On the night I was informed of my mother’s death I couldn’t sleep. My mind raced with thoughts at 2AM about our recent conversations, about the last time I saw her (2 years ago) and about the arrangements I anticipated making with my family once we arrived to the USA.
I started thinking about my mom’s Christian faith, and how that might be reconciled with her decision on 4 April. In her last month, her behaviour was staunchly uncharacteristic of what had been previously normative. While she had long struggled with anxiety and perfectionism, they had never challenged her assurance of faith so strongly. The Gospel had long been central to her life – the hope of everlasting reconciliation with God through the atoning work of Christ, by the work of the Spirit. She knew that the age-old question: how can a holy God dwell with unholy people? – was found in Christ.
When my sisters and I would bring boyfriends home, they were immediately grilled about their own religious beliefs – and if they weren’t clear on what she meant, she would present the gospel to them. After she met one of our boyfriends she sent me a message:
“I preached the whole gospel to him (on morning after arrival) … I really empahasized the cross and not putting any trust in our works…”
She was once terminated from her employer by talking about her faith frequently and irritating fellow employees. In a letter written to her daughters in May 2007, she wrote about her reinstatement in that position, following a change in management…
“God is amazing! Maybe you’ll remember this when you read it, today I got a call from the job I was ‘let go’ from for talking about God & my faith and they want me back, starting tomorrow! I am amazed at God’s sovereign power!…He knew that I really loved this job because of the hours & closeness to home! He is good!”
Later in that same entry she wrote:
“Girls – pursue God with everything in you!…In Christ is where we find the true joy and satisfaction.”
The Gospel was central to my mom’s life and purpose – one in which she wanted others to appreciate and love God, as she had discovered him to be the greatest treasure to be found.
I don’t share these stories to suggest that all Christians should follow my mother’s example by grilling our families’ partners or getting ourselves fired from our employers; these stories simply serve as evidence of how greatly she loved God – a love so significant she wanted others to share in this incomparable joy.
Interestingly, even within the boggy mire of her mental anguish the gospel was central to her mental state. In the depths of her anxiety and depression she believed that God had forsaken her, and that she was destined for an eternity apart from Him. Her reaction was to encourage her family to seek God. Her mind was broken, but her heart yearned for the very God she feared she had too greatly angered – and she urged her family to seek him too.
And this struggle characterised her last month with us – a battle over whether her anxiety and depression were evidence of a terrible fate, or the prequel for enduring hope. She occasionally dipped into the latter, such as the comment to me below, in late March. Even in the midst of this mire, she desired God greatly.
“…God is such a loving Father and Christ a friend that sticks closer than a brother…I’m feeling today like God can be with us in the lowest depression even…”
Recently, my husband and I began watching a series of teachings by R.C. Sproul – one of our favourite theological teachers who passed away last year. In his series on assurance, he discusses various types of people and their feelings of assurance regarding their religiosity. One group of people, he asserted, are reconciled with God – but believe that that they aren’t. These people tend to focus heavily on feelings of spirituality, and become bogged down by their imperfect spirituality. This description fit my mom perfectly at the end of her life. She was a woman who loved God intimately, desired Christ greatly, and was intimately acquainted with the Holy Spirit – yet her mental state had muddied that reality.
While God’s promises had not failed my mother, her poor mental state led her to believe they no longer applied to her. I urge readers to consider that God’s promises can be found, even when mental illness befalls. The hope is still there – even if it doesn’t feel that way. For those who feel, as my mother did, that they are far too ‘sick’ to receive God’s promises, remember this response by Christ to the Pharisees and Scribes:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”Luke 5:31-32
I wish my mother had found comfort in the truth of God’s promises, as she struggled with significant anxiety and depression. If you are struggling, or know someone close to you who is – please remember/remind them of the truth and comfort of God’s loving promises. This beautiful song puts it well:
God only knows what you’ve been through
God only knows what they say about you
God only knows how it’s killing you
But there’s a kind of love that God only knows
God only knows what you’ve been through