I get so frustrated sometimes, don’t you, by the way mental illness affects your life? I think about the impact it has on my work and relationships. My future plans. My physical health. Even my housework is affected! But that doesn’t bother me as much. But those other things – I do feel imprisoned sometimes!
I was reading in the Bible today in Acts 16, where Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison. Verse 25 shows us, however, that Paul and Silas were anything but thrown by their imprisonment. If anything, they were joyful, for “at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”
As I read this I thought, what am I but in prison? My bipolar and depression and anxiety lock me up soundly sometimes! The last thing I ever do is sing praises when I feel that way. Oh I will sing praises in church, and when I am thankful about something good, but do I truly praise God in all of my circumstances? And that made me think of another verse that makes me cringe. Ephesisans 5:20 says to give “thanks always for all things.” That’s even harder to swallow! How can I give thanks, when I’m all balled up, and feeling anything but thankful?
My experience today speaks to the wisdom of reading the Bible over and over. Because I’ve read that verse about Paul and Silas probably a hundred times. But I’d never really connected the fact that I am indeed imprisoned by my mental illness and its symptoms. Essentially all I ever do is moan about it. It never occurred to me to sing praises. And it’s not just a verse for everyone else; it’s for me.
But it’s also important not to just do it for the reward. Paul and Silas didn’t know that God was going to free them. They sang because that was what was in their hearts. The reason I need to do it is because God says so! Because it will please Him! And because I truly am thankful, despite my illness!
I can picture the ways I can give praise while I am in my bonds. I can smile more. I can learn to be calm, more grateful. I can exercise discipline in thanking God every day, and show my gratitude. I can be softer and gentler, and “act as if” I was thankful, until it was true. This is a skill I was taught in AA; and I can certainly apply it here.
I know people in my church who are like the above. You know they have a happy heart, despite their many challenges. Maybe I ought to hang out with them more; I already know how to be miserable!
Of course, I know it can benefit others, to hear me praise, and pray, in the midst of my woe. I know it helps me to be around it. And again, this will please God.
This doesn’t mean faking how things really are. I’ve done enough faking. That’s not what this is. This means a heart change. And guess Who can change my heart?
Not I! The Bible calls for us to pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) This means to come to God and confess sin, and ask Him to change this heart. I love Ezekiel 36:26, where God promises: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”
Hm, a stony heart. Sounds like a heart that can be stubborn.
But a heart of flesh?
That is what I want!