The Holiday season can be a mixed bag for sure when it comes to our mental and spiritual health. It’s a time many look forward to and gather with loved ones remembering cherished memories – and focusing on spiritual meaning. It can also be a time full of stress, financial worries, loneliness and exacerbated grief for either relationships or expectations we have lost.
I attended a local service at New Spring Church today and heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever attended when it comes to addressing mental health concerns from a Christian perspective (Holidazed – I don’t feel Merry -sermon starts about 23 minutes into the video- by Mark Hoover). The parts that really stood out to me as useful and that we could model in our own talks, lessons, leadership styles, etc.:
- He made clear that his sermon was not meant to be a cure for depression, anxiety or any other mental health disorder.
- He made sure to normalize mental illness just as any physical illness we might face – and the importance of seeking professional help when needed.
- He made clear that suffering from a mental disorder does not equate to weakness or sin.
- He spoke of personal struggles which role models vulnerability and accessibility as a leader people look up to.
- He also role models that he has sought counsel/education from those within the psychological fields of study.
- He gave great scriptural examples that truly “liken the scriptures unto us” when teaching that many of the biblical characters we love and respect also struggled with mental health challenges.
- He spoke of 4 bullies that attack us, particularly when we are down: guilt, isolation, hopelessness and negative feelings/thoughts. Particularly loved his attack on guilt (something we could use more of in our Mormon culture).
- He spoke of the importance of grace – the importance of knowing we will falter and fail, and yet we remain worthy. Always worthy of the unconditional love of our Savior.
Many of these same points have been stated over our own pulpits. I believe it is important to hear a lot more of these types of messages. Otherwise the perfectionism takes over and then come the bullies.
I also found the song by MercyMe which was sung as part of the beginning worship – Greater – healing and applicable to what we have been experiencing in the LDS community with the new LGBTQ policies put in place. If we can find this type of acceptance in our places of worship, where we can feel the love of Christ in spite of our brokenness and perceived or actual sins – then we can feel the type of rejuvenation communion is supposed to offer and that we are hungry for when we attend church services. Instead, when we make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on certain behaviors, then those struggling are more apt to not find church attendance helpful, feel guilt, wonder what is the use of even trying and often turn away all together. When this happens – we all fail. I hope we can cooperatively aspire to create the type of church environment where one could sing the following:
Bring your tired, Bring your shame
Bring your guilt, Bring your pain
Don’t you know that’s not your name
Everyday I wrestle with the voices
That keep telling me I’m not right…
‘Cause I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed
When others say I’ll never be enough
And greater is the One living inside of me
Than he who is living in the world
There’ll be no condemnation here
You are holy, righteous and redeemed
Every time I fall, There’ll be those who will call me a mistake
I am learning to run freely
Understanding just how He sees me
And it makes me love Him more and more
He’s greater, He’s greater
Not that we can always control our thoughts; but a big part of cognitive behavioral therapy is training ourselves to ignore/reframe negative thoughts (turn down the volume) and give them less power. We can also become more accepting of thoughts that we’d rather not have and take an acceptance approach.
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
May we all enjoy this season as much as possible – being patient and loving towards ourselves and others. May we accept our shortcomings, set reasonable limits and expectations, and in the process not belittle our innate divinity, worth and overall loveliness. That’s my prayer for today.