I have mentioned before that part of my seminary education was a summer as a chaplain at Heartland Hospital in St. Joseph, Missouri. It was probably one of the most formative summers of my life. One of the first things we did (within the first week) was choose the floor we wanted to spend the most amount of time serving. Now, when we were the chaplain on call, we had to cover the entire hospital. But, other days, we were encouraged to focus on one or two floors. So I prayed about it and chose my two floors: oncology and mental health. I chose oncology because the death of my grandfather to cancer was still fresh in my life and I thought it might be a good way to honor him and help those like him. I chose mental health because I like a challenge. I ended up spending the majority of my time serving those in the mental health unit.
We didn’t necessarily talk about God a lot, but they knew I was the chaplain. Instead, we spent time playing hands of cards, coloring, walking the floor kept behind the locked doors. And about half way through the summer, after a particularly challenging encounter with a resident, I had a brief epiphany: there wasn’t a lot of difference between me as the chaplain in the chair and the resident in the bed. We could have easily switched places. And that scared the living daylights out of me.
I have been very open and honest about my struggles with my own mental health. It took me a long time to be okay with being so open, honestly. I wanted the fact that I have depression and anxiety to remain my little secret. No one could know about my weakness. For a while I even got my anti-depressants via mail for fear of anyone finding out. I didn’t want to be labeled. I didn’t want to be pitied. I didn’t want to be singled out. I didn’t want the world to know about my brokenness. And, most importantly, I didn’t want to be shamed.
But here I am. Broken and beautiful. There are days that are better than others. I have a prescription of Zoloft that I will probably be on for the rest of my life. I have a counselor that I see at least monthly. I have a strong support system and I am no longer afraid to say “I’m not having a great day.” Because here’s the thing: I am NOT my depression. I am NOT my anxiety. My name is Jealaine. I am a baptized child of God. I am loved. I am healed. I am saved. And on those days that aren’t good days, and I mean the really really bad days when I don’t even want to drag myself out of bed, I stumble into the bathroom and stand over the sink. I turn on the water and let it run, losing myself in the sound of the splashing. And then I wash my face. And I look at myself in the mirror, trace the sign of the cross on my forehead, and give myself an affirmation. Sometimes it’s something as simple as “Jesus loves you” or “by grace you have been saved.”
And why? Because “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). I think John 3:16 is beautiful and it is probably one of the most memorized verses in the Bible. But the verse that follows is so crucial that I believe it should be memorized as well. Just listen to the first part of the verse: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world….” Just think about that. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. Jesus did not come into this world to judge us.
I think one of the biggest issues we have with religion is that too many people don’t know the God we preach and teach. There are too many people who think the God that loves us is instead this omnipotent over-Lord puppet like figure. Too many people think that God sits on high in some kind of throne pointing and condemning. And you know what? Maybe those people are right. But every bit of faith I have, every bit of forgiveness I have received, every bit of grace that has been bestowed on me that I did not deserve tells me differently. To believe in something you can’t see is hard, I get it. But once you start living your life as if it matters, as if Christ really does care for you and love you, as if you really ARE forgiven, you may start to wonder how or why anyone believes any other way.
We’re always looking for a catch though, aren’t we? If you were to go home and open your Bibles to this verse, there will be no asterisk. The Bible doesn’t say “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world except for you” and if your Bible says this, get rid of it, let me know, and I’ll get you another one. The only people who will condemn us in this world is the fellow sinners around us and that person in the mirror. And if you’re anything like me, the person in the mirror convicts and condemns me the most. The depression can get so strong sometimes that it’s as if I have pure evil in my head.
I have a tape that replays over and over that says things like “you’re not good enough” or “you’ll never be enough.” When she’s feeling really snarky, my depression will say things like “of course you can’t do that…you’ll never be able to do that” or “what did you expect? You’ve always been a loser.” And my depression does a fine job of condemning me and that is where I have to lean on Christ. That’s why I remind myself of my baptism. That’s why I remind her (my depression) that she will never, ever, ultimately win. Sometimes I talk back to her.
If we are people led by the Holy Spirit; if we are people of the resurrection; if we are people who really believe that water washes away sin and a feast is nothing but bread and wine, we must (not should) work so that anyone and everyone who will listen will start to hear us and believe them when we tell them that this Jesus fellow isn’t a savior who condemns. This Jesus guy isn’t a guy who has come to judge. This Jesus guy isn’t here to point fingers and shame. Jesus has come so that we can have life. Jesus came so that we may be saved. And here’s the thing, friends, if we just start with ourselves,that will be enough. If we just start with believing it ourselves, that will be enough.
So, empowered by the Holy Spirit, I invite you to repeat after me. I am not broken (pause) I am beautiful. I am not broken, I am beautiful. I am loved. I have not been forgotten, I have been saved. I was worth dying for. I am enough. I am enough. I am enough.