Minding Myself – The Christian’s Mental Health 2

Dear BPCWA worshipper, We continue on the subject of a Christian’s mental health this week. Though unanticipated, we have had in the news even more mentions of mental health over the past week. Given the current issues in society, such news is also not too surprising since our minds reflect who we are and control what we say and do in society as well. As we mentioned last week, even the world acknowledges that due to the “lack of coping skills and resilience. Worry, stress, and anxiety can build up over a long period of time. They can reach a point where a person is no longer able to cope or perform their normal daily tasks”. Do not misinterpret this pastoral to mean that there is no place for medical interventions when it is genuinely needed. If there is a genuine medical issue, do seek medical help. But the focus in this pastoral is on how Christians can avoid reaching such a state of breakdown. How can a Christian build coping skills and hence resilience instead of just succumbing?

The Christian overcoming challenges. With how mental health terms are loosely used today, Christians must not succumb to a mindset that there is nothing they can do to avoid it since so many people seem to be labelled to have it. For most of us, God puts within our control many things that we can do to help ourselves mentally. This being so, it is our responsibility then to exercise ourselves unto godliness and practice doing what we can and should do. Take the prevalent malady of depression. When we allow our minds to dwell on ourselves, there is only one foreseeable result – melancholy and depression. A focus on oneself has taken over the mind. This is so easy for the natural man to do, in so many forms and ways. We can think that we’re in the worst situation that anyone could ever be in, and nobody has ever had it as bad as us. We can start worrying about ourselves unduly, or even just feel terrible because we’re in such a bad state! We can nurse that bruised ego by thinking about how badly we have been treated or how unappreciated we are or how no one understands us. There is a phrase “wallow in self-pity”, which the Cambridge dictionary aptly describes as one who allows oneself “to remain in an unhappy emotional state without trying to get out of it, as if you are enjoying it or trying to get sympathy from other people”. Instead of remaining in that state, 1Peter 1:13 commands us to “gird up the loins of your mind” . . . bind up all those loose thoughts that are causing you to fall.  This is certainly the example that we see in men of faith in the Bible.

Examples in the Bible to follow. 1) Focusing on Christ, His work, and others rather than self. Paul was wrongly imprisoned, beaten, and oftentimes to near-death situations. Even when he was not in prison, he was rejected by the Jews, his own people. When imprisoned, though missing the fellowship that he otherwise could have had with Christians and even deserted by some (2Tim 4:10-11), it was a time instead that he used to write the prison epistles which bear not the slightest trace of depression. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, we learn from Paul the lofty themes of Christ and His church. Instead of asking for pity from the Ephesian Christians who were worried for him, Paul sent Tychicus to them “that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts” (Eph 6:22). Paul’s thoughts were for God’s people and God’s work in places far beyond his prison cell. What was the difference that caused him and so many others to respond differently? Paul reined his mind in with God’s Word, which is why he asked for the books and parchment even in prison (2Tim 4:13). 2) Give thanks instead of wallowing in self-pity. Instead of focusing on himself and how he had been so wrongfully accused, unappreciated, and woefully mistreated, Paul expresses much love and encouragement for the Ephesians, telling them I “cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16). At a casual reading of the epistle, one would never have guessed that these epistles were written by a prisoner! 3) Rejoice in the Lord always instead of allowing our hearts to feel it has the right to be depressed. Even in prison conditions, Paul did not spiral down into a mental breakdown. Why? God taught Paul, and Paul taught others to “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Rejoice is in the imperative command mood. This implies that we can rejoice if we choose to. So, the Christian can respond rightly or choose to let ourselves go in the opposite direction. 4) Pray!!! Turn to God in prayer. God instructs those who are troubled with cares, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil 4:6). You can choose to turn to God or remain in “sweet misery” i.e. rather have misery as your company more than God. 5) Hope in God, not man. When the Psalmist was downcast, he said to his own soul, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” (Ps 42:11). God tells us that He is truly the “health of my countenance”. It is by turning to God that the Christian can maintain and gain control of his mental health. A Christian may not want to seek the Lord in all his sadness and cares and may not like to receive Biblical counselling. He would rather turn to others to listen to him and wants to have others agree that he is right to feel the way he feels. In doing so, the Christian has turned away the only useful and true source of help for his mental health. By choosing his own way, he is opening himself up to spiralling downwards.

I am not underestimating that some of us face very trying situations. Renewing our minds requires us to think differently from how the world thinks about things because we have God and His Word to guide us.

Isa 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Yours in our Lord’s service,