“A one-of-a-kind book . . . to read for yourself or give to a struggling friend or loved one without the fear that depression and suicidal thoughts will be minimized, medicalized or over-spiritualized.”—Kay Warren, cofounder of Saddleback Church
What happens when loving Jesus doesn’t cure you of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts? You might be crushed by shame over your mental illness, only to be told by well-meaning Christians to “choose joy” and “pray more.” So you beg God to take away the pain, but nothing eases the ache inside. As darkness lingers and color drains from your world, you’re left wondering if God has abandoned you.
You just want a way out.
But there’s hope.
In I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die, Sarah J. Robinson offers a healthy, practical, and shame-free guide for Christians struggling with mental illness. With unflinching honesty, Sarah shares her story of battling depression and fighting to stay alive despite toxic theology that made her afraid to seek help outside the church. Pairing her own story with scriptural insights, mental health research, and simple practices, Sarah helps you reconnect with the God who is present in our deepest anguish and discover that you are worth everything it takes to get better.
Beautifully written and full of hard-won wisdom, I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die offers a path toward a rich, hope-filled life in Christ, even when healing doesn’t look like what you expect.
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Loving Jesus Doesn’t Cure You
Trigger/Content Warning—The first section of this chapter discusses a suicide attempt. If you are currently struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm or believe reading about a suicide attempt would be unhealthy for you for any reason, please skip the gray highlighted section. Remember, if you notice any distress as you read, take a few deep breaths, step away, and distract yourself with pleasant thoughts or activities before returning to the book. Take good care of yourself.
I was a Christian the first time I tried to kill myself.
I’d contemplated suicide countless times over the years, emptying a bottle of pills into my hand to feel their weight or fantasizing about stepping in front of a car. The thoughts were constant, vicious, and unspoken. But I never made an actual attempt until eight months after committing my life to Christ in a tiny warehouse church.
I’d done all the “right” things. I got baptized, went to church every time the doors were open, swapped my old friends for relationships with youth-group kids, read my Bible, prayed, and worshipped. I’d gone to conferences and even on my first mission trip. And with my charismatic, miracle-focused church, I’d preached the gospel and prayed for people to be healed on the streets of our city.
I was convinced I should have felt better.
But I didn’t.
Instead, the hope of my new faith faded into a gnawing sense of disappointment. Why did I still hurt so much? Why wouldn’t God fix me? Everyone at my new church seemed to receive constant reassurances of God’s love and approval, but he seemed bitterly silent to me. It only reinforced the raging self-hatred I’d carried for so long. God doesn’t even want me. It’s my fault; I’m too selfish and sinful. It’s never going to get better. I felt sick all the time and everything seemed so hollow. I was sure I was doomed to an unending ache and I couldn’t bear it.
So, one late-spring evening when my house was empty, I found myself sitting on the kitchen floor, pressing a knife into my eager skin. There was no note, no explanation, just a blade and some blood between me and relief from the bone-crushing suffering.
At first I felt calm, resigned. That hollow nausea was still in my chest, but at least I didn’t have to live with it much longer. I took a deep breath, bracing for the pain. But then I froze statue-still. My heart pounded and I started to sweat as I seemed to wrestle a force outside myself. I willed myself to press in just a little more, just enough, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it happen.
Finally, I relented. I flung the knife across the room.
“You won,” I spat in God’s direction, flushed with anger. It was all his fault I couldn’t be free from the pain.
I don’t know how long I sat on the dirty kitchen floor, but I eventually realized I didn’t want my family to find me there, so I got up and put the knife away. I climbed into bed, put on a worship CD, cursed God, and went to sleep.
I told only one person about the attempt, a kid in my youth group who was like a big brother to me. I don’t know if he ever told anybody else, if he thought I was being dramatic, if he really understood what I was saying. And I don’t remember his response. But I do know he never mentioned it again. My secret struggle with the darkness remained a secret.
As an adult, I look back with compassion on those around me; they were as clueless about how to handle mental illness as I was. What was that seventeen-year-old boy in the early 2000s supposed to know about suicide prevention? What were my twenty-three-year-old youth pastors in a “name it and claim it” church supposed to tell me when I talked about how much I was hurting?
It’s not that they didn’t do their best to lead and love me well; they just didn’t have the tools they needed to care for someone with severe depression. Chris and Jenny were newlyweds just figuring out what it meant to be married, work, go to college, and run a youth group all at the same time. To be in ministry—especially in a small church—is to live under a microscope, and as neither had any formal training, they depended on the theology they picked up from the culture around them. To say they were stretched thin would be a massive understatement, but they had big hearts and longed to make a difference in the lives of others.
