Paul's explanation to Timothy,"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind," has frankly unsettled me for years.
Having fought with anxiety since I was a little boy, it often feels like its interwoven with my every thought, biologically, as if God created me this way. Am I a screw up because of how my brain works? Does God not care about me because He lets me be preoccupied by fear? Where is the power and sound mind I so desperately yearn for?
Of the women from whom Christ cast out devils, the Bible only names one: Mary called Magdalene. The fact that she is mentioned at all is significant, as anyone who's read the Bible knows that female figures are scarce. She seems to play a supporting role in the Gospels, ministering unto Christ of her substance (Luke 8), but there is a deeply moving lesson we can learn from her life.
Why did Mary have seven devils within her, and what does that even mean? Was she demonically possessed like the self-harming man housing "Legion"? From how understand it, such possessions can only occur when the host extends an invitation, and I seem to recall James E. Talmage discussing that this was not the case with Mary in his book Jesus the Christ.
I think it is reasonable to consider that her demons were of a more metaphorical kind. Perhaps she was haunted by the shame of her sins or past mistakes. Maybe she was troubled by mental or physical illness. Was loneliness and a lack of a sense of purpose holding her down? Perhaps she failed to meet societal expectations such as marriage and childbearing.
Whatever the case may be, when Jesus entered her life, these burdens were made light and she was freed. Unlike the ungrateful lepers, Mary became a faithful follower of Christ like His apostles, proving to be more loyal than even they at the time of His crucifixion. It was she who expressed her devotion and great mourning for the loss of her friend and savior by traveling to the tomb to dress Him before His corpse was sealed up.
She never got the chance, for which she was immediately heartbroken. At the sight of the empty tomb, she believed she had lost her opportunity to say goodbye and that her Lord's body had been desecrated. Even the voices of the angels failed to console her in her agony and grief.
But she heard her name called, perhaps remembering the first time that voice had formed her name as it drew her from the depths of her devils, and she knew it was the Master.
The Lord, as far as we know, presented Himself first to this virtuous woman, a woman whom others likely looked down upon at some point for the devils she once fought. The Lord had ordained apostles, leaders who held His priesthood and would bear His name throughout the known world, but the Lord first appeared to someone who met Him while in darkness. Someone who had learned through the pains of her own Gethsemane. A woman who never forsook her Savior.
I often hesitate to share my experiences with mental illness and suicidal ideation. The stigma around mental disorders is rough enough to deal with as it is. To build upon that, the world tells me every day that not seeking romance with other men is the cause of such struggles. I know that members of the Church as well as other religious sects feel that if they admit to having emotional challenges that they are also admitting that their faith isn't strong enough. The Plan of Happiness is supposed to make you happy, right?
Tragedy hits us all. We're all subject to the pains of this fallen world. Many of God's children have to fight every day against their own brains to stay alive. Acting in faith and holding fast to the hope we have in Christ's grace will grant us greater power than we can recognize with our mortal eyes, but to expect happiness every day is ludicrous. There is tension that comes with self-restraint, but fighting the good fight and conquering the natural man is why we're here.
The legendary apostle Paul owned up to the thorn in his flesh, a struggle that he begged the Lord repeatedly to remove. We as followers of Christ shouldn't be ashamed of what sadness or anxiety or weaknesses we endure. It doesn't mean that we don't have testimonies, and it certainly doesn't mean that the Church isn't true. The mockery of the world will use anything it can to chip away at our faith, and our "devils" provide the world with gratifying ammunition.
We should remember Paul's following sentence to Timothy, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;" When we are loyal to Him, God empowers us to bear His name and testify of Him.
Was Mary embraced by others when she was possessed with her devils? When she was freed? When she dedicated her life to Christ? We don't know, but what we do know is that she was cherished and remembered by Christ. No matter what our personal demons are, we can rest assured that towards us, He feels the same.