This guest blog comes from pastor, author and speaker, Tony Roberts. Tony has a great blog called A Way With Words where he writes about mental health, faith, art, and culture. Recently he wrote a spiritual memoir called Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission about his experience with bipolar disorder as a pastor. We are very excited to have Tony share his thoughts with you!
While it may be true that some can experience a miraculous cure from mental illness, I haven't. I know precious few who have. Instead, the miracle of healing has come in the form of facing the obstacles that our minds and the world often put in the way. When I was first diagnosed with a serious mental illness, I was told I could never return to my career, that my wife and I would divorce, and that I would spend the rest of my life in and out of mental hospitals. By faith, I have risen above these stereotypical stigmas and enjoyed a rewarding life.
I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1995, when I was 30 years old. At the time I was serving (as a pastor) at a small but thriving church. Many people added their prayers to my own that I might be cured of the effects of mental illness that prevented me from living a full life.
After taking some time off to get my medication adjusted and make some progress through therapy, I did return to work full-time at the church. While I was not cured (I still took medicine and participated in therapy), I was able to enjoy a relatively stable period of over a dozen years, blessed with growing joy in my family and career.
In time, though, my illness caught up with me. I had moved to an area where I could not find adequate mental health care. I became imbalanced in my work and family life. I allowed my schedule to become disrupted. In an effort to re-establish stability, my psychiatrist tried some medications which aggravated my mental health. In spite of passionate prayers, daily Bible study, weekly worship, and other spiritual disciplines, my life veered off course. Tragically, one night in the spring of 2008, I attempted to take my own life. After receiving treatment, I was advised to go on disability and leave behind a job I had performed for almost two decades.
While Jesus did typically heal with immediate miracles, at least one of his healings took places in stages (Mark 8:23-25). More clearly than this, there is the example of the Apostle Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Over the course of my time serving as a pastor with a mental illness, I have come to view my suffering like the Apostle Paul's. I have prayed countless times that it be removed, but for some reason I don't fully understand God has chosen not to take it away. I have instead been left with the assurance that, in spite of this disability, God's “grace is sufficient for me.”
Prayer and other spiritual disciplines have been invaluable for coping with, and even experiencing a measure of healing from, my illness. Not only was I able to serve in pastoral ministry (and now volunteer as a faithful member) but I have written a spiritual memoir -- Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission -- and offer hopeful encouragement among those, like me, facing mental illness as well as advocate for folks with troubled minds within the faith community.
Jesus is our ultimate healer -- whether we have physical, spiritual or mental illnesses. This may not mean our illness is magically removed, but with better understanding, careful treatment, and commitment to prayer, we receive a degree of healing and recovery such that, by the grace of God we can live more enriching and abundant lives than we ever thought possible.