I’ve just listened to Rick and Kay Warren being interviewed at the HTB leadership conference.
I was hesitant to listen to it. I knew it would hurt. I knew it would poke me in the parts of myself that are still raw and still painful.
I was right.
It is full of the most profound reflections on pain and mental illness, on suicide, on grief; that I have ever heard. If you haven’t listened to it, I really recommend you do.
There are wonderful nuggets of wisdom – but what is most astounding to me, is that through the agony of their words and the beautiful grace of God – that which is the most painful and destructive in life will be the greatest foundation of the greatest works of God.
His words echoed through my memories to one of the hardest seasons of my life when I wanted out. When I wanted an ending more than I wanted restoration, when I wanted oblivion more than I wanted to make a difference – the chaplain of my school told me that these darkest days would be the beginning of my life’s ministry.
I didn’t believe it.
I believed, even in those days, that I had been called into some kind of christian pastoral ministry, but I didn’t believe I would ever be able to live out that calling. I didn’t believe that the agony of those days could ever come to any good.
I was wrong.
I do not claim that this calling is easy, nor do I claim that I want it 100% of the time. Sometimes, I would love to do a job which didn’t involve me opening my heart to those things that have most bruised it. What I do claim, is what an enormous privilege it is to be able to see, in this lifetime, a restoration of some of my darkness.
I quote the book of Joel a lot on this blog – but it’s the promise that I cling to and the promise that I see every day when I go to work.
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will be people be shamed.” 2:25-26
I so often felt that the years when my depression had its tightest grip had been lost to me. Not only metaphorically, but because even now I can barely remember those days through the haze of mental illness. These verses from Joel were my promise and are my reminder of why I do what I do.
And when I get weary, I turn to them and to John 10:10 which says “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Mental illness has been a thief in my life, it has stolen years and killed parts of my, left its own legacy in my heart and my mind and on my body.
But in this I have hope – God is bigger than the thief. And more than that, he restores what was lost and gives us more than we could imagine. Truth be told, this side of heaven, it is often not what we would imagine (we prefer to imagine a much easier ride, I think) but what he gives us is greater than an easy ride (however much an easy ride might tempt us). God gives Himself. On a cross. The God of Heaven and Earth, for us, as a broken and scarred young man who understands pain and understands struggle and remains with us through it all.
It isn’t easy.
But God is in it all.
So it is more than worth it.