We can summarise the question by saying faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health when I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him. To break it down further into one word then it is to use the word grace. Grace means undeserved mercy and favour. When I truly understand grace then that has a profound impact on my mental health.
The best way to convey that is with a simple story.
Imagine you came to my house to stay. I had to go out and left you in charge. When I returned you say to me, Sunil while you were out someone came to the door with a bill to pay and I paid it. Now there is one vital piece of information you are lacking. It is how much was the bill? If the bill was £1 then that is hardly even worth saying thank you for. But imagine it was £20 billion and you had the resources to pay. How would that make me feel? What would that do to my mental health?
But it gets even better! Not only do you pay the £20 billion bill you actually credit my account with a further £20 billion and you buy me a new house!
Sounds crazy an even ludicrous.
But that is what the Bible seeks to convey how grace impacts the mental health and life of someone who understands it.
As money is such an integral part of our lives that can seem like a ridiculous question to ask. Money can occupy so much of our thinking. It can also be the source of so much emotion, both negative and positive.
But what is it? Put most simply money is simply a tool to facilitate deferred bartering. Of itself money is just a piece of paper. But what that paper has come to represent is access to products, possessions and ultimately dreams. The 2 minute video below captures some of these sentiments:
Money is so more than just paper, or plastic, or metal or numbers on a screen. It is an amplifier of who we are and the impact we can have on the world we live in. If we are basically living selfishly then money increases the opportunities to be more selfish. And if we want to live lives of generosity then money can increase the potential to do that in so many more ways. The simple equation is:
Have you done your Christmas shopping? Are you still wondering what to get for your loved ones? While this 2 minute video is somewhat a little bit too cheesy for some people, I think it does illustrate an important point about giving and gratitude that is so easy to overlook. While the characters may for some of us have over-exaggerated emotions, the sentiments they convey are so easy to take for granted.
The point is that it is incredibly easy to take for granted other people and all the things we enjoy and have access to around us. They appear ordinary and commonplace. With that sense of ordinariness comes a sense of entitlement and subconsciously feeling or thinking we somehow deserve or have earned everything we have. The reality is that most of the basic details of our existence, from the family we were born in, to the place, time and circumstances of our birth are completely out of our control. We had no say or choice in any of these fundamental things about who we are. But what if we could look at everything around us as a gift?
Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology in the United States, has spent many years researching the link between gratitude and wellbeing. He has been able to show from research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. He has also highlighted how when you practice gratitude you are less likely to feel stressed, envious or negative. Gratitude also has the effect of enabling you to be able to appreciate other people's accomplishments without feeling resentful that they have something you don't.
According to Professor Robert Emmons for gratitude to be effective it needs to cover 3 key areas:....
All over the world Christmas is very much the time for giving and receiving presents. The following 3 minute video is of children from the Metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club in the United States. 83% of these children come from low income families, some of which are not able to afford even a Christmas tree. In the 3 minute video they are faced with a tough choice. Just to warn you, the video may make you cry, but it's well worth watching!
What makes the video so fascinating for me is it also illustrates the true satisfaction that comes from giving rather than receiving. The simple decision of the children to choose to give rather than receive reminds me of Jesus' own words, "It is more blessed to give rather than receive." (Acts 20:35)
As we approach Christmas, I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."
In that single sentence we have the meaning of Christmas beautifully encapsulated. The Bible explains how although Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He chose to leave the security of this perfect relationship to come to earth for you and me. He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble Himself and come to earth as a baby.
Here are 4 surprising consequences of this decision:.....
I used to enjoy watching Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod, play baseball for the Yankees. And then his wife accused him of adultery. He didn’t deny it. Later, he was accused of using steroids. He initially denied using the steroids, and later admitted that he used them to improve his performance. Now retired from baseball, A-Rod is a successful businessman and says he is a present father.
Do you wonder why people who seem to have accomplished so much do things that will surely have a negative impact on their families and their careers? Why do people engage in self-sabotage?
