Mental Health Initiative 2018
by Irene Ascough
For the past year The Messenger has published articles that have spoken about Mental Health and Mental Illness. As a Mental Health Initiative in the EMC, we hope to have sparked conversation and discussion among our churches. Our articles have asked people to consider how the church can care for people who have a mental illness. We have looked at how we can become communities that promote the mental health and well-being of youth. We have also considered our role in supporting the healing work of God and how can we interact with the systems and supports that surround us.
This article contains part of my story, and is an example of how we all experience brokenness, pain and challenges to our mental well-being. It is based on the belief that our mental, emotional, spiritual, relational and physical health are inter-related. In 1 Corinthians 12:26 we read, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” I believe that this is true of both our individual selves and of the Church.
One day this summer I was out for a walk and listening to a devotional app that I use. The reading that day was Psalm 23 and as I heard the familiar words, “He restores my soul,” it became personal and clear to me that God is restoring my soul. While I knew a sense of longing for it to be true, I also wondered what had happened to my soul? While we all suffer under original sin and need restoration, I knew that I had committed myself to God many years ago and had not walked away from that commitment. So, I wondered, what had happened to my soul?
Albert Barnes, in his commentary, says that the reference to the soul here is not to the soul as wandering or backsliding from God, but to the life or spirit as exhausted, wearied, troubled, anxious, worn down with care and toil. And the heart, thus exhausted, He re-animates. He brings back its vigour. He encourages it, excites it to new effort, fills it with new joy.
Well, that described my soul at the time. I had experienced multiple losses that were sudden and unexpected and, therefore, traumatic. My spirit was exhausted, weary, sad, troubled, anxious and worn down with care; and it was amazing to hear God speaking to me through His Word that He would restore my soul.
I got curious about the word restore, and thought about where else we use that word. I thought about the things people restore, such as old buildings which probably cost more to restore than to tear down and build new. Or old furniture that is given new life and purpose with fresh paint and hardware. There are art restorers who painstakingly clean the dirt and grime off an old painting to uncover the original colors, shadows, and vibrancy that the artist first created.
People restore things because they see the original beauty and the value of the craftsmanship. They recognize that they do not have some mass-produced, cheaply made, disposable item, but something interesting and unique and made to last. They also know that they will never get back what they put into it, and that doesn’t matter because what they do is a labour of love and it brings them great satisfaction and joy.
Now think of yourself as the building or furniture or piece of artwork and imagine God as the restorer. We are His creation and in the beginning we were very good (Genesis 1). However, our souls become weary and worn, battered and bruised from a combination of many things, including our choices, the things that happen to us, and the fact that we live in a broken world.
Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Masterpieces aren’t made by run of the mill craftsmen; they require the skilled hands of a genius. They are one of a kind, never to be repeated gifts to the world. Stripping off the false layers and dirt that cover up your unique qualities and life is complex.
What adds to the complexity is that we are not inanimate objects that God works on as He wills. We have our own will and can choose how we respond to His work in our lives. If we consent to His restoring work in our soul, then we can join Him by creating an environment that will allow him to do what only He can do in our lives.
For me this has meant that I make space for God to do His healing work in my life in the following ways. I accept the prayers and support of family, friends and my church family, and I am grateful for the way God meets me in those relationships. I went to see my physician and a mental health professional and rely on their expertise as they guide me in ways that encourage my physical and mental well-being.
I also meet with people who provide pastoral and spiritual care to me, and I am grateful that they understand my journey and help me to process grief through spiritual practices such as reading scripture, praying, participating in community, worship, and service.
These practises are becoming like food and water to my soul rather than the things I should do. I am discovering that I can read the Bible so that I know the “Word made flesh” more deeply and intimately. When I pray, I spend less time telling God what I want Him to do and I am learning to say as the boy Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
As I am being shaped and formed by the Holy Spirit in these practices, my life in community, my worship and my service are also changing. For example, when I spend time with others who are being restored, I am able to focus less on what we are doing and see more of who we are becoming. This allows me to hear others’ stories with compassion and grace.
I like to think that the work God is doing in me is just one small part of the work that He is doing in each of us and in all of creation. Even though the journey always has ups and downs, I am grateful that in the process of restoring my soul, I am also finding greater health in my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I trust the words of Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Irene Ascough, BN, has experience in and is passionate about health promotion. She is currently pursuing training as a spiritual director and is an active member at Kleefeld EMC.