At the end of May, I was running a weekend-long Young Adults Retreat in the pines for Christians 18-30 years old. Between icebreakers and eating s’mores around a campfire, the lot of us attended workshops of our choice. One of the workshops I had arranged was about Mental Health and how to function, and this was a pretty popular topic.
I graduated from university last year with a Psych minor, courses in Neuroscience, and some experience as a Mental Health Ambassador at my school’s Health&Wellness Centre. And so I figured I knew at least the basics of mental illnesses. However, this topic under the light of one’s relationship with God was something I had yet to face in a group setting. Mental illness discussed in a workshop/classroom without mention of religion is something I’m much more accustomed to. I was excited for what I could learn.
I’ve heard that people can feel upset with themselves – or not good enough – because they feel negative emotions such as anxiety or depression. And sometimes these can be the cause for feeling like someone isn’t enough, because they think they don’t do enough. These people end up convincing themselves that they aren’t good Christians. They don’t pray enough. Don’t help people enough. Don’t practice patience enough. And while we all should be praying, helping people, and of course being patient – this is an impossible standard to maintain all the time.
This is especially impossible for someone who’s experiencing high levels of stress. Stress can manifest in forms such as anxiety or turn into depression where there is a lack of zest for life. Here, the ability to do things is dampened.
I was reminded that Jesus himself – son of God, a valued teacher, the only example of a life lived without sin – was human. And as such, he also felt stress. And, sure, it’s easy enough to almost roll your eyes at that idea. You might be thinking “He was God in the flesh, literally the King of all creation. How did He have problems?”. But, he didn’t descend from the sky on a golden cloud of doves and boss everyone around. He wasn’t treated as an earthly king was. Jesus was the humble son of a carpenter, was often disbelieved or disrespected. His own hometown didn’t believe he was the son of God. They had seen him grow without sin. Yet, they asked in amazement, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” Matthew 13:54.
He was also given the worst type of death sentence. He was mocked, hated, beaten, and humiliated. And if that wasn’t enough, He hung from a cross holding on by only the nails driven through his hands and his feet, a punishment given only to the worst offenders. I think of anyone, Jesus had plenty of reason to feel depression or anxiety. And He did.
The night he was arrested, Jesus knew what was to come, and he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, or in other translations, the Mount of Olives. Luke 22:44 says, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
When reading this in years prior, actually sweating blood was not something I thought this passage meant. I thought that Luke was making a comparison, something equivalent to saying someone has a “frog-like face”. You wouldn’t be saying that their face is a literal frog face, but just has qualities that are reminiscent of a frog. I also did not believe that sweating blood would be possible.
However, it is possible. Hematohidrosis is described by Biswas et al. (2003) from the the Indian Journal of Dermatology. It is a very rare condition where a person sweats blood, usually from extreme amounts of stress. “Around the sweat glands, there are multiple blood vessels in a net-like form, which constrict under the pressure of great stress. Then, as the anxiety passes, the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture and goes into the sweat glands. As the sweat glands produce a lot of sweat, they push the blood to the surface, which comes out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat” (Biswas et al. 2003). And so this passage takes on a whole new meaning.
Jesus could feel such high levels of anxiety without it being sinful. Therefore the negative feelings we have, while annoying, aren’t sinful either. It’s okay to feel stressed or down, because these feelings and thoughts are human, and they are normal. It’s also okay to not have the energy needed to get things done in a day, because God understands that we have limitations. God also knows your limitations. Like how you can’t get out of bed for at least half an hour in the morning, or how you get tired of people after 4 p.m. As I sit and try to write a daunting thesis, of course, I feel these things too.
But I have to remind myself that God didn’t make us perfect – he made us human. He’s not expecting perfection, he’s expecting humanity. What he wants is for us to try, and it’s great if we succeed, but it’s not necessary.
So what’s the main point here?
The point is: If God doesn’t hold your limitations against you, then why should you? God’s not wanting perfection. He wants you.