Come, All Who Are Weary: On Healing

One of my favorite songs as a young girl was “Be Not Afraid.” I remember singing the lyrics in the shower and whenever I was anxious. They gave me great comfort, especially the chorus:

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow me
And I will give you rest.

The last two lines come from Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Perhaps it’s because depression feels like a set of weights holding down all your limbs that I was inspired and comforted by this verse and still am.

It’s no coincidence that at the two points in my life that I was most tempted to give up I found consolation in front of an 11-foot statue of Jesus in the Billings Administration building on the campus of Johns Hopkins University, called Christus Consolator. The words inscribed at the base read: “Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

I Believe

The first time I saw the statue was after 18 months of suicidal depression. I refused to seek additional help after the fifth or so psychiatrist I saw in Annapolis threw a bunch of antipsychotics and other prescriptions at me, changing my regimen every few days, causing biochemical mayhem in my body and mind. One morning I passed out in my cereal bowl and decided I was going to fix my thoughts with meditation, diet, exercise, and prayer.

The result was that my husband found me in a fetal position in our bedroom walk-in closet, totally incapacitated. I just couldn’t forge new neural passageways quickly enough.

To appease him, I agreed to a consultation at Johns Hopkins, which then resulted in my first hospitalization there.

We had to walk through the Billings building to get to the Meyer Building, home of the psychiatric department.

I stood in front of Jesus for a while, tempted to touch his robe like the hemorrhaging woman who got her miracle in the gospels of Mark and Luke. She had bled for twelve years, “had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better” (Mark 5:26). Just by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak, this ailing woman was healed of her disease, because her faith was so great.

“I believe, Jesus,” I said to the statue, imagining myself touching the hem of Jesus’ real robe. “I believe.”

Fourteen years later, my situation was different but tinged with the same pride and need to control my recovery. Hiking the 780 kilometers of Camino de Santiago was a beautiful, life-transforming experience but was simultaneously an attempt to take the helm and force healing when it needed to happen organically or with the right medical intervention.

Along the Spanish trails I tried desperately to form new neural grooves in my brain – to think and pray myself to peace. I so hoped that I would be miraculously healed of my illness by the time I arrived at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and hugged the remains of St. James. When I wasn’t – when the pilgrimage proved to worsen my condition, not heal it–I completely fell apart, much like I did 14 years ago.

Surrender

I did find rest each time I pleaded for a miracle in front of that statue and consequently trusted the Hopkins professionals. However, my healing never happened the way I wanted it to. The first time I did not want to be hospitalized. Mind control and acupuncture were much more appealing. The second time I was terrified of undergoing general anesthesia and being brought to seizure 13 times, part of my acute course of electroconvulsive therapy. A month of hospitalization — sharing a community shower and safety checks every few hours — felt like forever. I had wanted peace to come in my steps along the beautiful Spanish paths of Camino. However, both hospitalizations proved to be life-saving.

Healing has always required my getting out of the way instead of exerting more control. There are basic components of my recovery that contribute to resilience – good psychiatric care, exercise, healthy diet, sleep, self-compassion, prayer, community – but the most critical piece of all is surrender, a word I loathe.

Last week I visited two of my Hopkins angels – women that visited me regularly when I was in the hospital and provided immense consolation, inspiration, and laughs at a time when I was so depressed I nearly lost my sense of humor. It was the first time I returned to Hopkins since my hospitalization without wearing a white bracelet around my wrist. Before meeting the first friend I visited the Jesus statue and thanked the big guy for my healing. I looked at the roses and the gifts at the foot of the statue and knew I wasn’t alone in my offering of gratitude.

Then I went up to the psychiatric unit of the hospital to visit one of the patients I bonded with when I was there. He is one of the brightest and most determined people I have ever met — his presence reminding me that this illness has nothing to do with will power. If anyone had the power to reverse his situation by intellect and perseverance, it would be he.

“I know you feel like you’re going to be in here forever,” I said. “But you will get back to your life, and it will be a good life. You WILL get better.” Tears welled up in my eyes, thinking of all the people who had told me the same when I was sitting in his spot. I had to trust them until I could believe what they said.

I wanted to belt out the lyrics of “Be Not Afraid,” or take him to the Jesus statue. Instead I tried to communicate the message of Matthew 11:28 nonverbally.

I have no doubt Jesus is on it.

He will eventually find rest.

