I was hospitalized twice for a total of 28 days in a period of 38 days for bipolar depression. When I reveal this, Christians tend to give me one of two responses: “Oh, that’s great!” What the hell? Oh, yeah, I forgot; how good of God to direct me to a safe place in his care. How careless of me to not think of that. Or a look of sympathy. Great. You’ll probably pray for me, too. Thanks.
When I was in the hospital, I had one openly Christian nurse. But the nurses are the only reason I am able to (without willful sarcasm) admit God’s presence was there. “The only.” Okay, I had great support people who visited me. I just point to the nurses because they were there 24/7. There was always a nurse to call on. To believe in God’s presence, I need to see, to sense using all my senses, the presence of God.
I am not blessed. I am like Thomas.
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20)
Thomas is my favorite of the disciples. Because he is, for lack of better words, stubborn, willful. Well, better words: not easily swayed. At the end, not even blessed. Humbled, but not blessed. Yet I don’t see him as egotistical and in need of humbling. Nor do I see him as doubtful and reticent, as most literature portrays him. He has conviction: “I will not believe.”
I don’t blame him. The disciples are presented with very different circumstances. Christ comes to them (a frightening experience, surely), and says, “Peace be with you” before he goes on to show them his scars. He quells their anxieties. Thomas doesn’t get that. He gets, no doubt, 11 ecstatic, celebratory men unable to contain themselves, shouting at him, “Christ is risen!”
Poor Thomas. How overwhelming! No peace.
I would be willful in response, too. Give me a break . . . you’re all crazy . . . this is absurd.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. (John 20)
When Christ comes back, he declares again, “Peace be with you.” That is what Thomas needs. That is a balm for anxieties and stubbornness. Peace. Only then is he ready for the truth.
The nurses showed me peace. They didn’t just walk up and shove the latest cocktail of mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants at me. They came to my room, knocked on the door frame, and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then they showed me their scars, that I might believe in healing. That is how I know God was there.
Annie Williams lives in Mount Hermon, California, is a graduate of Calvin College’s English program, and a barista at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. She hopes to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In the meantime, she enjoys the company of a talented psychiatrist, the lovely people at the pharmacy, her brilliant therapist, and an irreplaceable support group of friends and family, all of whom play inextricably important roles in her life with bipolar II. Annie writes honestly about her struggles with mental health and faith at honestmemoir.blogspot.com