Faith and Mental Illness

“You Don’t Pray Enough”: Mental Illness and, Supposedly, a Lack of Faith

I can’t say I am such a religious person, or perhaps people think I am: I go to church thrice a week (as mandated by our church doctrine), I read the Bible, I talk about God with my friends, and visit church people to ask for pieces of advice. In fact, my interest in church matters are more than what other people deem for themselves as “necessary”: I know my Bible and church history, some snippets of theology, and a personal inclination towards learning Hebrew and Greek to further my knowledge of Biblical contexts. In this course of things, I may be considered “religious”, if not, “filled with faith.” And that I am supposed to not have any problems of my own as it is mostly expected that I could “pray my troubles away”.

But such is not the case.

You see, I have Bipolar Disorder. I have Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Thus being said, it might be somewhat a mouthful to reiterate how much I should explain my condition to those who might be curious enough to ask, especially so that I ought to be “prayerful”, “spiritual”, “churched”; that I am constantly fine because I have this line to heaven through frequenting religious services and listening to our preachers storm heaven with prayers for the beneficence of the congregation. Therefore, I am supposed to be fine in all aspects.

Supposed.

In the midst of all these, the Bipolar still stays, the Epilepsy still all encompassing; and alongside such would be the first impulse that I should allegedly run to is the comfort of prayer. Why not? I am bound to being that faithful servant of the Lord whose foremost recourse would be to turn to Him in times of tribulation. Mind you:–I DO turn to the Lord in my supplications, for then again, it is God who heals (to which I do not have any contention at all).

But here’s the thing: the mental and neurological illness does not “go away” with a sudden influx of prayers. The presence of my condition looms over me, decapitates me in a way, strangles me as though in a noose whereupon I might desire to take my own life. Yet I continue praying (even if I have to force myself, especially when my condition grows worse), mumbling to the Lord all those pleas for Him to make me well.

Does it mean I don’t pray enough just because it does not go away?

Such is the common misconception, as far as I know, among believers who uphold that prayer can solve anything. Then again, I do not wish to counter that—I do also have that firm belief as they do. However, pressuring people with mental health concerns to “pray more” makes faith more of a burden than a means for relief: there is this kind of implicit imperative to constantly barrage God in His infinite mercy in order to receive that much-awaited redemption from mental suffering. In this case, prayer serves not as consolation but as an imposition, something that is force-fed on someone who’s struggling even to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The end result is more confusion, or worse, an eventual reluctance to pray because it seems as though enough is never enough. That the faith exemplified by someone who prays is not that sufficient for God to look down from heaven and have mercy on this poor person with bipolar disorder. Does this mean that the suffering this person has is something to be looked down upon because he/she has not placed that much effort in his faith or prayers?

In this line of thought, we look back to St. Paul who, in his desire to let his illness dissipate, pleaded to God fervently to heal him. But what did God do or say? Did he send an angel to relieve him of his travails? St. Paul himself recounts his ordeal in one of his letters to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:6-10, DRC):

For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or any thing he heareth from me. And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful.

Glory in infirmities! The apostle himself, a holy man of God and an exemplar of faith, naturally, pleaded for his pains to be undone. But nay did God consent; so was the apostle lacking in faith nor were his prayers insufficient? Regardless of whatever theological interpretation this may hold is out of the question, but rather the fact that even people who pray more than expected (as they are holy in themselves) are not exempted from the realities of illness. Much more to those whose mental illness drains the life out of them!

In this light, it is not that of saying that God is sadistic for letting St Paul bear the brunt of his health problems, or that He seemingly ignores the prayerful cries of anyone just because “they don’t pray enough” or that they “lack faith.” It might be the Lord’s way of telling us that sickness can be a form of mortification for the salvation of other souls, or that for anyone not to boast in terms of their spiritual lives. There are various reasons as to why God does what He does. And it is not because you don’t pray enough.

Choleric-melancholic, blogger, teacher, mental health advocate, book lover.

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