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Mental health and spiritual formation

My 4–month-old son had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. In between visits to the hospital and the pediatric cancer clinic, I tried to make time for my 4–year–old son, teach the adult Sunday school class, lead Home League, preach on alternate Sundays from my husband, and everything else that goes along with being a corps officer (pastor) and a mother of two small children.

When it all finally became too much for me, I reached out for help. The pastoral counselor who visited me suggested that I seek professional counseling for depression.

Wait. Christians aren’t supposed to get depressed, right? I thought, Maybe if I just had more faith, I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed. Maybe if I just prayed more, trusted Jesus more, believed God’s Word more deeply. Wrong.

Depression or any other mental illness, is just that—an illness and it may be triggered by a chemical imbalance in the brain and have a physical cause.

“Mental illness is an illness, just like any other. It needs to be treated, just like any other illness. It is not caused by sin or a lack of faith.”

There are Christians who have heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and many other illnesses. People see doctors for these issues and treat them with medication, surgery, and ongoing care. Mental illness needs to be treated, just like any other illness. It is not caused by sin or a lack of faith.

However, mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the Church. Instead of being recognized for the legitimate, clinical condition it is, depression is sometimes viewed as a personal flaw, character weakness, sin or lack of faith.

Dr. Ed Stetzer, author, speaker, Christian missiologist, and executive director at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, writes, “My challenge to the Church is that we might move beyond the whispering, the silence, the shame, and the stigma. Instead, let us understand and show others that Jesus came seeking, saving, and serving the lost and broken people around Him. We honor Christ when we join in His mission by doing the same.”

For the next year or so, I juggled our lives around chemo appointments and hospitalizations. I did manage to squeeze in some sessions with a therapist, where I began to learn about depression and ways to manage it. I found that talking to someone about my concerns was helpful, as was taking medication.

The thing I have found extremely helpful, though, is reading, meditating on, and memorizing Scripture. God’s Word is (among other things) a treasure trove of comfort, compassion, and assurance when life gets tough. For example, Psalm 40:1–3, says, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”

These verses hit very close to home for me. I can testify now that Jesus has lifted me out of a dark pit and planted my feet on solid ground. He is the firm place on which I stand.

Another passage of Scripture that acknowledges the difficulties in life is 2 Corinthians 4:8–9, it says we are: pressed on every side by troubles, perplexed, hunted down, and knocked down. But reminds us that we also are: not crushed, not driven to despair, never abandoned by God, and not destroyed.

Copying Scripture helps me to slow down enough to truly meditate on the words. I often write the words of Scripture in my journal, making a list of verses that focus on a similar topic such as “light” or “near” or “hope.” Meditating and memorizing helps me to keep the Scriptures close to my heart throughout the day. Posting specific verses in strategic places also reminds me to focus on the truths of God’s Word.

I’m not claiming that Scripture alone is a cure for depression; I do not deny that God can and does miraculously heal in our day. But for me, God’s Word is a source of comfort, strength, and truth. We can stand on these promises because the God who called us is faithful. As the song says: “All His promises are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen.’”

by Lt. Colonel Patricia LaBossiere

Creative ways to engage Scripture

  • Find a relevant verse and look it up in different Bible translations. That may give you additional insight or a different way of looking at the verse.
  • Underlining, circling or highlighting significant verses helps us find them more readily.
  • Write the verse in large, block letters and then decorate the letters as you look at and meditate on the words.
  • Sybil MacBeth has written a helpful book called: Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God. You may enjoy some of her suggestions.

Sample Scripture Verses

  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.” —Psalm 42:5
  • “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” —Psalm 31:24
  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” —Romans 12:12
  • “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” —Psalm 145:18
  • “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” —Psalm 34:18
  • “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”  —James 4:8
  • “The Lord God will give them light.” —Revelation 22:5