Major depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder – these and other mental-health challenges are part of our human experience just as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease are. If you’re a human being, you’re at risk. And that includes you and me whether or not we’re people of faith.
But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless when it comes to your mental health. Good mental health habits will decrease your chances of mental illness just as good nutrition, physical exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight will lessen your risk of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Those good mental health habits include such things as nurturing healthy connections with other people, learning to take responsibility for one’s own thoughts, and ensuring a steady mental diet that’s positive and encouraging.
But as many of you know, a healthy physical lifestyle is no guarantee against physical illness. And good mental habits are no guarantee against mental illness. We need something more. We need healing. And we need an eternal perspective.
What role, then, does faith play in your mental health?
Many people find that their relationship with God, their Christian community of believers, and their faith in general provides courage, strength, and support when facing mental health challenges. But not all believers have such a positive experience. Some religious or spiritual coping practices can be detrimental to one’s mental health.
If you see God as out to punish you, for example, prayer may add significantly to your anxiety. Being part of a faith community where toxic faith is practiced will do the same. Religion that is legalistic is not healthy for your mind and emotions. Neither is religion that says “anything goes”; God wants your transformation, and your religious practices should help you experience that transformation.
So what’s the alternative?
Here are a few ways to use your faith in a positive way when it comes to your mental health.
- Get to know a loving God. That doesn’t mean a God who doesn’t care what you do. A loving God – the God we know from a well-rounded study of Scripture and from the witness of believers through the centuries – is One who sees you, knows you, cares deeply about you, gives you a new beginning again and again, calls you to a higher life than you dreamed possible, and provides you all you need to live that higher life.
- Spend time around supportive fellow believers. When the body of Christ is working as God intended, believers help carry each other’s burdens, encourage one another, and help point the way when you can’t see the light. Mental health challenges often lead people to feel isolated. No church is perfect, but if you’re not in a healthy nurturing community of faith, search until you find one. They’re out there.
- Pray, and ask for prayer often. God heals – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. We can experience a great measure of His restoring power here and now. We can’t dictate how much of that healing we experience here, but God loves us to ask. Seek Him for wisdom also, to know what steps to take in caring for your own mental health. See yourself as working together with God to experience as much of His restoration as you can.
- Read or listen to stories of other believers. You’ll discover that you’re not alone in your struggles, even among Christians. For example, Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, struggled with depression his entire life. See how others have experienced God in their struggle. What He’s done for others, He can do for you. No one’s story is the same, and God deals with each person individually. But seeing others persevere through troubles can encourage you in doing the same.
- Remember eternity. Even the best this world can offer is not good enough for the human soul to be satisfied. Our minds and emotions experience assault from our own weaknesses, our mixed-up world in general, and from our eternal enemy. Only in eternity will we be truly and completely free and healed. That hope is real, and it’s enough to sustain us during our sometimes dark days here on Earth.
God wants you well mentally and emotionally, fully alive in mind and heart. That doesn’t mean always happy. Remember, Jesus experienced fatigue, loneliness, and sadness. (Mark 4:38, Matthew 26:37-40) And you may too. Through it all your faith can give you the fuel you need to keep going.
I claim this promise for you today: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Your Turn: How does your faith impact your mental health? Leave a comment below.
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