Mental Health & Jesus

The month of May has been designated for Mental Health Awareness since 1949. I am grateful that the subject of mental health is increasingly part of the public conversation. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth (ages six to seventeen) experience mental illness. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and experts assert that they have skyrocketed in the last two years.

My beautiful offspring, JoJo, modeling their newest statement shirt. I need to order one, too!

The topic of mental health in a generic sense is considered less hush-hush than in days gone by. But people who step forward and identify their struggle with mental illness are often met with an awkward silence or attempts to change the subject. Much more work needs to be done because only one-third of the people suffering from mental illness seek professional help.

I have been hesitant to talk about my own mental health journey. In my early days of ministry, I was well aware of the stigma for Christians (and even worse, ministers) who needed medication for depression. There were unspoken judgments of having a lack of faith, not trusting Jesus enough to live in the joy He provides. Who wants to be a target of criticism when already feeling incredibly vulnerable?

However, I feel challenged to break my own silence and contribute to finding solutions.

Today I approach you simply as one who has walked the road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was six years old when I had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. I suffered from serious post-partum depression following the birth of each of my five babies. After my fourth child was born, I cried every day for six months until a friend insisted that I make a doctor’s appointment. I encountered several traumatic events throughout my life that took a serious toll on my well-being. I also have had the privilege of ministering to wonderful people seeking answers for their mental health.

The field of mental health is vast. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes. One blog post can barely scratch the surface.

The one thing I do know is that Jesus loves you. In whatever mess you may find yourself, Jesus is there. Not with shame or condemnation, but with grace and wholeness.

The route to wholeness looks different for each one of us; yet wholeness is ours through Jesus.

For me, this has looked like…

  • Prayer and worship focused on Jesus as my Healer.
  • Taking different medications during different seasons of life.
  • Many hours of counseling sessions to unlock trauma from the past.
  • Memorizing God’s Word to counteract the negative messages in my mind with God’s truth.
  • Working with a psychiatrist to discover how to properly balance my brain chemistry.
  • Heartfelt conversations with loved ones about my mental health.
  • Dozens of once-full-now-empty tissue boxes.

As you can see, it has been a process involving faith and community. I continue to become who God has designed me to be.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his story about a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord three times to remove it. God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 12a).

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? There are a variety of thoughts depending on the Biblical scholar you ask. Some say it was a physical condition, perhaps an eye disease. Others identify it as bouts of depression. Still, others claim it was a spiritual attack. Regardless of what the thorn was, we can be encouraged that Paul didn’t define it.

For whatever reason, Paul felt weak and God assured him that His grace was sufficient. Indeed, His grace was all, everything Paul needed. In the midst of weakness that threatened to hinder Paul’s ministry effectiveness, God’s power was at work.

We can take heart. The same God who was with Paul is with us. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. We are never alone.

Knowing this to be true, you can be honest with the Lord. (Um…He already knows anyway.)

You can be honest with others who have shown themselves trustworthy and supportive.

You can reach out to mental health professionals for help.

Mental illness does not disqualify you from God’s call. But, please, don’t leave it untreated.

You can thrive in life and leadership.

Because there is abundant grace and hope in Jesus!

One Word for the Year…With a Twist

In 2014, I added a meaningful activity to my soul preparation for the new year. It involves prayer, asking the Lord to direct me to one word for the year. That one word becomes a source of inspiration and encouragement in the weeks and months ahead. At first, the word might feel uncomfortable or it might not make sense.

One year I felt that God’s word for me was “dare.” Now, I am not a risk-taker. I like my routines, and I don’t enjoy rocking the boat. However, after trying several times to pick a different word—one gentler and less in-my-face—I surrendered my own desires. “Dare” it was. And that year, the Lord empowered me to dare to believe Him for big things for the pregnancy help center I lead. Believing for big things required me to stretch and walk in new territory.

At the end of each year, I start praying and listening for my word. Some words from the past have been “virtue,” “expectation,” “listen,” and “fearless.”   

This year I didn’t receive one word. I sensed there were three. Because I’m a rule follower, it felt like I was doing something wrong. I continued to seek the Lord, and the three words resonated equally. I couldn’t get rid of any of them.  Pray. Wait. Trust.

