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Topics: Motherhood, Women

Mothering Through Depression and Chronic Illness

June 26, 2013


By Luma Simms

Those who struggle with depression, mental illness, autoimmune diseases or other chronic illnesses know the pain and darkness of mothering under these hard providences. This is our silent reality, the reality which breaks upon us every morning—relentlessly driving our lives. We read books, go to doctors, take medication (at times), and weep over our Bibles. We beg and plead for relief. The reply returns: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Indeed, we are weak: physically, mentally, or emotionally. We suffer, year in and year out. These things are true of me.

How do I mother through these burdens which seem to have no end in this life?

It is tempting for those of us who have this peculiar type of chronic suffering to look for a peculiar remedy. There is a tendency to seek an extra-strength antidote—a theology and application made especially for the chronic sufferer. Because of this, we tend to overlook the answer the Bible gives all suffering believers as if it’s not strong enough for our particular providence. The answer to all our suffering is faith in Jesus Christ. But this answer falls flat for us. We suspect that faith in Jesus is too generic and weak to handle our heavy burdens, a bit like Tylenol versus morphine. We think faith in Jesus is like Tylenol, and Tylenol stopped working for us a long time ago. So we spend our lives looking for the morphine.

The Link Between Faith and Suffering

As a gracious gift from the Father we are given both, faith and suffering (Phil. 1:29-30). One necessarily undergirds the other. Without the foundation of faith we do not suffer well.

Following the logic that faith undergirds suffering, we conclude that mothering through depression and other chronic illnesses is reliant on faith, but faith in what? When the darkness of depression engulfs me, when periods of high excitation send me into intense mental acuity, and when the pain in my body is so great I can barely move my hands or get up and walk, what does “faith” possibly mean? Isn’t this answer like the Tylenol that is seemingly nowhere near strong enough?

Faith is a supernatural gift, given by grace and unmerited. It is by the means of this supernatural gift that salvation is granted to us. We cannot possibly create it in ourselves.

Faith itself is granted and it is the vehicle by which we believe on Jesus Christ—the object of our faith. It is tempting at this point to think our peculiar suffering requires the extra pain killing power of morphine, because we’ve built up a tolerance to the faith in Jesus (Tylenol) prescription—a medicine which has long since become ineffective. We may even have come to despise the simplicity of faith in Christ. If that’s the case, we need to ask ourselves if we even understand this supernatural gift of faith from almighty God.

What is Faith?

Faith is the combined action of heart, soul and mind (the seat of affections, the seat of worship, and the seat of belief) ignited by the Holy Spirit to act in accordance with the object of that faith: Jesus Christ. When this action is exercised over and over again, it forms what is called the habit of faith.

It is in this habit of faith we think and act each day. It is this habit of faith which undergirds our ability to suffer according to the providences which God in his sovereign mercy bestows upon us. Each providence is hand crafted by God for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory. Faith is thinking about, feeling affection for, resting in, and worshiping Jesus as I walk moment by moment through this providential suffering. If I grasp this then faith stops becoming a deficient answer to my chronic suffering.

Living in Faith

Faith does not make the suffering go away. Faith equips me to endure through it. Faith gives me the wisdom to know how and when to seek medical care. Faith opens the eyes of my soul to see Jesus moment by moment in my suffering. When Jesus grows dim, my suffering becomes unbearable.

Don’t hear me say suffering is good. It is not in itself a good. It is part of the evil of this world. We may wonder, then, how living like this each day can possibly be for our good and his glory. The way I have reconciled this in my soul is to understand who God is, what he means by good, and who he says I am. I have not arrived. I press each day into the knowledge of Christ. I fight to know him. I use my crippled mind and body to reach for him. I do not let him go until he shows me more of his glory because I cannot function under this suffering unless and until I see his glory.

What this habit of faith looks like for those of us who are mothers will vary according to our personality, number of children, and peculiar affliction. Transparency before our children is a must. Faith in Jesus gives us the humility to talk to our children about our chronic suffering. Faith in Jesus gives us the strength to pick up a toddler, change a diaper, make a simple meal, speak with honesty and humility with our teenager, and know when to ask for help with all these things.

Saying to someone in our situation “faith in Jesus is your answer” can sound trite. It is not. The name of Jesus has supernatural power. Faith, as I have tried to show above, is not banality. This is the only way I know to mother through depression and other chronic illness. May the Lord grant you this kind of living faith.


Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife, and mother of five children between the ages of 2 and 19. She has a B.S. degree in physics and studied law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible teacher. Her book Gospel Amnesia can be found at GCD Press. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.

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