Several years ago, I went to a retreat for mothers with children who have mental illness at Saddleback Church’s retreat center. Rick and Kay Warren, Saddleback’s founders and senior pastors, know the struggle of parents who have a child with mental illness in an intimate and devastating way. Their son struggled for many years before the illness took his life.
Kay Warren, who led the retreat, told a story about having a dark, no-sleep night. She went downstairs to the office and looked up all the references to dark or darkness in the Bible. She found 25 pages of them in Psalms alone. When she read this passage, she felt the Lord speaking to her.
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” Isaiah 45:3 (NRSV)
This verse has haunted me since. Is it possible that those of us who love someone with mental illness can find treasures of darkness? I studied the verse more, and it gave me even more comfort.
The verse is part of a prophecy, 210 years before the fact, about Cyrus, who defeated Babylon and was instrumental in allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. God is talking about treasures of gold and silver that had been buried underground in Babylon.
So more than 200 years later, someone showed the book of Isaiah to Cyrus. He saw his own name and his actions predicted in it. Cyrus understood that his victory and these buried treasures came to him because of the Hebrew God. He decided to release the Hebrews because of it.
Why did God do this for Cyrus? He was a pagan. Some historians of the time wrote that he was haughty and cruel. This much is implied: Cyrus may have undertaken his campaign of wars for his own motives, but God gave him great success so that the God of Israel could be glorified and the will of God regarding the captive Jews carried out. When Cyrus read the prophecy, he knew that the Lord, the God of Israel called him by name.
God has called us by name as well. As our walk is deepened with Jesus, our character is deepened. In our situation, the sorrow is too deep for us to fake a relationship with God anymore.
From the Bible we know that not everything that happens in this broken world is God’s will. Just listen to Jesus in Matthew 23:37:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
But, as with Cyrus, God can work in difficult situations. God has hidden treasures in the darkness of suffering. Each of us has to ask ourselves: Will I surrender myself to God in the darkness? Will I listen?
“These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold … and your faith is more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tired by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:7 NLT)
As we know from the Bible, every Christian experiences trouble. The question is how we respond. Sometimes we envy Christians who don’t seem to suffer much. But Scripture and observation can tell us that those Christians may not learn to depend on God in a deep way (2 Corinthians 1:9). Their faith may be shallow, and their ministry skills less developed. Pain produces love in a Christian who is filled with God’s grace.
God brings extensive blessings on those of us who suffer much. Bitter blessings, to be sure. But we learn so much about how God feels about his children. We know that God gives us joy and treasure, even in deep darkness.
During the retreat, Kay Warren pointed out that enemy of our souls wants to separate us from intimacy with God. Satan wants us to focus on our pain, disappointments, cynicism and troubles, in the night especially. He wants us to dwell on the hurt and to believe that God is not there for us.
When this happens, people run from Jesus. And some never find him. I have seen first-hand the people in our situation who rely on themselves and do not have a relationship with the Lord. It isn’t pretty.
So what is the reality of our situation? It is that our child is sick and God is present. We don’t know why or how it will all work out. We don’t know the eternal plan. If God tried to tell us about it, it would be like a person talking to an ant. It’s just not possible for the ant to understand.
We truly do not know the reality of our situation and how God is working in it. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV), “Now we see but a poor reflection; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor. 13:12 (NIV)
We do need to reject the voice of the enemy and establish even deeper intimacy with God. We can gather the buried treasures in the darkness. I think these treasures may be the thing that Jesus called “living water.” God has put it there for us so that we have what we need to survive and thrive.
Bring your grief and loss, your hopes and dreams, to Jesus in prayer. Spend as much time with Him as you can. As James writes, “Come close to God, and he will come close to you.” God is hurting with you over your loved one’s mental illness. He is inviting you to come, rest in His presence and drink the living water and other treasures of the darkness.
To be in God’s presence, we need to be accessible (or present), responsive and engaged. You can use the acronym ARE to check in on yourself. This intimacy with God will carry you, and even give you joy and peace.
God invites us to pray for healing of our loved one, but we must understand that some other plan may be operating that we don’t get to know about. Kay Warren pointed out that the focus of our intimacy with God cannot be on the health of our children. What has to carry us is our intimacy with God. Your desire for God has to be great, whether or not you are suffering. Frankly, the only way to do that is to ask for the graces and the treasure necessary.
“Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” Isaiah 50:10 (NIV)