The Bible As a Basis for Good Mental Health
The Best Teacher
The Best Teacher
They say that experience is the best teacher; but is it?
I mean, if you have made financial decisions where you’ve lost money, took jobs that didn’t pan out, misjudged the character of someone you trusted, that sort of thing…does that mean you’ll never invest in anything again because you’ve learned your lesson? No financial investments, no investing in education for other employment, no commitments of the heart. Based on what those past experiences have taught you, that would be living life in fear, unable to trust anyone or anything, including yourself.
You’ve seen those “Recipes for Life”…2 cups of kindness, 1 cup of laughter, ½ cup of Patience . . .And butter! (no, wait…that’s all of…er…one of… my recipes.) And what is the life metaphor for butter, anyway? Let things slide off your back? Or maybe, let go of resentments, disappointments, disagreements and such? Buttered pans release a cake more easily. Yes, that’s good! Letting the negative thoughts slide into the category of “Things That Slipped My Mind.”
Personally, I need to put in more Faith than Hope, and maybe leave out that ¼ cup of Anxiety. A pinch is enough. But butter is still “OK.” Maybe that’s about living a balanced life, and enjoying good things without guilt, albeit in moderation. (Next week, we’ll talk about bacon and chocolate. Anxiety, anyone?)
If we have ambiguous information today, we tend to interpret today’s situation based on past experience. With incomplete data now, we tend to fill in the blanks with what we know—things we learned before. But we can choose to live now with a “Faith-filled Future” in mind, or we can choose to live now in a “Painful Past.”
In that regard, we can look back and say, “Wow! I didn’t like THAT at the time, but I can see where it helped me. Extract the “good” from the “bad.” Popular television personality and announcer, Steve Harvey, said the other day on the Ellen Show, “In every bit of adversity, there is a lesson, and a blessing.” I like that. It keeps us from being stuck on the lesson, which may have been painful. Let it go, I tell myself, and focus on that blessing.
For a Christian, past experiences can be a great teacher, if we see the past in a positive light. We need faith to do that. I believe that there is a reason why things happen as they do; because God has a plan for my life and yours. My favorite Bible verse has always been Romans 8:28… “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose.” We are all called. A Voice Carries.
In a TV commercial for Special Olympics, one participant falls. He’s definitely “out of the race”; he can’t possibly win! Everyone else now has a better chance of reaching the finish line first!
But in a sincere act of self-less compassion, they all stop and pick up their fallen comrade. Arms locked in solidarity, they continue to press on, together. The event changes from a race to a run. Crossing the finish line together, they are all winners.
In 1997, the Chicago Tribune published an essay by columnist Mary Schmich, written as a hypothetical commencement speech. Baz Lurhrman recorded it as a spoken-word song, “(Everybody’s Free to) Wear Sunscreen” (Actually, it was narrated by Australian voice actor Lee Perry). He explains that wearing sunscreen is the only scientifically-proven advice he will give you, and that the rest of his advice has “no basis more reliable than his own meandering experiences.” I love this line: “Don’t waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind; the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
Winning is often glorified at the expense of individual growth, it’s competition before cooperation. I try to remember, we’re all on the same team. We can coach and encourage each other, but we are not the referee. We don’t keep score. We don’t hand out the trophies.
Imagine yourself alone on a deserted island, with nothing to “be,” or “do,” or “have.” Who are you? Yes, it’s about who you are, not what you are. Your character is what counts. The things you’ve acquired and accomplished, your accolades and achievements—all these matter not, if they were not done in Christian love, and according to God’s plan for your life.
Sonja Lyubomirsky spent much of her career on meta-research: researching the research-- about happiness. One of her books, The Myths of Happiness, is subtitled “What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t; and What Shouldn’t’ Make You Happy, but Does.” Have you ever felt, “I will be happy …when… (fill in the blank)…” The older I get, the more I realize there isn’t anything I can put in that blank. No, I have to decide to be happy, not wait to see what the days, weeks, or years bring, and react to that!
When each of us stand before those Pearly Gates we’ve envisioned, we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Sometimes I kinda’ hope he’ll say, “Well, compared to so-and-so, you’re a saint! Come on in!”) But it’s only me, alone at the judgement throne. I have to account for myself. So I have to strive…as Paul said, press on toward the prize; run the race set before you…
We want to be able to say, as is written in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
Hebrews 12:1 explains it this way: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The voice of Paul resonated with many back then . . and echoes today! Truly, A Voice Carries.
A String of Pearls
I had so many ideas. . .projects . . .articles! Some of these ideas had materialized; some projects completed; some articles already written. But there was so much more still in my head!
