The following is an excerpt from Darkness Is My Only Companion by Kathryn Greene-McCreight.
I find that many people think of God as a self-help device we can use to improve our personality. To help us quit smoking, drinking, overeating. To help us be nicer people so we can stand to live in our own skin. To help us win more friends and influence more people. Or maybe even to be more affluent.
The drive to improve ourselves, personality included, motivates much religion in America. Many of us Christians are functional atheists, even though we may be quite pious indeed. We often can’t imagine how our religion would require anything of us that would not be directed solely to our own betterment. Even working toward justice and peace can sometimes be a veiled attempt to make us feel less unacceptable to ourselves, easier to live with.
But if God is really the God of the Bible, then he demands our worship and obedience despite how we feel about it, or about ourselves, or others.
Of course, it is always pleasant to feel good. And it would be especially nice not to go through life wanting to end it. But even this doesn’t separate us from God. Even wanting to return the gift of life does not damn us. “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Even before we make the slightest move out of our sloth to reach out to God this is true. The hard part when one is mentally ill can be choosing life. It is ever that, though, which is demanded of us. This is the hard part. How we feel does not change anything objectively about our life before God.
What will allow for our survival is not how we feel but what we remember, what God did for us and does for us. The Baʽal Shem Tov (1698–1760, founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism) once said, “Exile is caused by forgetfulness, and the secret of redemption is memory.” I must remember, even if I don’t feel it, that I am part of a people of faith, of hope, of love. I cannot doubt or question that memory, even though all evidence would lead me to conclude that I never really did trust, never really did hope, never really did love.
I may feel like a hypocrite now for even pretending to pray. But how I feel, after all, is not that important. If I can do nothing else, I must simply remember that I am a part of the community of faith, the body of Christ, that I was once able to participate in the praises of Israel. “Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God” (Ps. 42:7).