A pastor who is suffering from depression told me that for the first time in his adult life, “I don’t feel God’s presence”. A happily married Christian mother of several young children unexpectedly left her home in the middle of the night. After three days, a call from a police station from across the country reports that they have found her. She confused and upset with the thoughts and desires that “came over her” and are totally foreign to her. It’s easy to judge people who make mistakes - even more so when they are known for their faith life. But there is so much more going on than we can know!
I am a Christian and have been a psychiatrist for thirty years. I have seen the value of a relationship to God and a structured faith life. People with these understandings and tools have a clarity about who they are. They and those around them are able to discern more quickly when they aren’t feeling themselves. They tend to have stable support systems and daily practices permit a faster path to remission and greater resilience overall.
When You Can't Feel God's Love
Some people’s faith is shaken when unexplainably they become anxious, afraid, depressed or manic. They “can’t hear His voice” and may even question the faith that has sustained them through their lives. They begin to question God asking, “How can I feel this way? I’ve been faithful”. Many around them, unfortunately, also question how they can allow themselves to feel this way. I’ve met with pastors who, in the past, felt depression, ADHD and Bipolar Disorder were the result of a lack of faith, until personal experiences or experiences with a family member who is struggling forces them to reconsider.
You consciously sense God’s presence in your life using the connections between your conscious and subconscious mind. Much as a fish constantly enveloped in water, you aren’t really aware of all that your subconscious mind does for you. It provides you with empathic connections to everything that surrounds you. It remembers everything you have been through and takes care of thousands of decisions every second of every day of your life.
Your subconscious mind takes in all that is going on around you and provides your next thought and the next word you speak. Your subconscious mind is in a relationship with God and with all others. However, depression, mania, ADHD and anxiety, to name a few, are illnesses that distort the connections between your conscious and subconscious mind. In doing so, they also can distort your conscious connections to God and others. They can make you feel God's love is suddenly missing in your life.
During a particularly severe episode of mental illness mentally processing your faith may be more than you can handle. Every episode of depression can slow your mind’s processing speed. Exploring the “whys” of your relationships may lead to conclusions that have nothing to do with the way you normally feel. While faith can help you to heal more quickly, your brain must be functioning at a fairly high level to accurately assess your relationship with God and others. This is particularly true of family relationships.
Practical Ways to Improve Your Love for God and Others
How can we use this information to better love God and each other?
- Develop daily faith practices that serve you and your family.
- Develop mentors and/or groups that help you to experience your faith more deeply.
- Take care of your body as this is “the temple of the Holy Spirit” and helps you to stay in touch with God and others.
- When you are struggling in a relationship, look to the strengths that you and the other person have and look to use these strengths more wisely. Take this to another person you trust if the two of you continue to struggle.
- When you or others are thinking, feeling or acting in a way that make no sense, know that this is your brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
- Look to your self-care. Have you been neglecting your body, your mind or your soul’s needs?
- Are these feelings coming from some lack of tending to one or more of your relationships?
- If neither is true, then consider the possibility that a physical problem may be impairing your ability to think clearly. Here is where you may want to start with your family doctor.
If your faith has been shaken and you no longer feel God's love, consider signing up for the Grow in Oneness or Heal in Oneness course. You can get to the bottom of the problem and restore healthy relationships with God and your closest loved ones.