25 Mar Mental Health – A Christian Response
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. – John 14:27
You and I are unique individuals, beautifully created to celebrate life. We are unique because God has created us in His image; beautiful as we are capable of love, and celebrate life for we can be creative in partnership with God. Anyone who can exercise faith, hope and love will scarcely experience mental health problems.
World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as: “A state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Fear, anxiety, guilt and anger rob us of joy and peace. Fear of failure and rejection, anxiety of the unknown future, guilt of falling short of expectations, and pent up anger over injustices can corrupt our sense of well-being. Mental Health is disturbed when our state of well-being is lost. Based on the above definition, WHO believes, that people who realize their abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively and contribute to society do not have emotional, psychological and behavioral problems. The evidence is quite contrary to it. We see otherwise bright students, career oriented and successful, and socially popular people having mental health problems.
The real issues are loss of belonging, meaninglessness and purposelessness in life. To belong, people seek relationships. When people are accepted as they are and valued as individuals, and are not criticized, rejected or manipulated, they feel secure. The truth of the matter is when others accept and value you, you accept and value yourself. If they don’t, you are ill at ease with yourself and lose that sense of well-being.
Reward for your hard work is a great motivator. But after some time, wealth, power and popularity lose their charm and a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness sets in. It leaves a void in your soul. People tend to fill that void with more of the same things and naturally they are never satisfied. Quite often loss of well-being is marked by depression. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
Therefore, the twin causes of loss of well-being and consequently mental health are a lack of a fulfilling purpose in life and loving relationships to share that purpose with.
Take the first, a fulfilling purpose. Christ, when he was asked, as to which is the greatest commandment (greatest thing to do, highest purpose to pursue), reiterated that it is “to love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” There is something uplifting, sublime in climbing mountains. I have not scaled Mount Everest but I did climb a few hills. The feeling of moving from a valley to a mountain top is exhilarating. We are created for higher things. When God calls to love him, he calls to higher values, larger pursuits and fulfilling purposes. We enter into the kingdom of God where he rules and his subjects are happy. When God is not on our radar, we crawl in muddy pursuits of this world and naturally end up unhappy and depressed. To love God is the greatest pursuit in life.
Take the second, loving relationships. Jesus, in the same breath, reiterated that we are called to love our neighbours. Love is to share our lives with them. The goodness we experience as we love God must be shared with all those who are in our life. When we do not love God, then by default, we try to make others love us and value us by dominating, controlling and manipulating. Naturally this leads to conflicts and violence because the other is also trying to do the same.
Christian response to the problem of mental health is not about a creed but the creator, not a process but a person and not rules but relationships. Without connecting to God, the source of life, through a relationship with Jesus Christ, the channel of that life, any attempt to experience lasting sense of well-being is frustrating, if not impossible.
If loving God (living in the kingdom of God) and loving our neighbours (sharing the goodness of the kingdom of God with others) leads to a sense of well-being, then how does it translate into a practical lifestyle? The following four simple but powerful disciplines help us practice the presence of God and love of our neighbor and enjoy good mental health.
1. Meditative prayer: God is good and he is good all the time. He loves us. He cares for us. He acted in history and left us ‘his story’ to tell us how he wants to relate to us and the promises he made and wants to fulfill in our lives. The Bible and abundant literature on it can help us meditate who God is and how he acts in our lives. God’s antidote to a crisis is to remember how he came through to aid his people through the history and be reassured that he would help us too. Consider his promise: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Paul encourages us to “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, that passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It is a good practice to reflect on the scriptures in the morning, through the day and at bedtime. Consider how great is your God! Your spirits will be surely lifted up.
2. Obedience to discovered truths: As we relate to him, we encounter him. His love is so gentle yet mighty that we will be totally influenced. His way is to lead us into all truth. The truths of Christ. He taught his disciples to wash each other’s feet in humility. Forgive one another as he will forgive. Share what you have with the poor and needy. “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” Make choices based on teachings of Christ and peace will rule our hearts. All manner of evil: lies, deception, hypocrisy, pride, love of money, sexual sins, gluttony, envy, jealousy, bad language, anger must be shunned in obedience to Christ. As we practice meditative prayer, the Lord will speak to us and address our weaknesses and we must give up evil. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
3. Confess failures, receive forgiveness: As a child falls and gets up many times before he can walk, a child of God is also prone to fall several times before he can walk a righteous life. Always confess your sins to God and receive forgiveness. Keep short accounts by coming to God quickly. Hiding our sins is burdensome. Psalm 32 and Psalm 51 can be personalized to make confession and receiving forgiveness. “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again but the wicked shall fall by calamity.” Confession with repentance keeps our connection with God. Never neglect or underestimate the destructive power of sin. Jesus paid for our sins so that through him we can be reconciled with God. Reconciliation restores our well-being.
4. Celebrate life through thanksgiving: Gratitude is a fitting response to the grace of God. We do not deserve any love, mercy or forgiveness but the grace of God – his unmerited favour – makes it possible. Therefore, we will do well to be thankful and rejoicing for all the goodness of God, blessings of God and his faithfulness that reaches to the sky. Thanksgiving produces joyful emotions and they in turn produce endorphins in our brain that relieve stress and pain. What science is saying today had already been said in the Bible: “A merry heart is like a medicine.” Thanksgiving will surely make us whole. The lone cleansed leper who returned to thank Jesus, went away doubly blessed by him: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (whole).” The other nine were cleansed but were not made ‘whole’. Thanksgiving to God is reciprocated by a gift of wholesome health, even mental health.
Let us whole heartedly belong to God. Have a clear purpose of lovingly sharing the goodness of such a life with others. Practice the above four principles. Make a habit of it. We will enjoy the abundant life. Mental health is part of it.
Dr. Samson Gandhi is passionate about Spiritual Direction, Christian Counselling and Christian Leadership. He heads ‘Person to Person’ an Institute for Christian counselling (www.persontoperson.org). He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org