God’s Presence in Suffering
In light of the plight in the world of mental health, both at Harvard and abroad, the staff of the Harvard Ichthus wants to offer a three-point reflection from a Christian perspective. To be clear, this is not by any means a “solve” for mental health issues. It is, rather, a reflection on who we are as children of God, and how that Gospel message might impact our experience of emotional anguish, mental suffering, and crises of self-image.
Our prayer is that, through the grace and power of God’s most Holy Spirit, this reflection may be of use or comfort to our readers here at school or abroad. This, our third reflection on the topic, is called, “God’s Presence in Suffering.”
While we may have comfort in God’s endless love for us, and while we may be strengthened by the Christian exhortation to healthy self-love because of God’s love for us, the uncomfortable truth is that neither of these are necessarily a salve for worldly mental health concerns. Mental health disorders are not always only spiritual or emotional realities. Rather, they are often embodied realities, the physical consequences of chemical imbalances in our material being. As such, devoted Christians are no less susceptible to these conditions than people of other faiths or of none.
The cycle of prayer, worship, scriptural reflection, and daily devotion is not rendered a failure by the presence of mental illness. Mental health concerns are hardly incompatible with a vigorous Christian life. Therefore, seeking help for mental health issues beyond traditional religious boundaries should not be a source of shame or anxiety. Indeed, God’s all-pervading Spirit can surely work through therapy and medical treatment just as God’s Spirit can work through prayer and worship. As such, we invite our brothers, sisters, and siblings struggling with mental health issues on campus to consult Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services. CAMHS sponsors a variety of programs to help students in our community, and we commend them to you.
While the Christian life cannot promise a complete fix to mental health issues or an end to suffering in this life, we have a profound hope as followers of Jesus. We have hope in the endless love God has for us. We have hope in the power of that love to invite us into loving relationship with ourselves. We have hope in the resurrection and restoration of humanity to blessedness by the Passion of Christ, to be enacted in the fullness of God’s time.
And finally, we have hope in God’s steadfast presence to us, here and now, even as we experience the very worst of mental anguish.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Hear the words of Christ to His disciples at the conclusion of the Gospel According to Matthew. Remember that the Jesus who spoke (and speaks) these words has known the fullness of human life and the depth of human suffering. He has experienced the tumult of a refugee childhood, undergone a relentless deluge of ridicule and persecution, wallowed in the loneliness of the Garden of Gethsemane, and suffered a humiliating and torturous death at the hands of the very people He longs to heal. Christ is with us as someone who knows intimately what it means to hurt. Christ is with us as someone who knows intimately what it means to feel utterly alone.
As we navigate the frightening world of mental health concerns, we are not promised an easy fix or a speedy recovery. Indeed, we can expect our struggles with mental health issues to continue well past college into adulthood. But as Christians, we know that as we suffer, the God who became human for our sake suffers with us. And we know that God will not abandon us to suffer our darkness by ourselves. God is and will continue to be present to us in our pain, as God leads ever more deeply into the great abyss of Divine Love, until at last we enter into the fullness of the Kingdom, and see our Lord face to face. Then, when all has become new, we will see the very countenance of the Peace of all Peace, who will beckon our restless hearts into a rest eternal and a paradise indescribable.
But, until then, as we trudge along life’s beautiful but frightening path, all we can do is pray to our savior who will always hasten to us and who will never let us go.
Blessed Jesus, Only and Everlasting
Son of our Father in Heaven,
Calmer of Storms
Healer of Bodies
Lover of Souls
Savior of the World:
Hear the cries of your beloved
children who suffer the darkness
of mental anguish and affliction.
Be near to us in our distress.
Let your angels surround us
and let your peace enfold us.
Help us to know, by the Grace
of your most Holy Spirit,
that we are precious to you
and loved infinitely as we are.
Move within us and invite us
to see ourselves as you do,
gently beckoning us to a
compassionate love of self
befitting your Good News.
Finally, Lord Christ, we
beseech you to suffer with us,
to bear your cross of love
as we bear our burdens
and confront our darkness.
For it is by your cross
that we are reconciled,
and it is by your wounds
that we are healed.
It is by your love
that we are sustained,
and it is by your death
that we are raised to abundant life.
Thank you, Jesus, for your Presence.
Thank you, Jesus, for your Sacrifice.
Be near to us and make speed to save us.
By The Ichthus Staff