There are times that we can get set in our way of doing things and our rituals lose their vibrancy. The Lord may invite us to change some elements of deeply held practices and embrace flexibility. Being flexible can be life-giving as we rely on His steadfastness when we feel shaky.

How do you like to start off a new year? What can you change to make your routines more life-giving? May you thrive in life and as a leader through Jesus in the days ahead.

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. ~Psalm 33:20-22 ESV

One Word for the Year

Welcome to 2021. For many people, the passing of 2020 brings a sense of relief, not because the new year magically rid the world of all its problem, but because we have successfully lived through a year considered the most difficult one in recent history. When the clock struck midnight, the weariness of the past 366 days (2020 was a Leap Year) was lifted, and replaced by hope for better days. Even though the coronavirus is still here and social and political issues continue unchanged, the new year brings a renewed determination to flourish.

The new year also symbolizes the new life and new start available through trust in Jesus Christ. We can pack up our mistakes and offer them to the LORD, in exchange for a clean slate and another chance to do better.

I have a meaningful tradition for starting the new year with fresh faith. I select One Word for the Year.  Instead of making a new year’s resolution (which has an eight percent success rate), I spent time in prayer (talking and intentionally listening to the LORD) and choose a personal word to direct my course for the year and provide inspiration to become a better version of myself. It usually takes serious and deliberate time with the LORD to come up with your One Word, although I have heard from some colleagues that they asked God for direction and immediately discerned their One Word.

I can attest to the power of One Word, as I have practiced this for several years. Last year my One Word was “fearless,” with the accompanying Scripture verse: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18a, NIV). Little did I know how often I would come back to that word to face problems and challenging situations with courage.

Last summer, I realized that the non-profit I lead would be unable to have our usual annual fall fundraiser due to COVID-19 restrictions. As we converted to a virtual format, stress and anxiety began to mount an attack on my mind and health.

At the perfect time, my assistant gently approached me saying, “What is your One Word for the Year?”

I tried to pull the word from my memory without success. I ran to my office and found it in the middle of my bulletin board. The bright red graphic emphasized the word like a neon sign. How could I forget? I raced back and breathlessly announced, “It’s ‘fearless.’”

“I think the LORD really wants you to remember your word, especially now,” my assistant pointed out.

“Point taken,” I agreed smiling. “Thanks for your help.”

There are different ways for identifying your One Word for the Year. You know how the LORD relates with you. I encourage you to connect with God in the ways that work best for you. However, if you’d like some direction, here are some basic steps for choosing your One Word for the Year.

  1. Reflect. Think about the past year. Is there a direction you’d like to change or a quality you’d like to add to your life? In what area does the LORD desire you to growth?
  2. Imagine. Think about what the perfect day would feel like. Focus particularly on how you feel during this perfect day. This is best done during quiet time, meditation, or prayer. Is there a Bible verse the LORD keeps bringing to your attention?
  3. Create a list. Set a timer and create a list of words. No erasing or changing words. Once it’s on paper, leave it alone and keep going. If you prefer, Google a list of words as a starting point. If you already have a particular direction for your word, write it down and add as many similar words that come to mind. Continue to pray.
  4. Review and refine. Review your list. Highlight or circle your top three. Pay attention to how each one makes you feel. More importantly, to which word do you feel the LORD leading?
  5. Ask yourself: Which of these words am I most willing to commit to? If the word merely interests you, most likely you won’t make the changes necessary to implement it. Commitment is the key to success. Take as long as you need to think and pray this through (but don’t procrastinate).
  6. Choose your word. Which one has the LORD confirmed to you? Which one are you 100% committed to? That’s the word for you!

Make sure you write and post it somewhere you will see it regularly, even daily. Be as creative as you want to highlight the importance of your One Word for the Year.

My word for 2021?

“Expectation.”

The Scripture verse is: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Heb. 11:1, NLT).

I would love to hear about your experience with One Word for the Year. I am celebrating with you!

Note: One Word for the Year can work for your team, department, or organization. It is a simple yet powerful tool to bring focus to your efforts and activities.