rooted to thrive - mental health
The following are notes taken from the teaching on 'Rooted to Thrive - Mental Health' on Sunday 9th August 2020. The service is available to view on our Facebook page, and will be available soon on our Vimeo page.
Last week, in our series ‘Rooted to Thrive’, we thought about ‘Physical health’ and ways we can work towards that. We thought about how as beings made up of body, mind, and spirit how the health of one part of our being can affect the other parts of our being.
This week, we think about ‘Mental Health’.
Why is it that whenever we think of ‘mental health’, we think of bad mental health?!
When we say, ‘physical health’, we tend to think of things that make for good health – we perhaps see images in our minds of good, healthy food, of fit looking people, or of people out enjoying exercise or creation.
When we say, ‘mental health’, we immediately think of struggles… those struggling with various mental health issues…. We rarely think of working for good mental health….
Mental health issues are real. Many of us will face them at times in our lives, just as many of us will face physical health issues at times in our lives. Sometimes there is nothing we can do about it, in and of ourselves – but just as we can work to live a healthy physical lifestyle, or a healthy spiritual lifestyle, we can work towards a healthy mental lifestyle.
If we suffer with our physical or mental health, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have failed in some way. The healthiest folk can suffer physically – I attended the funeral some time ago of a friend I had cycled with regularly, who was fitter and healthier than me – and his life was cut short with a heart attack whilst out on a bike ride.
Ill-health in whatever form is a product of living in a fallen world, and will continue until Jesus comes back and the new creation comes into being where there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21!)
Our ill-health is not always a product of our own sin and failing.
Jesus was questioned in John 9 as to whether a man who was born blind was blind because of his sin, or his parent’s sin…. And Jesus said, ‘Neither’, and in this case his blindness was allowed so that God’s glory could be seen.
Many years ago, I went through a period of deep depression. I was off work for a period of around 6 months, and had a gradual return to work over 6 months. It was over a year before I could say I really had mental health! I remember walking along a road and suddenly feeling really excited, because I felt ‘normal!’
If you were to pinch my notebooks, and read my journal entries, you would find me being incredibly honest at times – just like people writing in the psalms and other parts of scripture were.
This is part of an entry from one morning last month:
‘Think I may be a bit depressed. Struggling to get motivation for anything. Got a number of jobs done first thing yesterday, but motivation to follow through on others was anything but good. Am in pattern of waking 3 to 4am and not being able to get to sleep, anxious and emotional – was restless from 3 till 6 last night… did sleep in-between, but didn’t feel ‘good’ sleep. Yesterday am made good progress with preaching prep, but did feel continually distracted (in truth, longing for release from pressure of giving when I feel ‘empty’)…..
And then what follows is a record of my activities of previous day, including a good swim session… and a host of notes of what God spoke to me in my time with God…. Notes from blogs I was ‘taken’ to, and scriptures I was ‘turned’ to
A couple of days later, the start of my entry reads like this:
‘Good 48hours. After the above oppressed, depressed feelings expressed Thursday am, that place lifted & Thursday turned out to be a good day. Completed preach in am and headed into Centre late am to record…’
Why am I sharing this?
This is not a ‘poor me’ message.
Neither is it a ‘Look how I sorted it! How good am I?!’
This is me saying mental health issues are real and we need to be real about them!
Scripture is incredibly real about them.
Ecclesiastes, probably written by King Solomon, a man who had everything the world has to offer – incredible wealth; a wealth of beautiful women (maybe not the wisest thing he did!); great wisdom (other than perhaps his approach to multiple wives!) – one that everyone looked up to and he writes:
Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’
Mental ill-health affects your view of life, the universe and everything.
I remember, many years ago, on the Sunday when I faced the reality of my depression for the first time standing in the doorway of the couple I shared with and them relating all the good things that were going on, that God was doing, trying to encourage me, and me saying, ‘I know that.. but it just doesn’t feel that way.’
For King Solomon, the man who had everything, life felt meaningless.
Sometimes our mental health is the product of what surrounds us.
Psalm 137, made famous by Boney M’s recording ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ which bizarrely takes the most incredibly sad lyrics and makes them into a jolly tune, Psalm 137 expresses the sadness of what has happened to God’s people – taken away into exile from their home country – ‘we sat and wept’.
We see similar emotions on our TV screens with the situation in Beirut at the minute. Sometimes in the midst of emotional and mental pain the bitterness of our souls comes out – seen that a number of times in interviews with people in Beirut…. Or perhaps with the opening of the new bridge in Genoa, Italy. For some of God’s people in exile in Babylon (don’t think this line made Boney M’s song!) their hurt and pain expressed itself in the most abhorrent language (Psalm 137:9):
Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
Today, we have some of these things labelled in mental health terms with phrases like PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Some think similarly, that Psalms like Psalm 42 and 43 are written by people who have been removed so that they can’t go to the Temple to worship. Psalm 42:2ff
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’…. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?’ My soul is downcast within me…. I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’ My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
We see in this Psalm, the intertwining of spiritual, physical and mental health.
