[Guest Post] When Silence is Deafening

saint_paul_rembrandt_van_rijn_and_workshop-_c-_1657

Paul the Apostle, by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn c. 1657

I’ve asked Ryan to publish this anonymously on my behalf for a series of reasons: one, I do not feel as if I can say what I intend to say without the cover of anonymity (partially from each shame, guilt, and fear); two, there are parts where it can come across as having ulterior motives (e.g. bragging about “superior” faith) which I wish to mitigate; and three, while this is deeply personal, it’s not unique… while I do not claim to speak on behalf of all Christians who suffer from some form of psychiatric illness, I hope to reflect a collective experience that transcends myself.

The bible defines faith as “…the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1 NRSV).  If this is true (which, like all Christians concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy, I affirm), then it seems two categories of actions testify and affirm a vibrant faith more than any other—dying for faith, and living for it. The former category, those who die for their faith, have been applauded for their faith from the origin of the Church; martyrs have, justly, been admired for their steadfastness and strength. Alternatively; the latter category, those who live for faith, have been more or less ignored by the Church. This category specifically refers to the untold amount of Christians who, like myself, suffer from psychiatric illnesses. This post is intended to explain why living for faith (not by faith…an immensely important distinction) can be as significant a demonstration of faith as dying for it and to deplore the Church’s silence on the issue.

The majority of the time the Church’s response is a deafening silence… a silence which carries weight and power. Often times, the loudest thing one can hear is silence—for silence isolates and stigmatizes. To the untold many Christians with psychiatric illnesses who attend church faithfully (never mind those who are not Christians who go to a church looking for something), it does not go unnoticed that there is no mention of, or attention to, mental health. We attend a community, one meant to share each other’s burdens and to suffer alongside one another; and yet, we suffer alone and in silence… either put off from the silence, thinking such problems are abnormal or otherwise unworthy of mention, or from fear of the shame that comes with the only answer ever offered—“you just need to have faith”. You just need to have faith…the hypocritically unhelpful and condescending ignorance of such a statement is simply unfathomable; never would someone tell, or imply, a person with diabetes that they lack faith. Yet, because our illness is psychiatric in nature, resultant from neurochemical imbalances or neuro-physical defects, it is attributed to weak faith (yet, did St. Paul have weak faith when he suffered from some affliction that the Lord would not remove despite prayer (2 Corinthians 12:6-10)?). The supreme irony of that statement is just how much faith we have. For many us, each day is lived purely for the faith that we hold; when we passively desire death or, more extremely, actively experience suicidal ideation, it is often purely for the faith we have that we continue to go on.  The Lord has said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 NRSV).[1] It is a duty (in the Kantian sense of the word) to continue striving forth for the commandments necessitate life. It is the love for the Lord that allows us to endure the anxiety, endure the despair, the apathy, and any and all other psychiatric problems we possess. To illustrate this, allow me to walk you through my life—a Christian who has both clinical depression and anxiety problems.

I live each day knowing that I would rather not; I wake up disappointed that I did not pass away during the night. Actively contemplating suicide is rare, although not unheard of, the act of living is an act inundated with despair. I will sit amongst a crowd of people and yet feel completely alone. I want to do things… but I lack any energy to do so; I am apathetic and lethargic and no matter how much I want to want to do something I simply cannot do so. I walk into a church building and see everyone smiling and happy, singing emotional songs about how Jesus loves us… and I am alone. The place where I should feel more at home than anywhere else, is the place I feel most isolated and alone. Where then may I turn?

While those with psychiatric illnesses are not unique in this, they are a group that the Church has, inexcusably, failed. Ignored or brushed aside, we are made to feel isolated from the body of Christ, doubtful of our faith, and ashamed of our illnesses. Modern worship has been diluted to nothing more than emotional manipulation and faith is now measured by emotive response… in such a church, what place is there for those of us who possess psychiatric inhibitions for the emotive outbursts now identified as the Christian response to worship? Faith cannot be reduced to how you feel… how you act, who (and what) you are, what you do—these are the measures of faith found in the New Testament: “[Jesus] is the vine, [we] are the branches. Those who abide in [Him] and [He] in them will bear much fruit, because apart from [Him] [we] can do nothing” (John 15:5 NRSV).[2]

[1] It is worth noting that other ancient manuscripts lack “you will”—reading instead, “if you love me, keep my commandments”. While the textual variant does not significantly alter the reading of the text, the emphasis shifts: the former can be articulated as a sign of the love one has; if you truly love Jesus then you will display that love by keeping His commandments. The latter can be articulated as a condition; in order to love Christ, you must keep His commandments.

[2] Cf. Matthew 7:15-20

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One comment

  1. Some Positive Possibilities · October 28, 2016

    This is rough stuff. Traditionally I think what you’re searching for is not the Martyr but the Saint, the one who lives by faith though he would rather die. Saint Paul, for instance. I think Chesterton describes Saint Francis as one who keeps throwing himself into situations in which he might die for his faith but can never manage to be killed for his faith. This is at once humorous when Chesterton says it and extremely serious in a host of ways. I also think of Kiekegaard, both in what he writes specifically of Abraham and Faith, but also what he writes in general and how he lived. So I don’t think that what you are looking for is completely missing in the church – but there is another side.

    The other side is that the contemporary Protestant Church (of which I am a part, generally speaking) is systematically letting people down. You spoke of emotionalism. I have been reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, lately, and she talks briefly about the gradual extroversion of society and of church and how it leaves introverts out in the cold (the book is full of corroborations of things which I and most other introverts I know already knew, but still a great book). The flipside to all of this is how at least the SBC has been fostering Church Plants which are house-based (Ryan is into this, as am I), which is a significant move for a lot of reasons, and one of them is for how it helps people live in faith again, instead of live in a secular world and go to a distanced church once or twice a week.

    I appreciate your post. I know where you’re at. These are just sone similar thoughts I thought I’d share.

    Like

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