Marion's latest blog explores the comfort we can receive from the Holy Spirit in the midst of struggles with our mental health.
There’s a lot of talk about the mental health difficulties people are experiencing because of Covid-19. Lockdown has been difficult for many people. While some have sailed through, enjoying the opportunity to be with family and to take life more slowly, others have been finding it very difficult indeed.
Loneliness is a particular problem. Many are anxious and fearful about the future – about jobs, finances, housing and their health. Some are grieving because of bereavement or separation from loved ones. Anxiety, mood swings, anger, sadness, disrupted sleeping patterns, fear – all of these can cause bewilderment and distress in a time which is already difficult enough.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins had his fair share of mental health problems. In one poem he writes:
“O the mind, mind has mountains, cliffs of fall,
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.”
Highs and lows
For me, these words capture the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions which so many people are experiencing as we come out of lockdown and face so much uncertainty. There may be emotional highs and lows and our thoughts can take us to places we do not want to go. The highs might be exhilarating. The lows, as Hopkins writes, can be like falling down a sheer cliff straight into darkness and it can be very hard to climb back out. We lose perspective and get lost in our anxieties and fears, regrets and self-condemnation.
As one of our guests said to me, “I don’t like this isolation, you think about things you don’t want to think about and remember things you don’t want to remember.”
Where is God?
In the same poem, Hopkins asks:
“Comforter, where, where is your comforting?”
He cannot sense God’s presence; he feels lost and alone. Any consolation that his faith has given him in the past seems to have gone. So where is the comfort that God promises? When we are experiencing anxiety, fear and low mood in the midst of isolation and loneliness, it can be tempting to reproach ourselves for being weak Christians and even to think that God has left us.
In Romans 8:26, Paul tells us that is it precisely when we are weak that the Holy Spirit is working. “The Spirit,” he says, “helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” When our thoughts and emotions are climbing mountains and falling down cliffs, when we are wondering where God is – these words of Paul’s bring us hope. We are not left to our own devices. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is praying for us and working for us in ways we cannot understand.
Later in Romans, Paul gives a blessing. In it he builds on the message of hope that knowledge of the Spirit working on our behalf brings. Whether you yourself or someone you are caring for are struggling just now, I pray that his words will bring comfort to you.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Romans 15:13