Despondent life or Abundant life
There has been much in the papers and media in Dunfermline recently about mental health. Dunfermline Press stated that POLICE officers in Fife are having to deal with suicides on an almost daily basis1,and there have been a number of articles under the heading ‘We Need to Talk’ highlighting stories of individuals mental health and what affects this means on life, and also the organisations who work in the field of wellness and combatting mental health issues.
How can the church help and what does the Bible have to say in relation to the health and wellbeing of our minds?
As part of my training for ministry, I undertook a post-graduate Certificate in Counselling Studies. In one of the lectures we discussed the idea of ‘unconditional positive regard (UPR)’, a term used in client centred therapy, developed by the psychologist, Carl Rogers. UPR means unconditional acceptance, no matter what the other says or does, in other words coming to a relationship with no conditions. I remember thinking, “wow – that’s kind of hard”, because we all come with some pre-conceptions, and there are bound to be some things either said or done that could prompt conditions from us. The group discussed this concept of UPR and the general consensus was that it was an ideal for a therapeutic relationship that could be achieved some of the time, but by no means all the time. Where can we find ‘unconditional positive regard’?
Or perhaps a more apt question as mental health appears to be becoming more of a problem across society, for all age groups, is – how do we deal with mental health issues both individually and as a society?
Clearly the world is different to 20,30, 50 years ago – a faster paced world but still a world where people seek deep friendships; strong relationships in marriage; and lives filled with meaning. Yet often meaning for life is sought in places where strong levels of commitment are not reciprocated – in talk shows, self-help books, the world of the internet and social media – none of which deliver that which our hearts cry out for – meaning.
We seek answers and meaning, unconditional positive regards for who we are, and what our life issues are – yet often we fail to find meaning and support.
These next words do not diminish the complexity of mental health issues or seek to dismiss therapies offered through counselling and psychology, but I do wonder if people in moments of stress, depression, worry, anxiety and abject mental terror would it be worth considering God. This is not a trite statement but is measured against what God offers, indeed who God is. Jesus words in Matthew 11.v28-30 (which are on the glass wall of our Gillespie Centre) say this:
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” (CEB)
I wonder, sometimes people think being a Christian is a hard and boring existence; that we are expected to be perfect, and we look in judgement upon others who are not. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Following Jesus and surrendering to him offers liberation from worry – though we will still have worries, it just means we have somewhere to take them – and to someone who can and does provide unconditional positive regards. In fact, when I was in that class, as we were discussing UPR, my one thought was that Jesus is the ONLY person who can manage this – because he is both God and man.
In the parable of the good shepherd (found in the Gospel according to John 10.1-18) Jesus says:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (10.v7-11, RSV)
Poor mental health robs us of our confidence, physical well-being, the ability to build and maintain healthy relationships, amongst many other negative outcomes. Jesus offers us a place to begin rebuilding trust in ourselves and our relationships with others. He offers salvation from all that traps us in guilt and shame, and as it says – offers abundant life. Abundant life is life as it is meant to be – fulfilled and peaceful, forgiven and restful, trusting that the one who calls himself the shepherd will take care of his flock.
I asked at the beginning how the church can help – we can be a place of physical help where we have resources (check out your local church to see what they are doing in the community). But more importantly church is the gathering of God’s people – a people who know we haven’t got it sorted, but we gather to help one another, and grow together so that our spiritual Father, through his Son the good shepherd feeds us, nurtures us and protects us – against all that life throws our way.
Whether suffering or not, whether up or down, come and find out more – our door is always open.
Your servant in Christ.
Rev. Mike Weaver