O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You mark out my journeys
and resting place
and are acquainted with all my ways...
For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Psalm 139, verses 1, 2, 12, &13a
For generations of Jewish and Christian believers, these
words from Psalm 139 have been deeply moving to reflect upon. We glibly say God knows us better than we know ourselves, but
in reality this is the truth. Often we don't allow ourselves to admit to the truth of our deepest fears and fantasies;
we know that the people around us sometimes see different versions of us, as we behave differently in different situations
and with different people. We hide elements of who we are, sometimes even from ourselves, and we are often shocked to discover
the things other people have hidden from us, knowingly or not.
We are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made',
surprising and disappointing ourselves in equal measure as we move through the years trying to grow into fullness of life.
Of course, this ‘fullness of life' in itself will mean different things to different people: in the context of Christ's
call to us, it means us trying to grow most completely into the person God has made us to be, accepting in the process our
faults and weaknesses that can't be changed, and honouring God and ourselves by trying to be guileless in our perception
of truth concerning ourselves.
This month we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and begin to
look again towards the promise of the gift of his Spirit as we reach Ascension-tide and Pentecost. It can be a joyful and
inspiring part of the Church's year, but, inevitably, that will depend partly at least upon how we are feeling ourselves.
Seven years ago I spent the weeks of Eastertide in the midst of despair and concern, having been diagnosed with stress and
depression and being signed off work by my doctor (ultimately for five months). I'd known for some time that I was really
struggling emotionally and mentally - and it reached a crisis point on Palm Sunday, when I set off for church and found myself
in tears, not wanting to go, not wanting to do anything, or go anywhere, before I even reached the church door. It was at
this point that I knew I must talk with my doctor as I knew I needed help and support. Thankfully, he was brilliant, and although
it was a long road to recovery, I did make good progress in time.
I was caused to reflect upon all this again
in the past few days both by the news and by the receipt of a letter from a friend. My friend has been struggling with depression
for the past four years, and wrote to me a long letter about some of what is going on for her at the moment, regarding work,
faith and her own sense of self and wellness. Then I also heard Prince Harry's frank comments about how he had struggled
for 20 years after the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
Quite rightly, such openness these days about mental
health issues is applauded - for a couple of decades or so there has been an increasing push for people to be able to be more
open and willing to understand about the fragility of mental health. It is hard to understand and empathise with what people
are feeling when they are depressed, suicidal or stressed - indeed, it's hard to understand oneself. I couldn't comprehend
how I was so brittle and fragile, and had become so unlike my ‘normal' self. I didn't want to talk with people
(and even hid a few times when I was out of the house and saw people I knew in the distance, so I didn't have to engage
with them). I couldn't face getting in the car to drive some days, or listening to the answerphone messages or opening
I didn't find it easy to pray, but I had a real sense of God's presence holing me, and of
the prayers of others holding me too. I know I was fortune - not everyone who has faith feels the same; often there's
a real sense of God's absence, or a real anger and frustration as to why God has allowed this to happen. Faith is affected
by mental health too, along with everything else. My friend who wrote to me is in a very different place regarding her relationship
with God (and his Church) to where she was four years ago. When we recover, there are often new ‘wounds' which need
to be accepted and assimilated into who and what we are now (just as Jesus bore his wounds from the cross on his Resurrected
body). Sometimes the scars don't go away.
I'm really happy that there's an increased profile about
such issues in our society these days, as ignoring them, or masking them is no answer at all. For us who, as Christians, recognise
that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made' by our Father, and redeemed by his Son, our mental health is part of
that creation and redemption, and plays its role in our growing into fullness of life. May we all learn to be better at loving
and supporting ourselves and one another through (and beyond) those times when our minds and spirits are unwell. God knows
us as we are - let us pray that we may grow in the same deep knowledge of our own truth.
With my prayers for