What is Jesus Up To?


By Charlotte Donlon | Twitter: @charlottedonlon


Because of my current mania, I’m seeing my therapist weekly.

Julie is helping me learn how to sort through fact and fiction. She is teaching me how to use cognitive behavioral therapy to combat my racing irrational thoughts. With her guidance and direction, I’m managing my daily life and responsibilities as a wife and mom pretty well in spite of my circumstances.

But I’m angry.

I’m mad at God for allowing this suffering in my life. I’m frustrated that my meds and therapy haven’t overthrown my mania. I’m scared of the depression that’s waiting for me in the shadows around the corner, ready to pounce and rob me of my sanity. Again.

I can feel the tears building up in my eyes as my shaky voice poses the questions I want answers to: “Why is this happening? Why won’t God heal my mind?”

“Those are the wrong questions,” she says. “What you need to be asking is, ‘What is Jesus up to?’” She continues, “He has not left you. He has not forsaken you. My prayer for you, and for all of my clients, is that you would have eyes to see what He is doing in the midst of this difficult situation. I want you to recognize His presence when there seems to be so much evidence that He is absent.”

In the few seconds it took Julie to say these words to me, my paradigm had been turned upside down.

I had not thought to wonder what Jesus was up to. I was praying for healing. I was praying for the torment to end. I was going to the Psalms every morning and every night for comfort and for the language to cry out to God. But I had not considered the possibility that He might have a greater purpose for me.

* * *

That hour with Julie in July of 2011 changed my life.

She gave me a new way to move through darkness and the effects of brokenness. She helped me settle into a posture of listening and looking. She helped me develop a curiosity that searches for the presence of the triune God and a faith that better embraces the truth that I am not alone in my trials.

And I learned that the greater purpose on the other side of my illness was that God had prepared a place for me to to land that was better than I ever could have imagined. He brought me a level of mental health that never could have occurred had I never struggled with bipolar disorder.

My mania and depression forced me to face patterns in my thinking that had existed for most of my life and that needed to be re-wired. I learned how to catch myself before spiraling into the depths of depression. I learned how to manage stress and triggers before being swallowed up by mania. I learned how to practice self-care. I learned I am worthy of self-care. I may not be able to avoid future episodes—there is no cure for bipolar disorder. But right now I am healthier than I have ever been.

As I have continued on this path, I’m also growing in my ability to sit with others in their own seasons of difficulty. Instead of drowning and being overwhelmed by their circumstances, I’m able to remind myself that I need to look for Jesus. When my friend’s marriage is falling apart, I ask myself, “What is He up to? Where is He calling forth change in her life? What kind of place is He preparing for her to land on when she’s on the other side of this?”

Asking what Jesus is up to can be a hard question to ask. We might not like the answers. But we know He is good. We know He is the author and perfecter of our faith. We know He is in the business of making us holy and helping us learn how to glorify God, how to love Him better, and how to love others better.

Eugene Peterson echoes this question in Ambition, a collection of essays that explores what it looks like for Christians to have ambition. When writing about his approach to pastoring he writes, “When I arrive and enter the room (of a parishioner), I am not so much wondering what I am going to do or say that will be pastoral as I am alert and observant for what the risen Christ has been doing that is making a gospel story out of this life.”

May I continue to look for the risen Christ. And may I search for evidence that Christ is making gospel stories out of my life and out of the lives of others.


About Charlotte:

June 2015 CharlotteCharlotte Donlon lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband and their two children. She is earning her MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University. She enjoys making space for others and their stories—preferably over coffee, wine, or a meal. Find her on Twitter at @charlottedonlon and on Facebook at facebook.com/charlottedonlon. More of her writing can be found at charlottedonlon.com and myhungerformore.com.