(*Originally featured in the Lifeway Women's Blog)
Even with the constant talk of mental health awareness, the church as a whole hasn't quite reached the point where we actually care about it enough to properly care for our own.
Think about it. We talk about how to take care of our spiritual well-being. I've heard countless sermons on the armor of God, prayer, scripture reading, and meditation. And those are all wonderful spiritual practices. But spiritual health and mental health go hand in hand. We have to take care them simultaneously so that we are able to balance them when one is lacking.
What is the difference in spiritual and mental health? Are they not the same thing?
They're definitely related. But they each serve different purposes. (BY THE WAY, my definitions or meanings are not from Webster or Oxford, but rather from my experiences.) Each one brings us closer to God, just through different avenues. One of them we have the complete ability to control, while one might have a circumstance where it's not in our control but we can treat it with care.
Our spiritual health is taken care of when we are consistently taking advantage of the resources God has given us pertaining to His Word and spiritual disciplines. Some ways to take care of your spiritual health are:
· Praying through scripture
· Confessing your sins (accountability)
· Participating in a Bible Study (communal worship)
· Scripture memorization (hiding the word in your heart)
Every single one of these has a verse or passage in scripture that they relate to. These are clear practices we know that were given to us by God in order to further the kingdom and protect our spiritual well-being.
Our mental health consists of practices that are also practical and healthy, but are not specifically outlined in scripture. Taking care of your mental health means putting priority on feeling like a person. I know that in the middle of our fast-paced lives, constant stimulation, and the weight of the world on our shoulders...it can be hard to just feel like a human being.
SIDENOTE: I have clinical anxiety and depression. Though this is a mental illness that can be an obstacle in my life, I am not pretending that I know anything about having any other mental condition. For those with conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, or personality disorder, I cannot relate. I can only speak from personal experience. Taking care of mental health looks different for every single individual, whether you suffer with mental illness or not.
Here are some examples of small practices to better your mental health:
· Journal 10 things you’re grateful for.
· Send an encouraging text to 5 people.
· Take a walk outdoors.
· Take a social media sabbatical.
· De-clutter a room in your house.
Everyone has different personalized routines that make them feel like a person (mine is listening to podcasts or sitting at the library). But there are other small, general practices that work together with those! Take number 5. I have a room in my house that might be clean for about three days a year. And on those three days, I think clearer and I feel better. And my worship is a lot more genuine when I can clearly think.
So why is mental health so important for our spiritual health?
Most parts of mental health care is all about slowing down. I can be doing all the practical things to take care of my spiritual health, but without slowing down those practices can feel more like a checklist and quickly turn into legalism. I can fast and read scripture, but most of the time I'm just looking forward to it being over. I can pray every day when I wake up, but if I don't take the time to feel like a person I may find myself in a needy mood rather than a grateful one.
Try putting these two things hand in hand. Take a walk outside and pray instead of doing it right before bed. Sit down to make a list of short term goals, and maybe make one of those goals to memorize a psalm. Go an entire day without complaining (which actually coincides with scripture as well).
Taking care of your mind will ultimately contribute to you taking GOOD care of your spirit. And when you take care of your spirit, you can feel like a real person while you worship. It's not a prescription or a cure for your struggles. But it is a healthy way to walk through them.
Walk in the light. Walk like a real person.