When you have bipolar behavior related to bipolar disorder, everyday life can feel like living on a rollercoaster over which you have zero control. Psychiatrists will prescribe mood stabilizers and recommend secular counseling, but for Christians, trusting in God throughout the healing journey can be vital to recovery.
That’s especially true if you’re facing both the challenges of bipolar disorder and being in Christian ministry. There’s hope to be found when you work with a Christian Counselor to develop better coping strategies and deepen your dependence on God. But there are additional challenges you may face when you’re in ministry, such as fearing the reaction of others or feeling that you shouldn’t need counseling and are somehow failing God.
In this article, we’ll be busting some myths about mental illness and ministry, and looking at how you can find hope and healing when you open yourself up to the help available from Christian counselors.
Being in Ministry With Bipolar Behavior — Busting Some Myths
Alex knelt on the floor in the empty sanctuary of the church he’d been pastoring for the past five years. His world was crumbling, and the only thing that he knew to do was to cry out to God in his desperation. The news had just broken that another pastor, a man that Alex both looked up to and called a friend, had taken his life after a lifelong battle with bipolar disorder.
The news was a shock to many people, but for Alex, it was a stark reminder of his own fragile grasp on life. No one, except his wife, knew that a mere two months ago Alex had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He didn’t want anyone to know, although he knew he couldn’t keep it a secret forever. He was afraid that he would be asked to resign his position and that he would let down both his congregation and God.
Being Bipolar Means I’m Letting God Down — I Should Be in Control of My Emotions!
It’s actually impossible to let God down since you’re not the one holding Him up! Witty comebacks aside, there are actually two problems with this assumption. The first is thinking that having bipolar disorder equals failing God in some way. The second is thinking that anyone is ever fully in control of their emotions.
The symptoms of mania and depression do not constitute evidence that you’re failing God. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, and He knew everything about your past and future when He called you into ministry. You only have to look at Psalm 139 to see that:
O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness, I cannot hide from you. To you, the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. – Psalm 139:1-16
Your emotional struggles are neither a disqualification nor a disappointment in the eyes of God. What’s more, being in ministry doesn’t elevate you to some kind of super-human position where you’re expected to be entirely unaffected by emotions.
Being a pastor, youth worker or worship leader doesn’t make you any less human and humans are sentient beings, designed to feel emotions. Bipolar may make your emotions more extreme than other people’s, but that’s not something you should ever feel ashamed of.
I Should Be Able to Pray Away My Mental Illness — Taking Medication and Having Counseling Means I’m Not Depending On God Enough.
Would you tell one of your congregation that they should be able to “pray away” their cancer or epilepsy? Do you think that someone with cancer who goes for chemotherapy is not depending on God enough? No, of course not! The stigma of mental illness is something that has no place in the modern world, and yet somehow, it still remains.
There’s no reason why you can’t pray and ask God to take away your bipolar disorder. After all, the apostle Paul prayed three times for the Lord to take away his “thorn in the flesh” (Romans 12). However, you’ll know that God didn’t take away Paul’s thorn, so don’t be disappointed if He declines your request, too.
Consider this: if Paul’s thorn in the flesh was actually beneficial to his ministry (e.g. it kept him from becoming prideful), then perhaps God wants to use your bipolar disorder to benefit your ministry, too.
There is, of course, a difference between asking God to take it away and believing that you should be able to “pray away” bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. The very idea of “praying it away” can be dangerous, especially if it keeps you from getting professional help. When bipolar disorder goes untreated, it can lead to worsening symptoms, financial difficulties, risk-taking behavior, and suicidal impulses, to name just a few.
Let’s be clear: seeking treatment for mental illness DOES NOT mean that you’re not depending on God enough. That’s as ludicrous as telling someone who’s just been hit by a car that they’re not depending on God enough when they’re being rushed by ambulance to the emergency room.
Alex swallowed hard as he stepped up to the pulpit. His heart was hammering in his chest and his palms were slick with sweat. His gaze flicked towards the front row where his wife, Lucy, was sat, smiling encouragingly at him.
“I’ll get to this morning’s message in a few minutes,” Alex said, placing his Bible down and taking a sip of water. “First, there’s something I need to share with you. You may have heard the news about the pastor who took his own life last week. He had bipolar disorder, and he’d chosen to shun the medical help that was being offered to him.
“It’s a tragic situation for the church of Christ as a whole, but it’s struck me particularly hard not only because he was my friend, but because I, too, have bipolar disorder. I was afraid to tell people, and I was ashamed, but my friend’s death has taught me that there’s nothing worse than suffering alone in the darkness.
“I’m trusting that God has a plan and a purpose in my illness, but I’m also getting the help I need to manage the condition. I just wanted you all – as my beloved church family – to know, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions at the end of the service.”
Later that day, Alex’s phone kept pinging with incoming texts of support from his congregation. People were opening up about their own struggles with mental health, and Alex realized that God was going to use his affliction to benefit his ministry, by making his church a place where mental health could be talked about openly and honestly, where stigma could be broken down and hurting hearts healed.
Christian Counseling for Bipolar Disorder
Medication such as mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotics play an important role in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but counseling is vitally important, too. Secular counseling can teach you healthier coping mechanisms, but it’s when a counselor helps you trust in God during the healing journey that counseling becomes more transformative.
Christian counseling involves the methods that many secular counselors use, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, but brings in a biblical perspective that can be particularly helpful for managing the symptoms of bipolar depression. For example, your Christian counselor can help you to focus on God’s love for you and your identity in Christ when you are experiencing negative thoughts and feelings about yourself or your situation.
When you’re partnering with God and a Christian counselor in your healing journey, it is easier to find hope because the Holy Spirit is able to bring insights, wisdom, and comfort in ways that human counselors simply cannot.
Your Christian counselor may work with you on seeking out Bible passages that can counteract unhelpful thoughts and feelings, or help you to find new ways to spend time with God that is focused on your mental health rather than on your ministry.
If you’re in ministry and you’re struggling with your mental health, seek the help of an experienced Christian counselor to support you on your journey of recovery.
“Freaking Out”, Courtesy of Camila Quintero, Franco, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mental Health Matters”, Courtesy of Matthew Ball, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions and Breakfast”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Medication”, Courtesy of Myriam Zilles, Unsplash.com, CC0 License