By: Lizzie Reezay
This verse struck me today. Someone posted it on Instagram and I read it as I was heading to the gym: 1 Timothy 4:8, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
I’m someone who works out consistently— five or six times a week. Since last summer I’ve created this routine of working my abs, getting my endurance back and developing arm muscles I didn’t even know I had. I love it! Even though exercise is kind of mandatory to help my brain through bipolar…it’s something I still feel I'm choosing to do.
And I do so with enthusiasm! I take progress pics, buy cute gymming outfits and exercise even when I’m on vacation or crazy busy with school. I work out even more when I’m stressed, because that’s when I need it the most.
But with my spirituality I haven’t been like that. Since going into my first major depressive episode last March I have felt so far from God. This is a give-in since I've even felt disconnected from myself. But it still scares me, that in the depths of mental illness I’ve lost my will to pursue God.
That’s all Godliness is: imitating God’s character by pursuing Him. We only become acquainted with His character by actively knowing Him. By not ever being content with how much we know of God’s works in the Bible or how much our relationship with Him has shaped us. I became not just content, but apathetic.
Godliness is having a heart that desires to know God more and more. And in so doing, to love Him with all of who we are. My perceptions have been so twisted and warped by mood cycles that my heart's become unrecognizable to me…and somewhere in that battle I gave up on actively loving God.
I don't mean to imply I've lost my faith: I have still done missions work, led a weekly Bible study and made YouTube videos about God. But it has felt empty. And when I’m alone I’m not much of a practicing Christian.
Still, in the worst bouts of depression God has been the one I’ve confided in. The darkest, most overwhelming moments have been me sobbing in front of His throne, not saying anything yet feeling incredibly known.
But any consistent communication with God is gone. The verse from 1 Timothy was so convicting to me because something of so much less importance than my spirituality, working out, has been prioritized so much more. I spend hours at the gym every week. But I don't even spend an hour reading my Bible. When I do attend church I'm either feeling nothing or trying to hide the fact that I'm randomly crying. And my blurred concept of self and numbed emotions have stolen away so much of my prayer life.
My whole mindset has been tunnel vision toward getting my mind back to normal. I have subconsciously viewed the mental as superseding the spiritual, as a benchmark I need to reach before I start back my Bible studies and prayers and worship jams on my guitar.
Now I’m realizing I was wrong. Spiritual disciplines will help my bipolar just as much as physical workouts. Everything is interconnected. Yes, there are exceptions, times with my depression where my mind has been too weak to do anything intellectual. I remember last April hating hearing any sort of music and being so mentally weak I couldn’t even read— my thoughts so jumbled that praying was impossible. I don’t blame myself for giving up spiritual practices in those moments.
But bipolar is cyclic. And it didn’t stay that way. Once I went on medication things got better. But my tendency wasn’t to run toward God. I felt tired. Sort of betrayed. I didn’t understand how God could debilitate me with this awful illness when all I wanted was to serve Him. Because of Bipolar I don’t reach out to people outside my close friend group anymore. I’ve quit my YouTube channel (temporarily). And I’m postponing my missions work in Thailand.
My plan has been to serve God in these huge ways, but it seems that instead He wants me to stop and focus on my own faith. And on my health. To realize that it’s okay to love myself and prioritize my needs. To accept that being selfless isn’t about intensity but balance.
Bipolar has forced me to finally take care of myself. I no longer pour myself into others in a way that exhausts me. I don’t lead as many things or go to as many activities. I have to keep my life in check or my symptoms get worse. So after I graduate instead of moving overseas straightaway I’m going to tunnel vision in exercising my spirituality and growing stronger in God. I don’t only need medication and sleep and exercise to get better. I also need God.
I’m still figuring out what my faith looks like post diagnosis. I have these huge emotions I’ve been pushing away that I need to work through with God. I have so much of my Bible left untouched that I need to mark up with color pens and highlighters. I have so many new worship songs to learn on guitar. And so many God journals that are empty, waiting for my insights and prayers and thoughts.
I’m excited to discover what spirituality means for me in this phase of my life. As I get physically stronger, building all my muscles while gymming, I’ll be building up my spiritual self too. I’ll let you know what spiritual muscles I didn’t even know I had.