Tag Archives: Faith

Faith and Mental Illness #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 11 in the #Write31Days blogging challenge. I went to church today for the first time in a long while. There’s a church on institution grounds here, but I can’t walk there alone from my unit and the staff don’t always have time to take me. There’s someone who drives people to church, but for whatever reason they’ve limited this service to people of the elder units. We reached an agreement with the pastors that, if the staff took me one way, I would be driven back. This way, if the staff are not too busy around the time church starts at 10:30, I can go to church. Sometiems though, I’m just too lazy.

I say th is all because today I want to talk about faith and mental health. I originally inteded to write a boring, informative post on personality disorders again, but they take a lot of effort and aren’t always appreciated. So I’m going to talk faith.

I was raised atheist and didn’t become interested in faith until I was around eighteen. At first, it was just curiosity. I didn’t start feeling God’s presence till I was about 25.

At this point, I define myself as a progressive Jesus follower. I have not (yet) been baptized and hence don’t take all of the traditions of Christianity all that seriously. I try to focus on the positive part of Christianity, ie. the idea that God through Jesus Christ helps me be a better human and reach eternal life. As the pastor said in church today, eternal life in the Biblical sense does not refer specifically to entry to Heaven, but more to a fulfilling life in the here and now as well as in the afterlife.

I haven’t always focused on the positive. Here is where my mental illness comes into play. After all, you were probably wondering why I write this post for #Write31Days. Well, when I was still in a pretty dark place when on the acute ward, my faith, which was still too fresh to be called a faith, stood in the way of my havng a positive outlook. I was pretty sure God was punishing me for my childhood behavior problems with this state of depression.

Though some churches believe in a punitive God, most have abandoned this idea. Even so, many mentally ill people start experiencing their faith backfiring. Some churches still endorse this idea. After all, there’s still a lot of stigma associated with mental illness and even non-relgious people still sometimes believe it’s the sufferer’s own fault for having a bad attitude.

In the Netherlands, most mental health agencies employ pastors and other spiritual counselors to help patients find the answers to life’s important questions. Pastors and spiritual counselors reach out to people rgardless of their faith. For example, one of my husband’s family members, himself atheist, found relief in knowing a pastor would at least talk to him when he was in a hospital. I originally found the same. I started talking to the institution pastor in early 2010, before I’d declared myself a progressive Jesus follower. Even now that I do feel God’s presence, I don’t always talk faith with the institution pastor. Sometimes, I talk other life issues, but sometimes, I just talk over how life is going in general. Sometimes, I still discuss my occasional struggles with the idea of a punitive God.

As I said, many mentally ill people find their mental illness impacts their faith and vice versa. Some have religious experiences many people consider delusional. Some feel, like myself sometimes, that God is punishing them or that they are possessed. Some find their faith helps them fight their mental illness. I hope that more people find themselves on the latter path.

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We Are All Acceptable in God’s Eyes

Our society is extremely achievement-oriented. We are taught that we are acceptable because of what we have to offer the world. I am no exception. Though the people around me now accept that I have come out as I have, in the sense that they no longer deny it, I used to be taught that I somehow had to prove myself. Having no job, no college degree, no children and being dependent on benefits and long-term care, I often feel like I have failed as a human being.

Today, I read the book Real Families, Real Stories: Celebrating Life with Down Syndrome by Stephanie Sumulong. It is filled with short stories by parents and the occasional sibling of children and adults with Down Syndrome. What struck a chord with me is that each of these family members says their child is amazing. They don’t say so because their children’s achievements are magnificient in society’s eyes, but because as human beings these people are valued for who they are. I cringed soometimes at the umpteenth exclamation of how these people are gifts from God and have so much to offer. Then again, I realize that this is because I doubt my own worth.

Then I read a devotional which sends a conflicting message. It tells us how none of us are truly good enough in God’s eyes from the start, due to Adam and Eve’s original sin. Then it goes on to tell us that, if we accept Jesus as our savior, we are in fact all good enough. The devotion doesn’t go into what we need to achieve to be good enough in Jesus’ eyes. It doesn’t list any rites of passage to the Godly family. I realize that the author of the devotional may believe that certain morals are required to be saved, or that only certain people are predestined to be saved. I won’t go into this. For now, the author just states that, if you accept Jesus in your life, you are good enough in God’s eyes.