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23 thoughts on “Come, All Who Are Weary: On Healing

  1. Therese — I am so glad you are writing again. I have been keeping your book Beyond Blue close to my heart, coincidentally getting it not too long ago. I feel with you. We try so hard to muster “will power” and hope that we can perform superfeats of healing…and the truth is that healing, like grace, flows through us in its own time. I, too, have relapsed when I intended to be well forever after…having learned lessons. Yes, one can learn lessons and use techniques and do everything “right” — and still relapse. But who you are, just as who I am and what all of us are, is more than an illness, a personality, or a set of symptoms. I wish you well — and I hope our paths might cross some day.

  2. Hey Kiddo!!!

    When we surrender to Jesus, that is when we become victorious! We say, “OK, Jesus, let me do it your way for a spell.”

    But, we have to be broken first. And that’s a whole ‘nother country right there.

    When we do it Jesus’ way, we begin to see that we are, to Him, worth being created. We are, to Him, worth dying for. We are, to Him, worth being loved. And having meds to take for the ‘beast,’ I see as Him loving me.

    Therese, I be sooooooo glad that you are back!!! I’ll betcha dollar that a lot of others do too!!! You really look good in the photo!!!

    Read ya’ soon! Take care…

    Ron

    P.S. You owe me a dollar.

  3. Hi Therese. I have been following you for some time now. I love reading what you write. My mom is bipolar and I suffer from anxiety and depression as well. My oldest daughter has also been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I have to say that my mom and daughter are two of the most amazing people I know. There are times though that it does just feel so helpless and the question of why comes in. Reading this passage really made me feel this for you. I know I don’t really know you or much about your life other than what you publish on here for all to read, but I am praying for you. For some relief for you. For you to have those better days. I know the weight of the bad days you talk about. Thank you for letting others know that they aren’t the only ones going through all of this.

    ~Angel

  4. Therese, so good to see your post today! You sound well and grounded. I’m sure it’s been a tough and scary road. I’m praying for you and I have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus has you in His hands. God bless. Stay well.

  5. Therese,
    I ALWAYS look forward to your writings. You keep
    me going!!! Blessings to you on your continued road toward THE GOOD LIFE!!! Nice you made a new friend. We all need a helping hand along the
    way.
    😘
    Jane

  6. Dear Therese,

    Thank you for this beautiful reflection on what you’ve come to know first hand. It’s powerful and inspiring. Jesus said, “I am the way…” At long last I’m learning—and working at accepting—that the Way begins with surrender. God is for you, my friend.

  7. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you walk this road. Be Not Afraid is a favorite of mine. It truly inspires uf one opens to it. God bless you on this path

  8. So pleased to hear there is some light at the end of your dark tunnel. I woke up this morning thinking how lovely it would be if I just woke up without anxiety. If I felt well enough to do the things I want to do.
    How if I could change the decisions made when in the ‘ wrong mood’ which actually make things worse and have no regrets.
    And here you yet again after struggle through another period of life darkness. Through it all somehow you have managed to be yourself something I feel I have lost.
    Be proud Therese.

  9. Thank you for this, Therese. Your words and scripture reference took me to Isaiah 40:11 – “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom…” And that took me to YouTube to listen to the air in Handel’s Messiah of the same name. So warm and comforting. Bless you, Therese…

    https://youtu.be/zTCUC0wBkR0

  10. I’m sorry for your pain, but I am glad you can share with us. It gives us hope. Hoping you can find and end to your pain. God Bless you. Thanks for being here.

  11. Your words are so powerful Therese! Thanks for helping me understand that I am not alone, and it is not our will but Gods will. I agree that when we surrender to God, is when the miracle happens.
    God continue to bless you and your family!
    With Love!

  12. Be not afraid. I need those words. I went to see a new doctor. It always frightens me having to explain my condition. And the fact I am sensitive
    to antidepressants.
    I always come out of the surgery feeling demoralised.
    I have come crashing down again after doing so well.
    When I feel ok I believe I am better.
    Be not afraid. Lizzie

  13. Jesus is ALWAYS holding us in the palm of His hand, keeping us safe from the dangers of this sinful world and often, sadly, even from ourselves. I know that I, too would not have survived my journey without the full and complete knowledge of His love for me even in the very depths of my deepest, blackest despair.
    So all I can say is Amen, Amen and again Amen, Therese. Welcome back.

  14. Therese,

    Words can never fully express how much I appreciate your posts. It saddens me to read about everything you have gone through and your fight to overcome the darkness. Your words comfort me and so many others, and for that I will forever be grateful to you.

    Take care,
    Christine

  15. Therese – it is so good to see that you are doing well and writing again! Your posts have been an inspiration to me to keep forging on with life. I believe that when we truly let Jesus take the reigns, miracles and just plain progress happen. God Bless You, you look so pretty in the photo and well rested!

  16. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls — Mathew 11:28

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