If you have been walking for some time alongside a loved one who deals with mental health difficulties, as we have, you have likely worked through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s not a straight path. Our journey can be quite circular—returning to previous stages any time there is a new episode or a change in our loved one’s rhythms.
However, over time we do reach a point where we accept that their struggle with their illness is a part of our lives. We acquiesce to the reality that “it is what it is,” and submit to the notion that this is their unfortunate lot, and ours too. And so we accept the finality of the deaths of our dreams for our loved ones and kill off any glimmers of hope for better.
Sometimes this recognition comes after months and years of praying for God to heal, to restore and to redeem our loved one. As time passes and God is seemingly silent or apparently indifferent, we begin to believe that He will never intervene and we must do the best we can.
Mary and Martha surely experienced this when their beloved brother Lazarus became ill (John 11). They initially believed that Jesus could fix things, and sent for Him to come quickly. But He didn’t come and Lazarus died. Though Mary and Martha accepted the finality of this reality, they still confronted Jesus, when He showed up later, with anger: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21,32)
After discussion about the resurrection of souls on the “last day,” and His declaration that He is the resurrection and the life, Christ then asks a very curious question: “Where have you put him?” (John 11:34)
I wonder if God ever asks this question of us. In accepting the realities of our loved one’s mental illness, have we, in our minds, put them in a place of hopelessness? As God has tarried in coming to our aid, have we presumed He would never show up and so we buried any dreams of improvement or healing? If so, is God now inviting us to “Roll the stone aside” (John 11:39)? Could we possibly open the door of hope again, and begin watching for signs of God’s healing and restoration?
It’s a bold step. It requires a high level of the kind of faith that can continue to trust in God’s goodness and mercy even if He doesn’t call our loved one to “come forth.” But our fear that He will not show up must never quench the hope that He will. If we hear Him ask, “Where have you put _____?” may we eagerly respond with great anticipation, “Lord, come and see.”