It is weird, but I find it comforting to know that all people are judged equal before the Lord. We all have a wickedness to us, whether we make big money or have three Ph.D.’s and five children or not. God recognizes this, but He also recognizes the good in everyone and He sent his son to make peace with us. As I said, people often believe that certain morals make us good enough in God’s eyes. I am not too conservative and therefore I don’t believe that we need to be something or achieve something to be accepted by God. Others might disagree. The point is, we all have some wickedness to us but it doesn’t matter to Jesus.

Equipping Godly Women

The Righteous Live by Faith

Today, I’ve been feeling a desire to invest in my faith. I hope this is not just for today, but for many days to come, but for now, I’ll just make use of it. I usually invest in my faith by prayer, reading the Bible and reflecting on it. Therefore, I decided to look at some Bible passages and write about one that appeals to me.

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.'” (Romans 1:17 NIV)

The first thing I came across when looking for devotionals on this verse, was Ron Moore’s devotional with the provocative title “Hello, My Name Is… God”. In it, Moore starts by explaining righteousness. To be righteous means to be blameless, and no human being can be blamelss. The good news is that God through Jesus cleanses us of our blame. Amazing, huh? In a way, it is, but it sits a bit uneasy with me that Christians may view themselves as above and beyond blame, as if they can do as they please as long as they have faith.

Moore explains that we who believe in Jesus are accredited with blamelessness. This connotes a kind of responsibility. As believers, we need to make a conscious effort, with the help of God, to remain righteous.

Here is where the second part of this passage comes in: living by faith. I mean, I am generally a pretty well-behaved person, but I am not perfect. Nobody is perfect. It is through our faith in God that we become righteous.

Living by faith is an area in which I could definitely improve. I don’t read the Bible nearly everyday, haven’t been to church in months, and struggle to keep my language in check – even as I have to write this blog post for the second time all over again because my computer decided to act up. Faith is not somethign you do every once in a while when it suits you. It is something you focus on on a continuing basis. I pray that God helps me keep focused on Him.

Linking up with Saturday Soiree.

He Is Trustworthy

Yesterday, I talked to Shannon from Chosen Families. Shannon is the mother of a disabled child and her site aims to be a ministry to special needs families. Her most recent post is titled He Is Reliable. In this post, Shannon reflects on John 8:26, which in the Bible version she uses reads in part “he is reliable”. In the NIV, it reads “he is trustworthy”, which speaks to me in a similar way.

He is trustworthy. Why do I struggle with this idea? Shannon names just a few circumstances which special needs families can be faced with, and I have faced many of them myself. Yet He is trustworthy. I have a hard time trusting God, because, after all, why did He put me through what I’ve been throguh if He is trustworthy?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

This. I searched for “trust” on Bible Gateway and this was the first suggested result. “Lean not on your own understanding.” This. Why would I be able to judge God’s reliability if I do not understand His ways? Skeptics could say that God exists to serve man, but according to the Bible, this isn’t so. Would He, therefore, serve me by putting me through what I’ve been through? Maybe, indirectly, but maybe not. Maybe my experiences serve some entirely different purpose, which I may not be able t understand.

It is tempting to think that as humans, we can control our own life experiences. If we do good, Karma or some Christian variation of it will give us happiness. This isn’t so. Of course, we have free will too and therefore have some level of control over our lives, but ultimately, part of what we will endure is in God’s hands. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” He is trustworthy, after all.

Be Joyful, Be Patient, Be Faithful

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 NIV)

Often when I turn to the Bible, to devotionals, or to other Christian writings or even music, I find myself drawn to verses that give hope, let me know that I’m not alone if I have faith in God. I do not turn to the Bible to dictate the morals I need to live by day-to-day, because I personally believe the Bible was inspired too much by the culture of its time for this. Rather, I look to the Bible for guidance in my spirutal life and my relationship with God. This verse speaks to this relationship and to how we as humans need to invest in it.

