Have you ever been curious about what it’s like inside a psychiatric hospital? Twelve years ago I made one of the best decisions of my life; I chose to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. What I want to show you is the joy that exists in what can seem to be a dark place. Jesus was everywhere, even in the French toast.
When I think of my time in a psychiatric hospital, this verse sums it up well:
“The Lord says, I will restore the ruined houses of the descendants of Jacob. I will show compassion on their ruined homes. Every city will be rebuilt on its former ruins. Every fortified dwelling will occupy its traditional site. Out of those places you will hear songs of thanksgiving and the sounds of laughter and merriment. I will increase their number and they will not dwindle away. I will bring them honor and they will no longer be despised.” Jeremiah 30:18-19 NET
We had about 20 adults who ranged in age from late teens to about 60. The reasons brought us to that hospital varied, but we all had pain we were dealing with. Once you were admitted, it was up to counselors and a psychiatrist when you could leave. Because of the need for physical safety, we had very little control of what happened and when it happened. Most things we did were decided for us, down to what and when we ate. There was also a list of items we couldn’t have because of safety. Seemingly innocent things could easily be turned into something to injure yourself or someone else.
I chose to be admitted because I was struggling with extreme depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was suicidal to the point where my family couldn’t leave me alone. I was also someone who self injured to deal with the pain of severe sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. I had been a cutter for 13 years, since the age of 13. My world came crashing down when I had an unexpected encounter with a former abuser, but what I want to focus on today is this part of that passage “the sounds of laughter and merriment…”
I remember one morning we were pretty happy to see French toast was being served. The smell of the maple syrup was enough to lift anyone’s mood There was only one issue. No forks or knives were allowed, not even plastic ones. They were too pointy. Enter the spork: the utensil that’s half spoon, half fork, and apparently safer. It was also relatively useless.
Suddenly there were 20 adults sitting around 2 folding tables pushed together who had a dilemma. That French toast looked and smelled so good, but it was impossible to eat it with a spork. I remember the frustration mounting as the treat of French toast quickly turned into a problem: we had no clue how to eat it. The lines were quickly drawn when it came to the attitude regarding breakfast. Some gave up quickly and complained, while others tried various methods to eat it with no success, but it brought quite a bit of laughter. (I’ll let you guess which side this quirky person was on.)
In that moment we all were faced with a choice. We had no control over our food for breakfast. We had no control over how long we were in that hospital. We had no control over the eating utensils, but we could choose our attitudes.
We can always choose our attitude in even the worst situations.
I was at the end of the table and remember one guy who was also known for embracing the weird side of things looking at me, seeing who could come up with the best and funniest solution. Finally, I had an idea. I grabbed extra napkins to protect my shirt. Then, after liberally buttering my French toast, I poured all of my syrup over one piece. I took another piece and placed it on top. That’s right, a buttery maple syrup filled French toast sandwich! It didn’t take long for it to catch on and others to make their own modifications. It was hilarious. Not only did we get to enjoy our breakfast, but we got to laugh like kids. (I’ve seen toddlers make much less of a mess than we did that day.) I remember feeling bad for the people who thought we were ridiculous. They refused to eat breakfast and said some rather rude things to the rest of us. We didn’t care. The staff said they had never seen something cause that much joy and laughter in what could’ve turned into mutiny. One particular muscular guy you didn’t want to mess with was laughing at us so hard he was crying. (He was also one of the most compassionate staff members there.) The table, our hands, faces, and our shirts were a sticky syrupy mess, but it was fun. We had to choose to have fun. When we did, it became one of the most healing moments for me. Jesus was right there in a French toast sandwich. He was there in the moments of laughter. He was even there when we had to clean up the table. (I wonder why we were never served French toast again? Certainly it had nothing to do with me and my friends! Haha) That room smelled like maple syrup the rest of the day. (Syrup also provided better hold than my hairspray.)
That breakfast brought this verse to life.
“A cheerful heart brings good healing, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22 NET
That morning we had to make a choice to laugh and it’s no different every day of our lives. We had so much pain in our hearts, but that laughter brought healing.
Never underestimate the healing power of laughter.
What about you? I have a challenge for you this week. When you’re tempted to complain because of things beyond your control, try to see if there is some joy hidden there. I’m guessing there is a laugh or smile to be had even in a sticky situation.
Please let me know if you find joy in someplace you least expect it. I want to hear your stories. Please leave a comment. Nothing is too small. We can encourage each other.
If you have suicidal thoughts, are a victim or any type of abuse, or struggle with self-injury, please immediately call one of the numbers below or click on the links. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, but they are excellent resources, and I have used them. I highly recommend keeping the numbers in your phone. You never know when you or a friend may need them.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273- 8255 http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
RAINN: (The National Sexual Assault Hotline) 1-800-656-4673 https://www.rainn.org/