Psalm 13, written by King David, expresses well how these three things combine, affecting one another – and leads us to how we can begin to work towards being rooted to thrive for mental health.
If you have a Bible available, turn with me to Psalm 13
READ Psalm 13
The Psalm expresses spiritual ill-health:
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
You even get a hint at possible suicidal tendencies:
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death….
And yet, there is hope!
And with God there is always hope!
The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is the power of God that is at work in us, if we are children of God and have given our lives to Christ, confessed our sin and received his gift of new life and of the Holy Spirit.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.
The writer of Psalms 42 and 43, having posed the questions, Why, my soul are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Then speaks to his mind and his spirit and says:
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.
Now, just as we looked at some ways we can work for good physical health last week, I want us to reflect on some ways we can work for good mental health! Some of it overlaps, because good health in one part, breeds good health in the other parts!
Good physical health will support good mental health. When I was mentally ill I went out for walks, even though I feared going around a corner and meeting someone. I went out for rides on my bike, even though I had no physical or mental desire to do so. And when I came back, I felt better for doing so (only for a short while, the batteries were so low, that it was going to take a long time to rebuild them!)
We are body, mind and spirit, and God has designed us that way, so that each part supports the other parts. When we exercise it produces endorphins in our body, chemicals which lift our mental state – its why for some people there is a buzz from physical exercise.
If we don’t exercise we won’t only be failing to feed our physical health, we will be failing one of the ways God has given to feed our mental health too.
Our spiritual health will feed our mental health too – and if we want to be mentally healthy, we need to feed our spiritual health too – we need to stop and reflect on spiritual realities.
David says, in-spite of everything that’s going on around me, in-spite of my mental and spiritual struggles, I will choose to trust you God; I will choose to rejoice in your salvation, I will choose to sing the Lord’s praise… Why??!! ‘for he has been good to me.’
Throughout the Psalms, you find the people writing the psalms expressing their pain, their struggles, their longings and desires, righteous or otherwise, and you find them coming back again and again, in-spite of all that, coming back to a God in whom there is hope, love, life and goodness…. And fixing our eyes on him helps improve our spiritual, mental, and physical health, as it helps us to live in a healthy way.
Turn with me in your Bibles to another passage of scripture, from the New Testament this time. Turn to Philippians 4 and we’re going to read from v4-v9
READ Philippians 4:4-9
Tips for mental health:
- Physical exercise (mentioned that already!)
- Rejoice in the Lord
This is not ‘rejoice in your circumstances’, this is ‘rejoice in the Lord’ – make him the focus of your attention. If you fill yourself with the good that is in him, there’s less space for the negative to come and dominate and pull you down.
- Enjoy God’s presence
‘The Lord is near’ – make a habit of ‘practicing the presence’. Be still, recognise God’s presence with you, recognise that he is with you in your circumstances – in the good, in the bad, and in the indifferent, non-descript of everyday life.
Don’t just let stuff go around in your head. Don’t just let it occupy your thoughts and dominate your thinking. Take it to God in prayer.
The old hymn writer put it well:
‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit! O what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.’
Even then, in taking things to God in prayer, scripture tells us to shift our focus – don’t just focus on the negative stuff you are carrying: ‘present your requests to God by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving’.
- Thank God for the blessings
Thank God for the blessings he is already pouring out in your life. Thank him in anticipation of the answers he will bring to your prayers.
David demonstrated this in Psalm 13 – he expressed his pain and his hurt – he poured out his heart to God and he said, ‘I will sing the LORD’s praise for he has been good to me’.
The writer of Psalms 42 and 43, having expressed pain, doubts, fears, questions himself, speaks to himself and says, ‘I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.’
‘Rejoice in the Lord’….how often? ‘Always!!’
Final tip for good mental health
- Focus on the good
‘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.’
CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is nothing new – it’s been around for centuries! Mentioned this last year when we worked through Romans 12 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’.
It doesn’t matter whether your natural inclination is to be a glass half full, or a glass half empty person, if you want to have good mental health, do that which will aid it!
Fill your heart and mind with good, positive things that will lift your heart and mind.
Do the things which will bring health to body, mind and spirit – get out and enjoy the beauty of creation – take it all in, thank God for it.
Exercise for the health of your body; be amazed at what God enables your body to do, and let the endorphins it releases bring health to your mind and lift your spirits.
And pray – take everything to God – and with a positive mindset, focusing on that which is true (not the false lies which so easily occupy our thinking), focusing on whatever is good and positive that you can find in each and every situation, as you take everything to God, his peace, which transcends human understanding will come and guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
It’s living this way that transforms people to be able to live positively, even in tough, negative and difficult times and circumstances – like the apostle Paul, writing this letter from imprisonment. Like Horatio Spafford who wrote the magnificent hymn, ‘It is well with my soul’, after he had lost his 4 year old son in a huge fire in Chicago, as well as his business – and after he had then lost his 4 daughters in a shipwreck at sea.
Work for good mental health in your life.
If you are struggling with your mental health, then do share it with someone you know and trust, or contact us.