Pursuing Humility in Mental Health Recovery

The moment I realized I could not escape mental sufferings through an excess of faith, I broke.

I was certain I could shake off my depression with strategic applications of God’s Word, worksheets, and reading. I had poured every faith-filled trick out of my bucket. Doused my depression in every bleach I could think of. Fighting hard to hurry my healing left me reeling in defeat. Not only did the fog linger, it settled into my spirit so deeply, I spent weeks imagining ways to die.

I became so hopeless about the Word’s inability to offer a speedy recovery, I stopped opening the Bible altogether. I didn’t want God’s comforts or promises. I wanted to be "normal"–and it wasn't happening quickly enough. Finally, I dug my feet into dangerous sands: either complete recovery or nothing at all. I didn't know it at the time, but such were the subconscious terms I had adopted in my approach to mental health recovery.

All or nothing. And it was tearing my soul asunder.
It's not that we don't want to grow and change and become more like Christ. It's just that we have a normal aversion to painful things.
– Charles Hodges, Good Mood, Bad Mood
The Role of Humility in Mental Health Recovery
Years later, I can recognize the biggest stumbling block to my recovery progress was spiritual pride. While it is entirely appropriate to address mental health issues with careful biblical wisdom, it’s not appropriate to turn recovery into an idol. By God’s mercy, I now see how recovery idolatry was literally escorting me to an early grave. It was one of the major reasons I became so hopeless for tangible change (Habakkuk 2:18).

Searching for relief at all cost–to the point where life is not worth living unless it comes quickly–is quite possibly the most life-threatening posture someone struggling with severe depression can take.

I was convinced my gifts and talents and abilities would be enough to concoct a remedy for my sorrows. But I had turned a blind eye to God’s work in my trial (2 Corinthians 1:9). Traversing the Great Despond was not meant to teach me Bible-based self-help techniques. As time passed, I discovered it offered the redemptive benefit of learning true humility while suffering. Even in the darkness, I was to listen to God’s Word (Deuteronomy 8:2), to embrace its exhortations and rebukes (Hebrews 12:10-11), and to practice responding to my sorrows in Christ-honoring ways (Ephesians 4:21-24).

All of this, whether it made a direct impact on my depression or not (Psalm 126:5).

Pursuing humility in mental anguish is not a natural reflex, but it was one of Christ’s most awe-inspiring displays of humanity (Luke 22:42-44). Behold the Man, mocked and scorned, shrouded in bloody humility (John 19:5)! He stood there half-dead, knowing our greatest need in life required his broken body to be pierced on a tree. His humble obedience through unjust suffering, painful torture, and death by crucifixion on a Roman cross is not only something to commemorate on Good Friday. The Lamb of God fully entrusted his suffering to God’s will so he could help us to do the same (Philippians 2:8, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 5:10). 
If we are to experience peace in our souls in times of adversity, we must come to a place where we truly believe that God's ways are simply beyond us and stop asking Him why or even trying to determine it ourselves.
– Jerry Bridges, Trusting God
Understanding Our Circle of Responsibility
Mental health issues can be a confusing, complicated mess of physical and spiritual manifestations. One important way to pursue humility in the recovery process is to faithfully respond to the responsibilities we’ve been given, and completely surrender the ones belonging strictly to God.

For instance, we may experience physical symptoms such as insomnia, panic attacks, tremors, brain fog, or memory problems. While a doctor may be able to help manage our symptoms through prescription medication, we are not responsible for opening up our brains to treat the issue directly. We can seek treatment, but we can’t force it to produce the desired effect. The results belong  to God. He may not alleviate the problem quickly, or even at all. God gets to decide how, when, and why he heals our bodies, and we get to choose if we will humble ourselves to his divine wisdom (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22).

Our circle of responsibility does include remaining biblically-oriented during recovery. We don’t know if God’s will for us is immediate mental relief, but we do know his goal is always our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Motivated by God’s abundant love for us (1 John 3:1), we learn obedience as we remain humble in our suffering–just as Christ did (Hebrews 5:8). The purpose of humble obedience is not to feed the futile demands of recovery idolatry–it is to submit to God’s sovereignty because we worship him more than our recovery goals (1 Peter 5:6). Worshipping the Prince of Peace–our Wonderful Counselor–is what gives us realistic hope for meaningful change in God’s timing (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 51:3). 
And while Scripture certainly does not prohibit seeking relief and solutions in the midst of suffering, it majors on highlighting God's presence and consolation in the midst of suffering, and at times speaks of the redemption God is bringing in the midst of suffering.
– Michael R. Emlet
Taking Humble Steps Towards Hope
In his book, Good Mood: Bad Mood, Dr. Charles Hodges recalls treating a patient who had stalled in her recovery from depression. It became clear to Dr. Hodges that the woman had been idolizing her burden relief, and the consequences were wreaking havoc in her life. After a period of biblical counseling sessions, she agreed to embrace a new motivation for living:

I want to glorify God with my life more than I want to breathe.

This statement sounds dramatic–but slaying false idols requires such explicit declarations. By embracing such a  statement in mental health recovery, we sever ties with the false gods stalling our progress (Jonah 2:8). Desiring recovery is not a bad thing unless it becomes an ultimate thing–then it evolves into a slippery slope of self-destruction. Idolizing recovery at the cost of resolve is ultimately a harm to our weary souls (Proverbs 29:23).

After some time had passed, and the Lord blessed me with perspective, I remember saying, "God, I know what I can and can't do. I'm going to commit to practice what I know you ask of me, and leave the rest entirely up to you." So what do we know we can do? Pursue wise counsel. Pray and seek. Care for our bodies. Schedule doctors appointments. Eat Well. Weep and mourn. Abide in Christ. Rest well. Remain in fellowship. Worship. Love people. Exercise. Confess and repent of sins. We really can gradually learn to respond humbly to our mental burdens while waiting on the Lord for relief (Isaiah 41:3). And for everything beyond our circle of responsibility: we trust his grace will sustain what his providence designs for our ultimate good (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, Romans 8:28). 
Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart: Promises of Renewal, Hope, and Change for Overwhelmed Moms, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. 
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