By Missy Roberts
Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished
When I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression during my sophomore year of high school, I remember feeling like I was not allowed to tell anyone at church, especially not my pastor or youth leader. I remember being told by a Christian counselor that all I had to do was pray and ask God to take away my suicidal thoughts and self-loathing. I remember constantly hearing, “everything happens for a reason,” and crying on the floor of my bedroom in despair, wondering what that reason was. And I remember thinking that my anxiety and depression meant that I lacked trust in God; if only I had more faith, then I would not be struggling.
But I also remember my best friend sitting by my side on my sixteenth birthday, not speaking a word but sharing red velvet cake with me. I remember my English literature teacher letting me eat lunch in her office and sob in her nonjudgmental presence. And I remember my mother laying in bed with me countless nights when anxiety over an exam or quiz robbed me of sleep. Have you ever experienced wilderness? The world’s - and yes, the church’s -stigmatization of mental illness is real, and it is damaging. We do not pray with a guarantee that our panic attacks, ruminating thoughts, and sleepless nights will go away. We cannot know the “reason” for the very real suffering and pain that mental illness causes in our lives. However, we can be comforted by the fact that we have a “high priest who is able to empathize with our weakness” (Heb. 4:15). The good news is that Jesus knows this very wilderness. I can now look back on my journey with anxiety and depression and remember Jesus traversing the wilderness - not just for me, but with me - in hunger and thirst, in full humanness. This companionship - this solidarity - is precisely what I experienced through the individuals in my life who, without a single word, showed me that I was not alone. Dear Jesus, We admit that we are carrying burdens that are too heavy to shoulder on our own. Help us to endure the pain, sit with the suffering, and tend to the tension and uncertainty knowing that we are accompanied by the one who knows them firsthand. Amen.