It was as mad as I can ever remember getting at God.
I made a silent retreat in the mid-1980s, less than a year after my father died suddenly of a heart attack. Part of me knew that I was still grieving his loss, and I just wanted to get away for a while.
And I did end up grieving that weekend…but not so much over my father’s death. During the course of the weekend, I realized that a different wound in my soul needed some attention. I needed to grieve my big brother, too. A couple of years earlier, he’d entered a strange and ineffable phase of his life. He’d become mentally ill.
‘Bipolar disorder’ was the official diagnosis. What became clear to me over the course of that retreat was that I was royally p*ssed: I didn’t understand how God could do such a thing to the handsome, golden-haired youth I had idolized growing up. I didn’t understand why God would do it. How, exactly, did my brother’s new reality serve God’s honor and glory better than the old one? And where could I go…to get my big brother back?
In many respects, my father’s death had been easier to take. That wound seemed normal, and capable of being healed in time. My brother’s illness – in contrast – seemed a perversion. When his symptoms abated, he looked much the same…acted ‘normal’… appeared still-capable of doing worthy things with the many talents he’d been given.
But that’s the thing about mental illness: It never stays away forever. If you live with it long enough, you know the cycle will resume. The moods will swing. The scab will be ripped open all over again.
Yesterday, we learned that it’s time for us to embrace my brother’s ‘other pole’ once again. He’s been admitted to the hospital, to get his medications re-regulated. And our hearts ache for him. We pray, wondering why the Lord in His great mercy, does not lift this cross from his shoulders.
That question never seems to go away.
I do notice, though, that there’s much less anger in my heart about my brother’s condition today…than there was 30 years ago. My once crippling self-pity has been replaced with a measure of compassion, not just for my brother, but for all those people of the ‘other pole’ – all those who might seem like outliers in polite society.
And I am moved to wonder at the words I read from Eccleisastes:
Consider the work of God. Who can make straight was God has made crooked? On a good day enjoy good things, and on an evil day consider: Both the one day and the other God has made, so that no one may find the least fault with him.
Perhaps, then, God gives us the crooked things in life, to remind us that we are called to love, even when we can’t explain. We are called to forgive, and to lift each other up, always, in everything.
To those who know and love my brother, let me also say that he’s receiving excellent care…and is expected to be released from the hospital in a week or so. He is truly blessed in that regard, having access to the help he needs. Still, we’re grateful for your prayers on his behalf!
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