Pastor Gretchen looked at my papers scattered all over the table. I hoped that somehow, this could be my final project for Lay Ministry School. Several times, she’d start to speak, but I’d interrupt, grabbing something more from another folder or notebook. I wanted her to get the full picture of my writing, and all of the life struggles that gave birth to so much of it. I desperately needed her to understand!
She listened patiently, compassionately, as I shared a fragmented outline of my life, how I had lost so much over the years! Homes, businesses, jobs, relationships—because of chronic brain illnesses, (SAD and ADHD). Her eyes welled up with tears, as if it was my pain-- overflowing-- from her!
She took a blank piece of paper, and drew a line across the width. Then she added some little circles on it. It looked like an elementary school number line . . . or maybe . . . a timeline to help me organize everything?? Off to the side she drew a little circle by itself. I wondered, where is she going with this?
“These things you have done, all your ideas and writings, are like pearls.” She drew a few more circles on the line. “You are looking for a way to connect these together. Do you see what I mean?” (I didn’t.) She continued, “This is a string. But you are not the string! Do you follow me?” I moved my head slowly from side to side. She said with authority, “You are not even the one who will string the pearls!”
Seeing my still-confused face, Pastor Gretchen shook her head and said, “Let’s back up a bit. Pearls. How are they formed? What are they made of?”
“Ss…sand?” was my tenuous reply.
“YES! Well, WHATEVER gets in there and irritates the oyster! Have you ever touched the inside of an oyster? It’s pretty soft and gooey, and . . . what gets in there annoys or frustrates the oyster . . . and what does the oyster do?”
“I know! The oyster coats the intruder with a substance to shield itself, to protect itself from the pain and damage that otherwise might be done!” I was catching on.
“YES! They make PEARLS! They take something bad and make it beautiful, just as you have taken your bits of adversity and showed how they can be beautiful examples of God’s love!" (Well, why didn’t she talk about the oyster first? I got confused about the string.) She wasn't done. "And look at the person you have become!”
I didn’t know what to think of that last remark, but I know the apostle Paul gave thanks for adversity. (I hadn’t!) Romans 5:2-5 “… but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, . . .”
Still uncertain of how to use my writing, Pastor Gretchen said, “What you need, many need!” The pearls were meant to be shared! They were born of adversity, and polished by perseverance. They are my voice . . . and A Voice Carries.
Empathy has been defined as "The intimate comprehension of another person's thoughts and feelings, without imposing our own judgment or expectations."
Even in usual life circumstances, this is not an easy task, but when you must travel the uneven emotional landscape of mental illness, the territory may be unfamiliar, harsh, and unyielding. Often, the individual and their family traverse unmarked trails, jungles of psychiatric jargon, and a huge gap between what's expected and what's experienced.
Mental illnesses are now more accurately being referred to as "brain disorders," and as such, they are physical, but they happen to affect one's ability to think, feel, and act. There is a continual struggle to establish and maintain some semblance of self-worth and self-respect. Complicating this struggle is not just the lack of support, but the lack of acceptance.
I have told friends and family members that when I am depressed, yes, I appreciate you calling and asking "How are you doing?" Don't stop doing that. Well-meaning, sincere, caring people stand at the top of the cellar door and call down to me, "Are you ok? I've been thinking about you. I know it's hard. Let me know if you need something." Yes! I need something! I need you to open that cellar door, walk down those shaky steps, to that dark, damp, musty place, and come sit beside me. You don't have to do anything. Just being there tells me you really care. Oftentimes, there is nothing you can say that will help the matter. Sometimes what you say will hurt the situation. (I know you mean well, so please don't see this as criticism.)
And there's something else you can do for me. Learn about my illness. Learn all you can. Understand me--the best representation of "me" that we can muster. It has been said that the greatest gift you can give another human being is listening, caring, and understanding . . . without trying to minimize or discount what someone tells you. That sounds an awful lot like empathy to me. . . and love.
Jesus said, in John 15:12, "Love one another as I have loved you." Jesus's love was all-encompassing; he didn't pick and chose those whom he would love. In fact, he was criticized for some unpopular choices. In the 1970's, this folk song was popular, "And They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love." Love is not a feeling. It's a choice. it is manifested by our actions. We honor others above ourselves, and put their needs first.
People with mental illness did not choose their lot. They did not page through a catalog, and order their affliction. "Hmmm....let's see...."depression" would give me a good reason to feel sorry for myself, and to keep others from expecting too much from me; but some "mania" would be nice because I could get a lot done and be the life of the party. But here's a special offer: "Two for the price of one! Available as a set." So, let me just write , "Bipolar Disorder" on the order form.
And life is so busy, I'd like a plausible reason to not have to finish my work, to not be any place when I'm supposed to be there; and heck, it's a built-in excuse for why I can't go somewhere if I don't want to . . .( I forgot because I have ADHD, you know!)
Please, tell yourself, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." And tell others. A Voice Carries.