Oddly enough, in the world of ornithology (study of birds), the word “siege” is descriptor of “the station of a heron at prey.” While I can honestly say I have never looked through the eyes of a fish about to be devoured by a heron, I can assuredly attest to the paralyzing fear experienced by those who watch their loved ones being enclosed by mental illness. Indeed there have been many times when Douglas has been as one besieged by a predator.
He is overwhelmed by forces beyond his control and we all wonder if this is the time he will be utterly consumed. Mental illness hovers over him just looking for a vulnerable spot where it can leave its mark. It is in those times that I particularly keep watch to see God’s grace. Like the psalmist, I find that He wondrously shows His steadfast love in the midst of the crisis, at the time of the crisis, while the crisis is still happening. His goodness doesn’t wait to show up in the aftermath. It is visible during the siege, when, like the heron, mental illness has taken up its station.
Once I spotted God’s “wondrous steadfast love” when, during a difficult day, a friend called to say I was on her mind and prayed with me. Another time God’s mercy was evident when the judge ordered psychiatric treatment instead of jail. These sparks of redemptive grace shine most brilliantly against the darkest backdrop. It is there that He reminds us that even when mental illness tightens its grip, His steadfast love will never fail.
More commonly than the notion of a prey assaulted by a predator, “besieged” brings up the image of a walled city being assailed by enemies. This is the context of Psalm 31:21. Here the people inside a fortress are cut off from supplies, from reinforcements, from hope. How apt is this scenario for us as well. For when our loved one is being swallowed by depression or is swirling in mania, family members often do feel cut off from resources and from solutions. We hole-up behind thick walls of isolation to protect ourselves and our loved one from stigma and judgement. As a result we feel very alone, presuming that no one could possibly understand. We feel impotent and afraid.
Yet it is then that God invites us to again be watchful for His wondrous love. It may be disguised as subtle peace or hidden beneath an idea for intervention that suddenly comes to mind. It may show itself in the comfort of a friend’s arms or through the words, “This is My body broken for you,” as the bread is passed during Communion.
When His love reveals itself we learn anew that in the middle of the battle, behind the walls of the besieged city, His love is steadfast, His goodness is present and His grace is sufficient.