One of the most popular google searches in the realm of mental health is “anxious Christian.”
In Western culture we often dissect these two identities: either pretending we’re not really anxious, or relying solely on western medicine for treatment. If you’re dealing with a mental health diagnosis, I’m a huge advocate and poster child for the benefits of therapy and medication as an important puzzle piece to consider in the whole picture of mental health; but, I also believe the Bible outlines spiritual practices that have a huge impact on our faith, mindset, and spiritual maturity.
This may seem obvious, friends, but stick with me. Reciting the Lord’s Prayer and devotedly going through the “people I said I’d pray for," list shows discipline and faithfulness. If that describes you, I want you to know that God sees and loves your devotion. But for the purposes of mental health, I am suggesting prayer that is a heart cry. The prayers where you share with God your deepest desires, fears, and secrets. The prayer you whisper throughout the day as you look to Him for strength, comfort, and guidance.
This might not describe your current prayer life and that's okay. There is no need for guilt here, rather, I hope you see this as an invitation to wade a little deeper into your relationship and intimacy with God. You may gradually discover that He is the best friend you didn't know you needed. If this feels uncertain and uncomfortable for you, a great place to start is reading and praying through Psalms. David models what its like to be confused, helpless, afraid, and ashamed, and still anchor Himself to the hope found in God.
Albert Einstein is credited for saying that "the meaning of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Proverbs says as “a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly (26:11).” Both of these sayings point to God’s ultimate self-help plan summed up in a word: REPENTANCE. The difference with God’s plan is that it focuses on what Jesus did for us so that we can live in forgiveness and relationship with the Father, which compels us to live differently. But forgiveness isn’t the whole picture of repentance. The word repent actually means “to change one’s mind.” Changing our mind means that we ponder the ways which we have fallen short and consider how we want to change in the future.
My mental health journey has been a constant balancing act as I reflect on the habits, activities, decisions and relationships that are promoting peace in my life, and the ones that aren’t. As I spend time with God in repentance, He helps me to see the patterns of behavior that I need to change to be more aligned with Him and my values, as well as maintaining a healthy mindset.
The Bible talks about the practice of fasting and praying. Many Christians still practice fasting today and say that it helps them walk in more dependence and intimacy with God, while other denominations no longer incorporate this as a regular practice. Wherever you are at in your spiritual practices, I would argue that "self-denial" is a Biblical practice that helps us to give up earthly comforts as we rely more on God. While I struggle to fast an entire day, I have done other fasts from alcohol, social media, and technology that have helped me to realign my priorities with what God wants for my life, and look to Him for comfort and strength in the face of temptation. We see that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan in preparation for His earthly ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). There are many habit-forming activities in our culture that studies show can contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety, including caffeine, phone use, social media, and alcohol. As we hold on to the comforts of this world more loosely we are able to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in Jesus. In fasting we can reset our brains and our bodies while we discern the things that are negatively impacting us.