"Keep Fit" in New Wine

“More than anything you guard, protect your mind, for life flows from it” Proverbs 4:23 CEB

Reading the title of this article, you probably immediately thought about the things you do to keep physically fit. But when we think about our fitness we tend to focus on one aspect of our body and forget another which the Bible tells us is really important: our minds.

Your mind is amazing, the God-created filter through which you experience the world — the source of peace (Isaiah 26:3), key to wisdom (Luke 24:45) & origin of hope (Lam 3:21). Your emotions are central to who you are, how you were created and how you respond to whatever life throws at you. More than that, they are part of what makes us created ‘in God’s image’ (Gen 1:27). Think about it: God created every part of us deliberately, we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14). Uniquely when compared to the animals and other parts of creation we alone ‘reflect’ God’s nature (Genesis 1:27 in the Message). And we know our God is an emotional God, experiencing a range of emotions: anger (E.g. Psalm 2:5), regret (Genesis 6:6), jealousy (Exodus 20:5) and compassion (Psalm 103:13) to name just four. We have emotions because God intended us to be emotional beings. We need not just to value them, but to take care of them, and prioritise them in all ways: in how we look after our health but also in how we seek to grow and mature through life. Many characters in the Bible struggled with their mental health at times. We must not think we are any different.

It is always tempting to think of mental health in a very simplistic way. We like to think there are basically two kinds of people in the world — the ‘well’ or ‘healthy’ people, and then those who have ‘mental health problems’. Of course this isn’t true. The reality is that we all have mental health, just like we all have physical health. And as we go through life many of us will experience times when our mental health can hit a low patch — just as we might go through periods when we are physically unwell.

Statistics tell us that in our high pace 21st century world, many people are struggling with mental ill health. 1 in 4 adults (25%) will struggle at some stage with a mental health problem. In any 1 year, 1 in 10 adults (10%) will experience periods of depression. 10% of teenagers struggle with some kind of mental or emotional health problem. But beneath these statistics lie many more limited by struggles with their emotional health. As the pace of life increases, issues with stress, anxiety and depression becomes more common. More than half of adults who suffer never seek help, instead just accepting poor mental health as a new ‘normal’ for their generation.

It’s vitally important that as leaders we recognise that everyone has mental health and that anyone can experience difficulties with emotions. We must not just learn to talk about our feelings: we mustensure that our theology understands mental health and its significance in our maturity and spiritual development. As leaders we must respect our mental health and prioritise it just as we do our physical fitness, and we need to learn to look out for others in this area too, recognising no one is super(wo)man.

To be human is to experience emotions. Lets celebrate this part of who we are and banish any shame of mental illness. Let us ensure we are well equipped: not just to deal with problems when they occur but to prioritise mental wellness, take steps to keep emotionally healthy and develop spiritual and mental resilience — in ourselves and in those we lead.

Dr Kate Middleton

Kate is a psychologist and church leader — and one of the directors of ‘Mind &Soul’ — a national organisation encouraging the church to engage with issues around emotional and mental health. To find out more see mindandsoul.info or follow her (@communik8ion)

For further information about all aspects of mental health, including free printable resources, see mentalhealthaccesspack.org

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