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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Known by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

"hello my name is love" by Andres Musta via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

written by Hannah Campbell Gustafson

I remember vividly the fall that I began graduate school at the University of Chicago, walking around campus and feeling completely and totally invisible. It was an awful feeling. Now, I’m aware that some of this is because I went to a college with around 2000 students, so walking around campus I would recognize almost everyone, and know and greet many of the people. This was my first time in years walking around an academic community regularly, and I longed for that old familiarity. But I was also greatly impacted by my social anxiety and depression, which often are worse when I’m in a new place.

The first year that I lived in the town of 2400 where my husband and I currently reside, I was surprised to find that I had similar feelings. Though here, many people do in fact know that I’m the Lutheran pastor’s wife, or one of the owners of the black standard poodle, and I recognize many of the people that I pass in town. The feelings here were (and sometimes continue to be) more about feeling like no one here really knows me—there are plenty of assumptions about what I must be like based on my role as pastor’s wife, but I fit very few of the assumptions or stereotypes that people have about me. Most still haven’t figured out that I’m pursing ordination in the UCC (and am a member at a church in a nearby town—I guess I attend my husband’s church just enough), and would likely be surprised by many of my passions in the world. I don’t work in our town, which certainly impacts my feelings of being not known and sometimes isolated, but again I know that my depression and anxiety are certainly at play as well.

I imagine that there are many of us who feel similar things at various times in our lives. And at this place in my life, I find the lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany to provide some of the comfort for which I’ve been yearning. In the reading from 1st Samuel, while Samuel and Eli are sleeping, God calls Samuel by name, over and over again.[1] In John, Jesus sees Nathanael first, and knows things about him.[2] I am loved and known by God, even when I feel isolated and unknown by those around me. Thanks be to God.

Psalm 139: 1-5 Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me.

[1] First Samuel 3:1-10
[2] John 1:43-51
Hannah Campbell Gustafson is director of Family Promise of Grant County, a nonprofit that uses a network of volunteers and faith communities to serve families experiencing homelessness.  She teaches one class a semester at University of Wisconsin-Platteville in social work, and chairs the Lafayette County Homeless Coalition.  Hannah is treasurer of the UCC Mental Health Network board of directors, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC.  She lives in the beautiful Driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin with her husband (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) and their standard poodle puppy, ├ôscar Romero.