I want to focus o two things: firstly my own personal experience of poor mental health, and secondly I want to reflect upon our role as “resurrection people” in amongst the challenges that mental illnesses bring into the lives of people.
A few years ago I performed the funeral of a man in his 50s who committed suicide. As a parish priest I conduct quite a few funerals, but every funeral is different, and they all stick in my mind to some extent; but the funeral of that man in his 50s really affected me. If I’m honest it hit me quite hard.
As I say this particular man was only in his 50s. He took his life by throwing himself in front of a train. He left behind many, many grieving friends and family. He was popular, well loved and admired. But it wasn’t this man’s relatively young age, it wasn’t the manner of his death, nor was it the sheer number of people who were affected by his death. It wasn’t any of these things that had a strong personal impact on me. No, what had a strong impact upon me personally was why this man committed suicide.
The gentleman in question was suffering from depression. And about a month before his tragic death, I myself was sat in my doctor’s office being told that I had been diagnosed as suffering from depression.
The man in question committed suicide because his depression overwhelmed him. He suffered from depression. I suffer from depression.
I’ve never gotten to the point in even my worst spell of depression where I have felt suicidal; but I have had negative thoughts which have drained me, almost paralysed me with anxiety, and at times I have felt so useless that I have questioned whether everyone around me would be better off if I just quit trying to serve God and his people.
In the book of Ezekiel (37.1-14) there is a passage about the Spirit of God breathing life back into dry bones. The image of the dry bones; dead, useless, devoid of energy and life, this image is a good metaphor for depression. Suffering from depression makes you feel utterly worn out, you struggle to do even simple tasks because your mind is fixed on negative thoughts. You feel tired, but you don’t sleep well. You get very anxious and stressed out very easily; even over simple things which normally you wouldn’t even notice.
The image of dry bones; powerless, devoid of life, hopeless, dried up. That struck a chord with how I was feeling at my worst. On a bad day, which I do occasionally still get, that is how I feel; like dry bones.
In these words from Ezekiel we are reminded that even long dead, dry bones can be brought to life. Even the bones of the long dead can be restored, and renewed and given new flesh by the power and the grace of God.
Many people feel like dry bones:
• people suffering from depression and anxiety
• people struggling with problems with their physical or mental health
• people who face financial, personal or social problems in their lives
Many people struggle in their day to day lives in almost countless ways; these struggles can make us feel like dry, lifeless, hopeless, long dead bones.
God, in his infinite love for mankind, wants to breathe life back into all of these situations. God yearns to breathe life into every single person who struggles and suffers. To let God do this we must be willing to open ourselves to his Spirit of life and healing. This is the message that God asked Ezekiel to take to his people; this is the message that God calls us to take to people in our lives.
That is what it means to be a “resurrection people”: welcome God’s healing power into our lives, ask him to breathe life back into our dry bones, and take the message of God’s power to save and heal into the lives of people who have not yet felt his grace and salvation in their own lives.
I want to highlight the amazing, powerful, life giving power of God:
• the power that can bring life back to dry bones…
• the power which raised Lazarus; who had been dead for four days…
• the power that brought Jesus Christ himself out of his own tomb…
• the power which God offers to each of us through his life-giving Spirit.
I’ve been blessed to experience this power as I began to overcome my depression. I am so very fortunate to have a loving wife who encouraged (dragged) me to go to my doctor to begin the process of medical and psychological healing through medication and counselling. And I am so very blessed to have rediscovered God’s power to change and heal.
Through this process I have learned afresh the importance of maintaining a healthy prayer life, and of being aware of my spiritual wellbeing. I have learned afresh the importance of keeping the sabbath. The idea of the sabbath is more than just about setting aside a “special day”; the sabbath has it’s origins in the Genesis account of creation; where God demonstrated to us the importance of “time out”. We can’t just go flat out all the time; we must take rest and seek refreshment. Whether our “sabbath” is a whole day set apart each week, or if we make room for “sabbath time” every day; the important thing that I have learned the hard way is that we must make time to enjoy our life and to enjoy simply being who God created us to be.
I now take time each week to get out and enjoy being with God in His creation. I am blessed with good friends, supportive family members and caring colleagues who help me to find the time to regularly go out walking, fishing and camping. I also make sure that each day I spend at least an hour doing something which brings me a sense of refreshment or rest; be it quiet prayer time, some time to read, or even if I just take some time to watch Star Wars Rebels with my children. I have learned that I must protect and enshrine “sabbath time” to help me to remain well. And I have remained well for over three years now.
I’ve been blessed with an amazing support network, backed up with God’s presence in my life through his Holy Spirit; but others are not so fortunate to know God’s help and the blessings of friends and family in their lives.
It’s our calling, as God’s resurrection people, to bring these blessings out into God’s world. It is our calling to spread the life giving breath of God’s Spirit into the dry bones into the lives of those we meet; into our community and into the wider world.
God said to me, ‘Mortal, can these bones live?’
I answered, ‘O Lord God, you know.’
Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them:
“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and I will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Rev’d Daniel B Cooke
Rector of St Michael and All Angels Parish Church, Brimington, in the Diocese of Derby
Image Credit: Tom Sodoge
If you are in a crisis or if you’re worried about someone you know – help is available. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.