Content Warning: depression, suicidal thoughts, mental illness
New Year, New Me! It’s an annual lie that heaps shame on the heads of those of us who are already doing our best just to survive.
I could make up a million resolutions and in a few months I would likely still struggle with suicidal thoughts. still alienate people I care about. still drive people away…and then we could add resolution breaker to the list.
I’m in emotional pain every single day of my life. Very rarely do I get any respite from the inner turmoil that I face. Every day I am weighed down by shame: shame that I don’t have my life figured out in terms of a career, shame that I am unable to form many long-lasting and stable friendships and relationships, shame that I burn bridges wherever I go.
I’ve since left Evangelical Christianity behind. But the notion that God rescues true believers, still exists amongst some Progressive Christians. When describing my struggles, well meaning Christians across the theological spectrum tell me to keep my chin up. God will rescue me. Maybe not in a miraculous, Damascus life conversion, but God works through therapy. God works through medication. God will rescue me.
But I’m tired of the theology that says God will rescue believers from physical, emotional, or mental suffering. I’m tired of those well meaning platitudes. Because the reality is: I’m not sure if the pain that I feel every day will ever go away. I’m not sure if I will ever be an easy person to love, if my presence will bring others joy instead of pain.
The language of rescue, while it brings comfort to many people, can also be harmful, for those of us who have experienced a different reality.
Criticisms I have been given play like a broken record while any compliments are quickly forgotten. And of course any criticism I have received gets amplified by my own distorted thinking, which takes any criticism, valid or not, and turns them into commentaries about my own worth as a human being:
“Hey Naiomi, remember all the times you were developing what could have been close friendships but you ruined it by saying something cruel? Why did you do that? Oh you don’t know? Well self-awareness and self-reflection were never one of your strong suits.”
“Hey, remember when you were told that you shouldn’t teach undergraduates because you would be a horrible role model? You know they were right? Anyway, undergraduates, who actually have a shot of living a meaningful life, shouldn’t be exposed to you. You’re a failure and you are simply an object lesson for what not to do. The only thing they can learn from you, is how to ruin any opportunities they’ve been given.”
“Remember when you friend made a joke about you being selfish and self-absorbed? You know they weren’t really joking? They wanted to let you know that you always take more from other people than you give, but because they are a decent human being, they didn’t want to be cruel about it.”
And on and on, these thoughts go:
“You always see the negative and all the awful in the world. Is it any wonder no one wants to be around you? Everywhere you go, you just suck out the joy and happiness. People’s lives are most definitely worse off, with you in it.”
I want desperately to be rescued. Not from evil nefarious forces out there in the world, but from myself. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian church I was taught that God rescues faithful believers.
I heard testimony after testimony from Christians who explained that God physically intervened in a life threatening situation: rescuing them from a car crash that should have killed them, taking them out of a dangerous home life, bringing them back to life after they had been dead for a few seconds.
The testimonies that captured my attention, however, were not the ones about miraculous divine intervention but the stories of God transforming sinful, selfish, broken human beings into more loving and happy people.
Friends would talk about how they felt so alone and unloveable, but their relationship with God helped transform them into people worthy of friendships and romantic relationships.
I was told that if I trusted God, if I gave my whole life and soul to God, that God would rescue me from myself and transform me into a better person. A person worthy of love. A person that didn’t unnecessarily burden others with my weaknesses, a person that made life better for others.
And so I tried. I fasted once a month, I attended as many church services as I could, I tried to spend 2 hours a day praying, reading the Bible, and when I failed to meet that goal, I told myself I needed to work harder. I preached (badly), I participated in Sunday school to the extent I wouldn’t shut up, I talked to “nonbelievers” about my faith,
James Prescott pointed to this reality in a twitter thread:
The notion that God rescues is most often not just a statement about God, but about the faith of an individual. God will rescue you, if you believe hard enough. God will rescue you, if you pray a certain way, if you go to church a certain amount of times, if you give your local church a certain amount of money. God will rescue you, if you are good enough.
But for those of us who struggle with mental illness and who have experienced abusive childhoods, the kicker is we will never feel deserving enough of love or of God’s intervention in our lives.
So when we beg for rescue, when we pray for a transformation that will make us into people worthy of love, and such a transformation doesn’t happen, we are crushed. We ask ourselves, “what is wrong with me? why is God not rescuing me? Why has therapy not worked? Why am I still struggling on a daily basis?”
And when we bring up our doubts about the notion that God will rescue us if we just believe enough, we are told, “well that’s the problem. You are doubting. You are the problem.”
Or we are told, “well it’s just God’s will.”
What does that mean? It was God’s will for me to grow up in an emotionally and mentally abusive household?
It’s God’s will for me to struggle with depression and feelings of worthlessness every single day of my life?
I’m learning to let go of the idea that God will miraculously rescue me from myself. That if I just act like a super Christian that my depression will be gone.
This season has been spent trying to let go of the vestiges of my childhood theology that focuses on erasing pain and suffering and instead I have been contemplating what it means to believe that God, through the form of Jesus is with humanity.
For so long, I viewed “God being with me” as, “God is going to intervention and magically make things better. Soon.” Now I view the idea that God is with me as recognition that God through Jesus understand my suffering.
I believe that Jesus intimately understands my anguish. Jesus knows what it feels like to be utterly alone and depressed.
I no longer wait for God to rescue me instead, I hope that Jesus is right there with me when I struggle through each day. When thoughts assail me, telling me that I am a burden, a disappointment to my friends, professors, and family I imagine Jesus reminding me that I am loved. Period.
That I am worthy of being loved even when I am at my most difficult and unloveable.
God may not save me, God may not magically transform me into the person that I think I need to be in order to be worthy of other people’s love and friendship, but I do know that God loves me and by myself. That has to be enough.
Maybe this New Year we can skip the resolutions and remember we are worthy of love the way we are.