“Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. – 43.8 million, or 18.5% – experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. – 9.8 million, or 4.0% – experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities”. In light of such staggering numbers, how does one remain sane? Is staying sane just a matter of luck or is there anything God says we can do to help ourselves remain mentally healthy over my lifetime?
The Bible and the Mind
The Bible address issues of both the mind and the heart and often exhorts us to be very careful about where we decide to mentally dwell:
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
- “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
- Jesus warned us about the things that come from the heart or mind that can truly defile us or make a mess of our lives. (Matthew 15:17-20).
- “And we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
- “Whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Life Will Be A Struggle: We’d Best Accept It
- “For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7).
- “The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9).
- “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33).
Therefore trying to avoid pain, doing the hard thing, uncomfortable situations and so on, will often only result in more suffering and pain, and our problems growing even bigger. We cannot hide and just hope such things will go away or resolve themselves. Jordan Peterson observed, “The rate at which things fall apart is sped by the sins of men. When people do not attend to things they know they need to attend to” (see James 4:17). We will be under a constant assault all our lives from both nature (Genesis 3:17ff) and Satan (1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes no matter what you do, hardship or trouble will be what surrounds you (1 Peter 2:12,18; 3:1).
We Will Need God
The world is complex and beyond our comprehension and it is always shifting in unpredictable ways. We are quite limited and finite. There is far more chaos in the world than there is of “you”. Things can go wrong in a million different ways (Ecclesiastes 9:11 “for time and chance overtake them all”). In addition, the challenges and problems we face often become more complex as we age. Much of what we will encounter in each stage of our lives will be entirely new to us and the territory will be very unfamiliar. Getting married, having children, raising teenagers, helping our aged parents, preparing for retirement, battling the aches and pains of old age or facing death are all foreign at first. How does this connect with our mental health? One prominent expert in mental health field noted, people who go to therapists do not go primarily because they have mental problems, but rather because their lives have become beyond their control and what they are facing seems completely overwhelming. There’s just not enough in him or her to handle the situation. In fact many people who are suicidal feel that life has backed them into a corner, with no good options and they cannot see any way out.
1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it”.
This is such a comforting passage. It reveals that we are not alone in our struggles and that many others have or presently are facing the same temptations and trials that confront us. Yet, I believe that the verse only “works” if one has God in one’s life. If you or I ignore Him, do not follow His wisdom, then the temptations and trials of life will be beyond us and we will sink. Case in point, Solomon noted that the person who is pleasing to God escapes from the woman whose hands are like chains and whose heart is snares and nets, while the sinner is captured by her (Ecclesiastes 7:26). Only with God and His word can we really see the way of escape.
We Will Need Others
- “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
- “He who walks with wise men will be wise” (Proverbs 13:20).
- “Two are better than one… for it either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
- “Therefore encourage one another and build up on another” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
There are many good reasons why God designed Christianity with the church as a central aspect (Ephesians 3:10-11; 1 Timothy 3:15). We need human interaction, but we also need interaction with people who are wise, honest and have our best long term interest at heart (Hebrews 10:24). When we assemble and interact with God’s people, suddenly we are making good use of many brains. We are getting constant feedback, either approval or disapproval for our opinions and theories and a broader perspective in life. If we start to drift, then those who love us will intercede and attempt to bring us back from the darkness (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20). Remember, isolation is dangerous; there is a reason why solitary confinement is used as a punishment in prisons.
Being involved in the human race and being a faithful member of a local church frees us to out-source of a number of our challenges, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Because we cannot be an expert about everything, we can utilize the minds and talents of others to help us prevent or solve problems. This is one reason why we need to attend the various bible classes offered in any congregation, because such classes enable us to tap into the experience and wisdom of other lives and minds. So instead of trying to sort through the complexities of life with just our own limited brains, we are using many brains. This is one of the big perks of being a Christian. You and I get to out-source our challenges to many other knowledgeable and experienced individuals.
The Danger of Isolation
Any animal in the wild that ends up isolated is easy prey for predators, and any isolated human being is easy prey for Satan. Remember, the young man who was destroyed by the evil woman in Proverbs 5 and 7 is pictured as being all by himself with no one nearby to talk him out of going with her (Proverbs 7:7). In isolation we start becoming too much like ourselves, so to speak. We start trusting in our own opinions. We start feeling sorry for ourselves. We start trying to solve the problems of life all by ourselves without any input or help from others intelligent people.
The Importance of Structure and Routine
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). Many therapists have noted that it is very difficult to maintain good mental health with unpredictable sleeping and eating schedules. Never underestimate the importance of structure in your life. Some have noted that we can deviate from the “norm” by 5 or 10 percent just as long as the other components in our lives are in order. Routine also enables us to make sure we don’t create more problems. Structure in regular sleep, eating and work habits enables us to be rested for work, parenting and the unexpected challenges of each day.
Mark Dunagan | email@example.com
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017