On Monday, we looked in-depth at the unnamed man in Mark 5. Different Bible translations give different subtitles to his story, but here are a few they’ve used:
The Healing of the Demon-Possessed Man,
Jesus Restores a Man Possessed by Demons,
A Demon-Possessed Man Healed,
The Healing of a Demoniac, and my personal favorite?
When we dug into the story of the man, though, we saw that there was a lot more to the story than simply the fact that he was “demon possessed.” (If you missed Monday’s study, you can find it here.)
The story has always resonated with me, but it wasn’t until recently that I understood why. As I told both Marissa and Keisha as I worked on my posts for this series, “Sometimes you relate very closely to a character in Scripture, and then one day you realize you relate to them because you ARE them.”
In many ways, that’s how I feel about the man in Mark 5. When I read his story – of his internal struggle (whatever it looked like for him), of his isolation from the world, of the way he was misunderstood by everyone he had ever known – my heart lurches in my chest as though I were reading my own story. I would even dare say that most people with mental illness could say the same thing.
While I was only diagnosed with a clinical anxiety disorder about twelve years ago (and other diagnoses more recently), I have lived with the internal struggle of mental illness as long as I can remember.
As a child, I was constantly called “too sensitive” and a “worrywart” and was told not to take things so seriously. What I – and no one around me – never realized was that the things that made my life harder were not things I could simply opt out of. Being told that I should just stop being the way I was only reinforced the feeling that there was, in fact, something wrong with me…and since there was something wrong that people didn’t approve of, I learned to keep it to myself. I learned, over time, to keep everything to myself.
No one has ever put chains on my wrists and ankles, but at times, my spirit has very much been held captive – not only to the war in my own mind, but also to the expectations of the world.
I just want to be normal.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought those words.
As a child and teenager, I was very aware that I had “flaws” and was self-conscious about what everyone else saw as wrong but that I was unable to change. As an adult, I’ve learned that “normal” is a concept I really cannot understand. Can I know what normal is if I’ve never really experienced it?
And what if “normal,” for me, is….this?
So when I see Gerasene man living alone in the tombs outside the city, I get it. I wonder, even, if he might have chosen to live there even if the community hadn’t made the decision for him. I wonder if he might have become so accustomed to being misunderstood that solitude was appealing. I wonder if, given the chance, he might have chosen the same kind of life on his own.
I get that. People have made countless suggestions about what I should do: pray, of course; study what God says about “worry”; meditate; practice yoga; hypnotherapy; immunotherapy; make dietary changes and add supplements. The ideas well-meaning people have are as varied as the anxious thoughts in my own mind.
I’ve tried many of them, and some – like exercise – definitely help. Others, though, make no difference. I can’t lie. There have been many times that that has made me angry. I have felt bitter that the regular suggestions for regular people dealing with regular worry don’t work for me.
It’s hard to feel grateful about anything in life when you see it all through a lens of bitterness and anger.
Generalized anxiety disorder (with agoraphobia and social anxiety and obsessive compulsive tendencies and the whole shebang) and bipolar depression (Bipolar II, technically) have been the most relentlessly hard experiences of my life. The cycle of good days and bad days and really bad days is exhausting and frustrating and, at times, infuriating…
…but it has been along this journey that I have met Jesus and have come to know Him for Who He is.
The man Mark wrote about met Jesus because he was outside the town. Jesus never went into the village; rather, the people sent Him away. I assume, then, that had the man from the tombs lived a comfortable life among the other people, he would not have had the opportunity for his profoundly intimate experience of his Savior.
He met Jesus in his suffering. In fact, he met Him because of his suffering.
That is my story as much as it is his. The caption could read, “Jessica Is Healed.”
Except…not. Because Jesus freed the man from his mental oppression…but He has not done that for me. I have asked for normal, many times. I have run to Him, vulnerable and afraid. I have fallen at His feet and begged Him to do what only He can do.
And still, my brain isn’t “normal.” Even with psychiatric help and a doctor who’s monitoring everything to the tiniest detail, I’m still in search of normal.
For a long time, I believed for my healing…but I’ve had to start believing something else altogether. I see how Jesus went to the man in the midst of his suffering. Jesus understood. Jesus wasn’t afraid of what the people couldn’t understand, and Jesus knew who he really was even when he’d lost sight of himself.
My story isn’t any different. I no longer believe that my healing from mental illness is God’s purpose for me, so I don’t have a dramatic story to tell along those lines. The story I can tell, though, is that God – the fullness of His Spirit and His Presence – is here with me in my suffering. He hasn’t left me. He hasn’t turned away because of something too strange to understand. He hasn’t given up on me and left me for dead.
Instead, He has shown me over and over that His promises are true. He has shown me that even in terrible suffering, His plans for me are good. He has shown me that while I can’t always rely on other people or even on myself, I can always rely on His faithfulness. He has shown me that because I know what it feels like to be alone in suffering, I can go to the people and tell them what happened to me there.
Because it is here, in suffering, that I have found my Jesus. It is here, in suffering, that I have learned who He really is to me. It is here, in suffering, that I’ve come to see Him clearest…and it is here, in suffering, that I’ve come to understand how He sees me.
And while I never would have chosen this life for myself, I can say with complete honesty that yes, I am grateful for it. I really am grateful.