By Chip Sekulich, TwelveStone Chaplain
What happened to all the glitter and twinkle that seemed to fill the air just a few weeks ago? The Christmas carols, sounds of joy, and rows of happy lights all around? Now that we’ve packed up the decorations, and taken down the lights, it seems that all we are left with is the disappointment of unmet expectations, and the cold, anemic gray of winter. Though, not a mental-health professional, as a seasoned Bible teacher and minister I do see the importance and value of being “real” and meeting people where they are.
During any given time, there are numerous mental health issues that we as human beings face, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as issues such as substance and alcohol abuse and even sleep disorders. For many, this time of year seems to magnify and deepen these issues leading to what I would call, The Post-Holiday Blues.
People of faith are not exempt from any of the issues that plague all of mankind—including the impact of the post-holiday blues. Fortunately, often our faith can be a source of resilience, helping us to navigate life’s challenges with a sense of hope and trust in a higher power. This resilience can contribute to mental strength and the ability to bounce back from adversity.
I do believe that nurturing mental health aligns with the pursuit of spiritual well-being. I heard a speaker say, “A lot of our problems seem to come from, stinkin’ thinkin’”. The God who made us knows that mental health is a critical component of our overall well-being, and healthy spiritual practices can contribute to a sense of wholeness.
And we must never forget that we find great advice and counsel in the pages of God’s Word.
Directing Our Thoughts
Our thought life often directs and controls our mood, mind-set, and actions. A well-respected pastor said, “Attitude equals Altitude.” When we are balanced and healthy mentally and spiritually, we are able to intentionally direct our thoughts as God directs—which in turn, will positively impact our actions. The Bible seems to bear this out. We are told, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you,” -Philippians 4:8-9.
When our thoughts carry us in any direction contrary to God’s Word (even if that direction is culturally popular) it will almost always cause conflict or confusion in the heart and mind of those who have decided to follow Christ and to do His will. In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God,” Romans 12:2.
Dispelling Our Fears
I remember being taught that we are born with only two natural fears: loud noises and falling. All the rest of our fears are learned, created, or imagined. A recent look at the Phobia List website revealed that there are currently over 500 named phobias world-wide. Among the rarest is Arachibutyrophobia, the fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth! Among the most common would include various social phobias, like glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. Fear is a powerful force, designed by God to keep us safe from real danger, but uncontrolled fear can rob us of our God-given joy, sap our strength, impact our health, and paralyze our forward progress. More than 365 times in the Bible, God says, “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” That is more than enough for us to have at least one reminder every day of the year!
One of my favorite passages to lean on and share with others is found in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,” -Isaiah 41:10 & 13. In this passage those who walk in relationship with God are given the keys to overcome our deepest fears.
Trust in His Presence. He is with us in our circumstances and situations- “Fear not, for I am with you.” The Lord promised that He would never leave us or forsake us.(See Hebrews 13:5)
Trust in His Provision. He will provide whatever is needed for those who trust in Him- “Be not dismayed, for I am your God.” The word “dismayed” can be understood to mean, “bewildered” or “alarmed, upset, worried, or agitated.” We are not to act as though God was surprised or caught off-guard by what happens to us. He will make a way, even when we don’t see a way.(See Habakkuk 3:17-19 and Romans 8:26-28)
Trust in His Power. There will be situations and circumstances beyond our strength, control, or abilities. “I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,” The Apostle Paul asked God, three times to remove a “thorn in the flesh.” But instead of taking it away, God supplied the grace that he needed to bear-up under the burden. Sometimes God chooses to change our circumstances, while at other times, He chooses to change us.(See 2 Corinthians 12:9)
Dealing with Grief and Loss
God designed us to process grief and loss. Those who know the subject tell us that there are steps that we go through in processing grief and loss. Some say that there are five, while others extend it to seven. Those who hold to five basic stages list them as Denial; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and Acceptance. Those who hold to seven steps would say they include, Shock and Denial; Pain and Guilt; Anger and Bargaining; Depression; The Upward Turn; Reconstruction and working through; Acceptance and hope. In either case, it seems that we were made to process grief and loss so that we can heal and move forward. Grief and loss must be dealt with honestly, thoroughly and in a healthy manner if we are to recover and go on.
Faith can serve as a coping mechanism during difficult circumstances. Spiritual practices, such as reading the Bible, prayer and meditation can help promote inner peace and serenity. A calm and centered mind is conducive to spiritual reflection and can provide comfort and resilience in the face of stress and adversity.
The Bible speaks of this in several places. The life of Job in the Old Testament is a great example. Though he has a book in the Bible named after him, and we often hear the phrase, “the patience of Job,” few really know his story. Job was successful, satisfied, and strong- until he wasn’t. In a short time, he lost his children, his property, his flocks, and his health. His world collapsed around him. Even his wife turned against him- yet he never abandoned his faith in God.
We often picture him standing resolutely, like a rock- without a whimper- in the face of his loss, grief, and pain. But this was not the case. The Bible tells us that Job suffered depression and wished that he had never been born (Job 3:3). Have you ever heard that we should never question God? Job did. Though he never blamed God, or charged God foolishly with wrongdoing, at least fourteen times he did ask God, “Why?” It’s okay for us to ask God why too (See Matthew 27:46).
If it wasn’t bad enough that Job was suffering and his own wife turned against him, his three best friends piled on too! They did some things right. They came to him in his grief. They wept for and with him. They spent time with him. But then they blamed Job for his troubles. They each accused him of angering God by having committed some great sin (none of which was true). At the heart of Job’s troubles was an unknown spiritual battle being waged against him by an unseen foe- Satan.
To be sure, not all our dismay, discouragement and depression can or should be laid at the feet of the Devil, but neither should a spiritual component be dismissed as myth or fairytale. As God’s creation, we are not just flesh, blood, bone, and brain. We have a soul as well. That is the part of us that many people of faith consider to be the “real you.”
In reading through the story of Job, one key thing stands out. God never surrendered His place over the events in Job’s life. Yes, the “heat” was certainly turned up on Job, but God always had His hand on the thermostat. Job’s faith saw him through as he processed his grief and loss and came out of the storm that he weathered better situated than before he went into the storm!
It’s also important to note that while faith can be a source of strength, individuals facing mental health challenges may also benefit from professional interventions such as therapy and medication. The integration of faith and mental health should be approached in a holistic and inclusive manner. Mental health is a critical component of overall well-being, and healthy spiritual practices can contribute to a sense of wholeness.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” -Philippians 4:6-7.
Finding a Faith Community
Active participation in a faith community can foster a sense of belonging and social support. Having a supportive community can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, contributing positively to mental health.
Faith communities can play a crucial part in challenging the stigma associated with mental health issues. Promoting open dialogue and acceptance within religious settings creates an environment where individuals feel comfortable seeking help.
Faith communities also enable individuals to engage in acts of service and contribute positively to their communities. Many spiritual traditions highlight the value of selfless service and making a positive impact on the lives of others.
And there is value in seeking professional counseling when needed. Trained Christian counselors often found within faith communities can integrate faith with psychological principles for holistic healing and provide a comprehensive approach to mental health and wellness.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up,” -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.