How many of you rely on your faith for strength and courage as a caregiver, as an individual living in this stressful world, or as someone suffering from a mental health condition? For many people, their faith is the only thing they have to hold onto.
Faith has been defined as a strong or unshakable belief, allegiance to a person or duty, and “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). It is something that you hope for, although you cannot see it at this time. It is something that lies deep within us to push us forward when all else seems to be slipping through our fingers. It is an invisible chain that holds the weakest link in place. It’s something many people have trouble understanding, relating to, and believing. One reason is because many faith-related stories seem unreliable, unrealistic, religious, and unnatural. But I find that this has more to do with the messenger than the story itself.
I’ve learned over the years to embrace faith stories with not only an open heart, but inquisitive mind. The questions I ask myself are: “How does this relate to me?” “Could I walk away with something greater than I thought after listening to this faith-based story?” “How are you feeling just listening to this story or reading this scripture verse?” “Do you feel relieved, renewed, empowered?” Each time I ask these questions I walk away with something more beautiful than words can express. Focusing on a client’s faith or questions of life is one of the most rewarding experiences for me in therapy. It’s a part of my existential orientation as a therapist. It yields wonderful results at the end of each session and offers the client hope for the future.
Using pieces of philosophy, faith, and existential principles has been a very powerful tool for certain clients, especially those suffering as family members of a loved one with a severe or untreated mental illness or clients contemplating suicide and suffering from debilitating depression and anxiety. One suicidal client once said to me “no one can relate to me because they view suicide as a weakness, as a flaw of character. Why can’t they see it’s a natural alternative for human beings who feel trapped?!” I concurred. So many clients, friends, family members, and even professionals say “I would never think of suicide. That’s just not me, I love life.” Many teens adjudicated delinquent or living a very fast life have expressed to me that “suicide is a sissy way out; I would rather commit a crime or harm someone else before I harm myself.” These are interesting statements that take on a disturbing nature. Both of these statements lack insight into reality and into what could become reality for many of us when we’re pushed against a wall.
A client of one of my former colleagues, who had managed to hide her crippling depression for years, finally revealed that she had been contemplating suicide for decades. At the age of 59, she had come to what she refers to as a dead-end street. She didn’t see where her life was going, she regretted decisions she had made, and didn’t see what she could gain from all the pain, abandonment, and chaos her life had endured. To make matters worse, she is a caregiver to her husband of 35yrs who is suffering from schizophrenia and substance abuse.
Not knowing how to help my colleague manage this situation, I explained the faith-based story of Elijah from the book of 1Kings in chapter 19. Whether you believe in faith and God or not, this story has a way of relating to many of us. Allow me to share the faith-based story of Elijah with you.
Elijah was an interesting figure who looked nothing like a devout religious man. In fact, he could almost pass for a hippy. Picture it. He wore clothing made of sheep hair, a leather belt around his waist, and high boots. He was also described by those who opposed him as “a hairy man wearing a leather belt” (2 Kings chapter 1, verse 8). He was rather hip in his day.
Elijah experienced many days of tyranny as a result of the condition of his fellow citizens. Many engaged in oppositional behaviors toward people they did not agree with and others engaged in strict idolatry (worshipping material wealth and things that could not offer any real healing during times of need). During this time, Elijah had two very strong enemies by the names of Ahab and Jezebel, a husband and wife duo. Both were very much against Elijah because he held different views from them. As a result, Jezebel sent a man to report to Elijah that she had plans to take his life by a specific time.
After receiving the news, Elijah came to a point where he became fearful and uncertain about his future, about his level of strength, about his influence on the lives of others, and his ability to endure. So he ran away into another town. While attempting so badly to escape his current dilemma, he stopped to take a break under a tree, prayed that he might die, and fell asleep. Not only was Elijah exhausted by the multiple battles that he had to endure, but he also wanted to die. He was suicidal, hopeless, and feeling helpless. In every town that Elijah visited he helped someone with something. He was a caregiver, a miracle worker, a spiritual guide. He cared about the wellbeing of others and wanted only to help them. His efforts went unappreciated, ignored, and even condemned. Elijah had had enough. He was tired.
Can you relate to Elijah? I can. Many can.
The beautiful part about this story is that although Elijah felt ignored, unloved, and unappreciated, he found the strength to go on. He had to pull over, reassess, and listen for his faith. He found the very thing he needed to push him forward and to keep his light burning strong. He got up from under this tree, ate, and went on to the next place where fate met his destiny.
Is this you today? Are you tired, discouraged, or depressed? Are you having trouble finding an ounce of purpose or reason for why you should continue to live, to give, to love? It’s okay, you’re not alone. Take time to drop it all, walk away, and reassess. The 15min or 20mins, days, weeks, or even months you take to reassess, could be the start of a beautiful new chapter.
I wish you well