Reading up for a sermon last week, I found the staggering statistic: 50% of people in the U.S. who suffer from depression do not seek treatment for their illness. I couldn’t help but wonder why, and I suspect it has something to do with how our culture thinks and teaches us about mental illness–that it’s not really a disease, that some people just have weaker minds or less self-control or are lazier than others. Protestant Work Ethic, baked into our American ethos, drives us to self-reliance, willpower, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.
How ridiculous it would be to expect that through force of will a person could heal herself from arthritis, measles, or allergies? In an over-medicated society, with pesticides and hormones laced throughout our food, a defense of medicine might seem redundant or even inappropriate, but I think that it’s just as dangerous to fall into a trance of invincibility and self-salvation.
Using yoga, meditation, prayer, routines, diet, and exercise to treat depression is worthy. It is brave. It is faithful. Sometimes it’s not enough. Taking medication requires a person to acknowledge that she needs it–that she is sick and suffering, and that even though she’s trying awfully hard to be healthy, there is illness from which she can’t heal herself.
It can be hard to stare your own limitations in the face, to admit that you need help, to feel like you’re taking a shortcut to wellness or to wonder if you’ve failed by not trying hard enough. The real problem, especially for middle-class and upper-middle-class people, is that we’re able to mostly live in the lie that we can solve our own problems. It’s no coincidence that when God came to earth, he spent most of his time with the homeless, the crazy, the prostitutes–people at the margins of society. These are the people who are ready to admit they can’t heal themselves. When we can’t ignore our brokenness anymore, we are ready for someone else to come and put us back together again. The vital component is admitting that there are problems–pieces of ourselves–that we can’t fix. That’s called sin. We can’t fix our own sin. We can’t cure ourselves of arthritis.
Into this mess of brokenness, darkness, and illness comes God in Jesus to bind up the broken hearted, to heal the sick and injured. Sometimes in our still-broken world today, healing looks like medication, acknowledging that our struggles are too big for us to overcome by our own diligence and energy. Medication isn’t as transforming as grace, and God is more than a drug (though, of course, Karl Marx would beg to differ), but the act of surrender in accepting a medicine is something our pill-popping society could learn to our great spiritual benefit.
Our bodies–and our souls–are incredible creations with great strength and resilience, but we are not gods, we are not invincible, nor self-reliant. When we face up to the fact that we cannot rescue ourselves but must let something outside of us reach in and shift things around for us (like medicine changes our brain chemistry, or blocks excess T-cells, or tricks our allergic reactions), we’re freed from the lies we’ve been telling ourselves–that we’re okay, that we can heal by ourselves, that we can make it on our own–and able to be the incredible creations, body & soul, which we are.
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:10
It is not weakness to reach out for help; it is true and courageous.