Bipolar Life-Don’t Give Me that ‘Pray More’ Advice

I love my conversations with God.

So before I begin, let’s get that straight. I talk to God like he’s sitting next to me on the couch, enjoying a cup of sweet tea (yes, sweet tea). I know he wouldn’t be opposed to a glass of wine if the occasion called for it, actually, he’d probably make it for me! I talk about everything, EVERYTHING. My relationship with God has no boundaries and I do not have to hold back. There is no formality in my prayer life. I cannot speak to God in regimented, line by line form. It would be fake and God desires more from me.

There are good-hearted people in this world who believe prayer will fix it all. However, there are misinformed people in this world who fail to understand God may not answer prayer the way we ask, and that leaves open-ended issues. Dealing with mental illness for most of my life, and being a Christian for over half my life, I can confirm prayers do go unanswered and prayer has never instantly cured this broken mind. While it is imperative to have a strong prayer life, it is unnecessary to look at anyone suffering with a mental illness and say to them, “Pray more..” or”..you just need more faith..” How dare the person with such audacity in saying this. Do you walk up to a cancer patient and say these things? Have you visited a diabetic patient in the hospital and told them they need more faith? No. You do not.

Yet when it comes to mental illness, aka brain chemistry malfunction, it is acceptable to put this pressure on a person. I have more faith than most people in my life, and I suffer the ups and downs of Bipolar Disorder. I talk to God all day long, write to God, sing to God! Do not tell me to have more faith or pray more. Please. You better take a step back and face the mirror for that preaching moment.

It is true that depression pulls me away at times. The darkness consumes me and draws my prayers in a different direction. Have you ever read the Psalms of King David? His prayer life was drastically situational.

Psalm 13:1-3
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

and 5-6

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

David knew how to lay it out there. Where are you, God? Then, ending with praise, to show no matter how broken he was, he still honored and loved God.

Mental illness diagnosis tend to beat us up, especially in the church environment. It took me years to accept I have this condition for life. Like the cancer patient, I will be healed on one side of heaven or the other, but one day, I will be healed. Until that day, I found peace in Jesus. He helps me through the depression that derails me temporarily. Jesus lays here with me when anxiety creates chest pain and insomnia. He talks me through the speeding mania.

We all could use more depth in our prayer life. We all stumble in faith. This is not a mental health anecdote, it’s a life one. Every faithful Christian has trust issues, obedience fails, lack of spiritual motivation. So let us not pretend that the great tragedy of a mental illness patient is their lack of prayer and faith. Do not support friends or family by telling them to pray more. There is no support in that, rather it questions them in a judgemental way that could turn them off completely.

The truth is when hit with storms of mental illness, and the storms do come, most believers struggle to even get out of bed. We fight to communicate with ourself. Inevitably, we will struggle to communicate with God. But our inability to feel better is not a direct result of some missing prayers or lack of faith. It takes time to heal the mind. The road to healing can be slow, just like when you heal from the flu and cough for weeks or months. This is reality. As we begin to feel better, we have more energy and stamina and return to our personal norm a little more each week. We get there through our customized routines, medications, counseling, and yep, you guessed it, prayer and faith.

Be mindful of how you love and support those dealing with ANY illness, but when the illness specifically affects the mechanisms of the brain, it is smart to be sensitive and understanding. In mental illness, the brain is broken. You do not tell someone with a broken leg to go run a mile and they’ll feel better. Give it time.

Be patient.

Be kind.

Please, whatever you do, be present.

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