Be joyful in hope. Often, I find myself taking up the Bible and generally investing in my relationship with God only when I’m suffering. This verse calls upon us to also share in God as we have hope, and to be thankful to God for the works He does. This does not mean we need to praise God for every ounce of food we eat. In fact, praying for food has too much of a ritualistic connotation for me, as I was required to participate in it in school as a non-religious child. Rather, we need to be appreciative in our hearts, which God knows.

Be patient in affliction. Many people often wonder when their suffering will finally pass. This verse asks us to be patient while God meets our needs eventually. Often I and many others find ourselves falling into the trap of demanding instant gratification. However, other people are not required to fulfill our every wish, and, while God may possess some kind of magic wand, He is certainly not supposed to wave it whenever we think we need Him to.

Be faithful in prayer. God knows our needs, and He cares. Remember, needs are not wants, and we need to be patient for God to meet our true needs eventually. Being faithful in prayer means trusting God to take care of us when we’re having a hard time, and also being thankful for His caring when we’re doing well.

This verse, exept for the words on prayer, actually also speaks to non-Christians. If you believe in some other deity or spiritual figure, or even if you’re an atheist, you still need to be appreciative of what you have when you’re faring well, and patient for time to pass when you’re not.

God, Suffering, and Post-Traumatic Growth

Some people believe that God grants Christians a carefree life, and that if God doesn’t grant us this, we must be weak of faith and/or God must be angry. We hold God responsible for all our suffering. This is kind of weird, since we do not do so for our happiness – we may thank God, but we still reecognize the part we ourselves and other people have had in it.

Also, it is common for some Christians to assume that God only allows suffering for the weak of faith. In other words, it must be our own fault of we suffer. This again is discounting the role humanity and circumstances have in people’s suffering. Then, of course, we may be angry with God and lose our faith. After all, if He eexists, why does He allow humans and nature to cause people suffeirng?

I want to talk here about growing from suffering. There is such a thing in psychology as post-traumatic growth, and I believe it is important that we recognize this in order to accept our suffering. Beyond being angry because we suffer – which of course is a stage of grief too -, can we try to use our tribulations as an opportunity to learn? For example, many people who have suffered a lot, learn to appreciate the little things in life. I am not saying that we need to be thankful that we endured whatever we endured, but we can use it as a springboard to growth. Let’s move beyond blaming ourselves or God and onto accepting whatever life throws at us and appreciating it as much as possible. Non-Christians can perhaps more easily acknowledge that God is not to blame for our suffering – simply because they may not believe in God -, but then again believers may find themselves spiritually growing from our experiences. I became a believer when I was in pretty dire circumstances, and I am not the only one.

Let God Make Something of Your Life

I just read this devotional on following Jesus in a world that expects leadership. We need to let Jesus make something of our lives and to follow His example.

At first, I was a bit annoyed at the presumption that we do not need to make something of our lives, but let Jesus do so. Are we going back to blaming God for our choices and everything that happens to us? But then I read on and saw what following means: accepting Jesus as our leader and following His example. Of course, the author of this devotional includes all the worthwhile things Jesus did. Some atheists around me are going to point out that Jesus set a poor example if we have to believe every word of the Bible literally. I don’t take the Bible literally, and I believe Jesus was a great leader in His time. Being both human and God, He lived a life on Earth influenced by the times. He did things we disapprove of too during His human life, and the authors of the Bible (FYI: I do not believe God wrote the Bible, He just inspired it) made their own interpretatios of His actions. Those of us, includign myself, who understand God to be loving and graceful, need to extent the same to other humans. We take Jesus as an example, not in every little thing He did, but in the greater values that He promoted. That’s where I disagree with the “follow the leader” analogy.

We also must keep in contact with God thorugh Jesus, and let Him make something of our lives. As I said, this is not a passive waiting process. It is active: God has a purpose for us but we need to let Him work in us and follow what we learn that way to make this happen. We need to actively accept the gift of God, not passively assume it will unfold itself someday.