In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul confesses that at one point he suffered so much affliction that he “despaired of life itself,” which is a remarkable statement—and not the kind of declaration you would expect from one of the greatest apostles of Christ.
But despairing of life is a surprisingly common sentiment in Scripture. The prophet Elijah asks God to take his life (1 Kings 19:4). Job laments that he was not immediately “carried straight from the womb to the grave” (10:19). The preacher of Ecclesiastes (4:2–3) and the prophet Jeremiah (15:10) similarly wished they had never been born.
Whether the reason for such distress is religious persecution, personal loss, evil’s prevalence in the land, or the burden of being a prophet of God, despairing of life is not an abnormal experience.
We see similar trends today. According to the CDC, the rate of suicide among males aged 15–24 rose 8 percent in 2021, and according to Mental Health America, over 20 percent of adults are experiencing a mental illness.
There are several possible explanations for these rising rates of mental affliction—but for those who are suffering, there is a much more immediate question: Why get out of bed only to endure such mental misery?
While it may seem morbid to ask such a question, it’s necessary for us to have an answer.
Life is filled with joy and beauty, but at one time or another, each of us will face the challenge of mental suffering. For some of us, it will take the form of a diagnosed mental illness. For others, it will come in the form of life’s many travails. We do a great disservice to one another by recognizing mental suffering only when it has an official diagnosis.
But such anguish is bound to come at some point in our lives—even for God’s children, as Scripture shows us. Christians are not immune. And it may come to such an extent that we despair of life itself. When that day comes, we’ll need an answer. We’ll need to know why getting out of bed to face the day is worth it. Some of us will have to answer that question anew every day.
Thankfully we live at a time when the stigma of mental illness has been dramatically reduced, but I think most of us still suffer alone. It may be socially acceptable to share your mental health status on social media, but the intimate experience of suffering remains hidden. It is always your suffering, in your heart and head.
And I think a great many of us keep our pain locked up, not wanting to trouble the world with our problems. Even if you get help from mental health professional (which I highly recommend), the practitioner cannot make the choice to get out of bed for you. He or she can give you tools and medications to assist, but in the end it’s always you and God and the choice.
So, why get out of bed?
Even when it feels like a burden, your life is a gift from God—a gift he created and sustains moment by moment in an infinite act of love. The goodness of this gift does not depend on how we feel or what we experience. But our challenge is to live out that gift each day, even amid our mental suffering.
Rising out of bed to face the day and to bear the mundane burden of living with mental illness or facing the acute suffering of life’s troubles is an act of worship. It declares the goodness of life in defiance of the Fall. It is a spiritual act of presenting your body as a living sacrifice, pleasing to the Lord (Rom. 12:1).
Sometimes your mind and the world will lie to you. They will insist on the meaninglessness of life. They will insist that there is no joy, peace, or hope. And in such moments, we might cry out like Elijah, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4). But rather than chastise Elijah for his weakness or lack of hope, the Lord sent an angel to feed Elijah in the wilderness.
That is the God we serve: a God who prepares a table in the wilderness for those who feel hopeless. And sometimes you find yourself at that table.
But when you choose to rise out of bed each day, you also set a table for your neighbor. You declare with your being and actions that life itself is good. Whether you like it or not, your life is a witness that testifies to the goodness of God. So, when we embrace our existence, we testify loudly to our neighbors, “Get up and eat” (1 Kings 19:7).
There is hope. God has not—he does not—forsake us.
For many of us, rising out of bed will at times take a herculean effort. But it is precisely in these moments when our witness is most profound. We take on the burden of mental affliction, because we know that at the center of our existence is not hopelessness and suffering but grace—God’s grace.
We act based on that grace even when our hearts feel only hopelessness. And when our neighbors see us rising up to affirm the basic goodness of life, they are reminded that their lives are good too.
Unfortunately, some of us will experience periods of such acute suffering that getting out of bed is unimaginable. In those times, we must come to rely on the help of others to carry us.
One of the most sacred acts of mercy we can offer is the willingness to lift one another up when we have lost all hope. This can come in the form of sending an encouraging text message or sitting with someone who is in despair—or even giving a hug.
And the grace you receive when one of your neighbors carries you will one day be transfigured into the grace you extend to others when they need to be carried.
Acknowledging the reality that all of us will suffer mentally at some point in life does not diminish the beauty of life. It is precisely in our moments of hopelessness that we can most powerfully testify to the beauty of life by getting out of bed.
One day the suffering will pass—maybe today, maybe tomorrow, but certainly in eternity with God. But for now, our duty is to live out the truth that our created existence was and is a loving act from a God of grace.
O. Alan Noble