bible where Jesus met a man whose mind has been affected by demons who had possessed him, something that was common in Jesus’ day. Jesus healed him and the Bible tells us, “The people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind.” (1) Why him and why not me? It turns out I’m in good company. Great men of the Bible suffered from depression, the two most well known being David and Elijah. David’s Psalms often reflect his depressive nature and yet he was a wonderfully successful king. He’s clear proof that having a mental illness doesn’t make you crazy. Today we have people like Winston Churchill, Stephen Fry, Ernest Hemingway and many more besides who lived with poor mental health and were extremely successful in their chosen fields.
I’ve recently heard about Kintsugi pottery, a Japanese art form. If we break a vase, or pot in this country we will use something like super glue to repair it and do what we can to hide the cracks. If the pot is of special significance we may even pay an expert like Kirsten from the Repair Room to put it back together in the brilliant way she does, leaving no evidence of breakage. Kintsugi pottery chooses to make a feature of the cracks. Gold powder is used for the repair leaving golden streaks where the breaks are. In so doing they make beauty out of brokenness.
Are you a mental health sufferer? Maybe your daily desire is to be cured, but have you ever considered that God sees beauty in your brokenness? Rather than destroying you, your cracks have highlighted your beauty, your wonder and your worth.
I don’t think the Apostle Paul had a mental illness but he had a definite problem that troubled him. It’s been suggested that he had failing eyesight but no one knows for sure. Whatever it was it had the potential to damage his work of sharing the good news of Jesus which was the focus of his life, so he prayed for God to take it away. He called it his thorn in the flesh and prayed not once, but three times for God to take it away. He was convinced he would be more useful to God without his ailment but God didn’t agree with him. After the third time of praying God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2) To simplify that response as much as I can it’s as if God is saying you carry on as you are and I’ll make sure everything is ok with you. It may pain you, it may be frustrating, but this is the best way you can serve me right now. God’s golden powder filled the broken crack in Paul and enhanced his worth.
God determined that David and Elijah would live with depression because that brings out their real worth. He’s done it with me, and maybe you too. I’m more beautiful to God with my cracks than without. Living for Jesus with a mental health illness isn’t always easy but I can’t complain because I am as God wants me to be.
- Luke 8:35
- 2 Corinthians 12:9