Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land!
At first, this verse brings me no comfort. Jeremiah is in a desperate, lonely place, calling out his lament. Jeremiah utters this complaint as he continues to suffer skepticism and criticism from the very community he is trying to serve. He has been called by God to communicate God’s word to the Israelites. And to put it bluntly, they are not listening. What is a clear and an authentic call from God for Jeremiah, is not understood or supported by those around him. This lack of validation has a direct impact on Jeremiah’s mental health. He feels not only frustrated, but also depressed, to the point of questioning his birth. While he does not explicitly mention harming himself, I would argue that his questioning of worth is suicidal ideation.
As an empath who journeys with depression and anxiety myself, I feel his pain on a very real level. It brings back memories of times of similar desperation in my life. And yet, if I sit with this verse a bit longer, I am comforted to know that Jeremiah is included in the Bible in his fullness.
God does not shy away from our pain. We can see that in the fact that Jeremiah’s story is told. He is depicted through the power and faith of his actions and words and also in the despair and pain of his depression and suicidal ideation.
It is important to pause here and acknowledge that mental illnesses are real illnesses. Often experiences with mental illness are chronic. There are good days, bad days, and moments of true crisis. Due to the stigma of mental illness in society it is easy to feel alone and even in danger during bad days and crises. It is hard to speak the truth of our suffering outloud. It is hard to find community.
Jeremiah though does speak out. He continues his cry later, in verse 15, begging God to remember, visit, and know him. I can sense he feels abandoned by the people around him and fears that God will do the same. He pleads with God to fill some social needs in his life: to feel seen, validated, and not forgotten.
Speaking the truth about our mental health or illness is so important. It provides the opportunity for us to process what is going on and put meaning and words to our experience. Slowing down our thoughts and sharing them in a tangible way could provide us with a new perspective. It can also take some of the power out of negative thoughts, simply by getting them out of our heads.
There is a risk that we may be met with stigma and judgment, I do not want to ignore that reality. However, if we are able to find a safe space to share, the validation can be a beautiful thing.
So, this May I invite you to be inspired by Jeremiah. Do not ignore your struggles and journey with mental health. Consider the ways you can speak, process, and share safely about your mental health. Maybe you are like Jeremiah and find solace in speaking to (and occasionally yelling at) God. Maybe a journaling practice is the healthiest for you. You could consider confiding in a trusted loved one, for the first time, or in continuation of a conversation you’ve already begun. I have found therapy to be invaluable in my own journey with depression and anxiety. There are many other ways that include anonymity, creativity, and even community.
Please know that you are not alone - you are loved by God and seen by Jeremiah. You are worthy of health and peace. If you are struggling with any similar thoughts to Jeremiah and do not currently have a safe space to share them, please reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Hotline (988) or the National Mental Health Hotline (866-903-3787).
Mary Beth seeks the glory of God in all of creation, especially wildflowers. Follow her @mb_keenan.15 for more reflections on mental health, motherhood, and caring for creation.