A few months after the attempt, when I hesitantly shared bits of my pain, they carved time out of their impossible schedules to invite me over for dinner at their four-hundred-square-foot apartment. Chris talked to me about overcoming lies with Scripture and spending more time in the presence of God, while Jenny made me a card covered in glittery stickers and Bible verses about freedom, overcoming the flesh, and having the mind of Christ. They prayed with me and encouraged me to praise the Lord, especially when I didn’t feel like it.
That night, I left their cramped apartment with a jumble of emotions. My youth pastors did everything they knew how to do, and their love for me was obvious. But I also felt frustrated because my experience didn’t match the promises, confused because I didn’t understand why. Regardless, I received the same message they had from our church culture: Jesus fixes everything. We just have to cooperate.
When I began to self-harm in college, Chris and Jenny would say they’d found out I had started cutting “again,” as though it had been something that plagued me in the years before I came to faith. I never corrected them, never told them how I only started carving my pain in my skin after I pledged my life to Christ.
I understood the unwritten rules: This isn’t the story I’m supposed to tell. This isn’t how it works for “good Christians.” You meet Jesus and then everything gets better. You discover you’re loved and find your purpose in Christ, and you’re filled with unspeakable joy. Life is good, God blesses you, and you’re too busy serving others and worshipping God to hurt like that. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
You don’t find yourself slipping deeper beneath the waves, drowning while surrounded by people who can’t even see the water. You don’t starve in the middle of the elaborate feast set before you. You don’t watch the light grow dim and wonder how everyone else around you is able to see anything at all.
But that’s what happened to me.
Looking back, it’s not tough to see how my church—and countless others—came to believe that loving Jesus cures all ills. We loved a good testimony, proof of God working in our midst. Week after week, people would stand up and share how they were healed, delivered, or rescued from some difficult thing or another. The message was clear: Jesus fixes broken things. Jesus works miracles.
Our senior pastor was a firm believer in the miraculous and leaned heavily on verses that talk about God healing anyone and everyone. We were taught that God promised perfect health when he brought the Israelites out of Egypt and that these verses were just as applicable to us:
He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you. (Exodus 15:26, nlt)
And the Lord will protect you from all sickness. He will not let you suffer from the terrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all your enemies! (Deuteronomy 7:15, nlt)
We recited Psalm 103:3 together every Sunday to build our faith: “He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases” (nlt). And Isaiah 54:17 promised that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper” (nkjv).
It wasn’t just the Old Testament that promised God would heal and restore everything. Luke 4:40 recorded that when sick people were brought to Jesus, “no matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one” (nlt). And Matthew 7:11 clearly showed that if we asked our Father for good gifts, he would give them to us.
Isn’t the crux of Christianity that there is a good God who loves us and paid the price for our sin and suffering? Isn’t his character full of kindness and compassion? Doesn’t it make sense that his will is always to heal us?
That theology sounds true and beautiful—and it fits well with the very human desire to avoid suffering. In my church, I believe this was taught from an innocent desire to see God glorified and impact the lives of his children. It was never intended to cause harm or undermine the full truth of the gospel. But it’s woefully incomplete, ignoring the many times in Scripture that God—for whatever reason—allowed people to endure sickness and suffering without swooping in to rescue them from it.
Like countless other churches, my community glossed over verses that talked about suffering as part of life or times when God allowed painful situations to remain. It wasn’t until years later that I saw a fuller picture of suffering in Scripture. I found this truth woven throughout the New Testament, in verses that get little notice: God doesn’t always heal people.
Table of Contents
Foreword Holly K. Oxhandler vii
Author's Note xi
Introduction: How to Use This Book xiii
Part 1 Dying
1 Loving Jesus Doesn't Cure You 3
2 People Say Terrible Things (But We Still Need Them) 13
3 "I'm Not Disappointed in You" 25
4 Learning to Be Loved 36
5 Bad Therapy 53
Part 2 Surviving
6 Permission to Be Broken 69
7 Relapse, Reputation, and Risk 79
8 If I Make My Bed in Hell 91
9 The Darkness May Always Be There 102
10 Living with a Limp 109
Part 3 Thriving
11 Sit in the Dark 121
12 When Provision Comes in a Pill 131
13 Good Therapy and Doing the Work 141
14 Beating Back the Darkness 152
15 Ruthless with Self-Care 169
16 Boundaries, Loving Others, and Soul-Keeping 184
17 Even If 192
Appendix A How to Help Depressed ana Suicidal Loved Ones 203
Appendix B Additional Resources 213