While most of us don’t have public character implosions, we often engage in behaviors that are not in our best interests. Here are some of the ways that we sabotage ourselves:
We insult ourselves. Our internal dialog can be brutal. We call ourselves lazy, fat, worthless, etc. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to friends or family. The next time you catch yourself saying something unkind to yourself, stop. It’s okay to examine your behavior in a certain instance, but do not label yourself with unkind names or adjectives.
We keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Maybe you wanted to change careers or write a book. You’ve had big goals and dreams for years, but nothing changes. Often, nothing changes because we refuse to change. We won’t get tomorrow’s results with yesterday’s methods. Sometimes, we have to give up the unstructured Saturdays and decide we’re going to spend a few hours writing a book or emailing resumes and updating our LinkedIn profile.
We hang around the wrong people. We become the sum total of the people we spend the most time with. I noticed this when I sat through a painful time share presentation. The sales people, mostly men, were dressed alike. They had similar haircuts. They walked in a similar manner. When we spend time with people who are negative, toxic, or unmotivated, it is difficult to avoid their energy. It envelopes the space. Carefully consider who you spend your time with. Do you want to me more like those folks? If not, maybe you should limit or eliminate your association.
We have too much stuff going on. If you have a dozen pages open on your computer, things slow down. It’s hard to be great at the important things when you have dozens of unimportant things nipping at your heels. Have the courage to say no to new commitments and to remove yourself from organizations and responsibilities that are not a good use of your time.
We don’t treat our priorities like priorities. You’ve probably heard that your calendar and your checkbook reflect your priorities. If time with your family is a priority, are they on your calendar? If returning to school is a priority, is that reflected in how you spend money? Did you know that the word “priority” was not pluralized until the 20th century? Narrow your priorities to three and invest your time, money and energy in them. It’s okay to drop things until you have time to give them attention.
What do you need to stop doing?
Connie Clay will show you how to create harmony between your personal commitments and your professional goals. Connie raised a family while managing a busy career. Connie will give you tools and strategies to lovingly care for your family and advance professionally without feeling like you are neglecting one or the other.
No I am not referring to your first meal of the day - important as that is! Rather it is the power of feedback to enable you to both understand yourself better and to discover and grow in your areas of strengths and giftedness.
Feedback has been called the breakfast of champions. The problem is, however, all of us struggle to give or receive feedback unless it is in a manner or context within which we or the other person does not feel threatened. The classic 'feedback sandwich' of say something positive, then the usually negative feedback, followed by something positive again can come across as formulaic and contrived. So while it can be effective it does create tension and anxiety for both the person receiving and giving feedback.
Even the anonymous 360 degree feedback systems that are increasingly popular in health and business environments run into the problem of telling more about the person doing the rating than the subject who is supposed to be getting the feedback. That has certainly been my experience and those I have discussed it with.
But how about creating systems to provide feedback for yourself?
This is how Peter Drucker, arguably the greatest management thinker of the 20th century put it in a Harvard Business Review article:...
Living in a world of such a variety of religious beliefs and persuasions it can be incredibly difficult to discern what it means to live a life that is in the most positive sense truly spiritual. Add to that the pressure to be productive, busy and active and it becomes harder and harder to define. Is spirituality defined by what we do are by who we are of a combination of both? We also live in a world where centuries old values of right and wrong in such fundamental areas as lifestyle and sexuality are being questioned and systematically dismantled. Under the guise of secularism (which really is another form of religious belief that lacks the self-awareness to recognise a higher value) another set of values is confidently espoused.
In many ways this is nothing new. Here is how the apostle Paul writing in the first century described an unspiritual and empty life. The English translation is from a paraphrase called The Message:
"It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on."
That was written 2000 years ago, but it could not be more up to date!
That is a pretty depressing description of human nature and yet in may ways it does illustrate some of the characteristics of modern life presented through much of the media and culture around us.
So what does a truly spiritual person look like?
The best explanation I have come across again is that from the apostle Paul. He talks about this in terms of 'the fruit of the Spirit'. In Galatians 5:22-23 of his letter , the New International Version of the original Greek, states:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
Here is how the Message translation paraphrases each of these different qualities:....
The concept is so simple and obvious, yet it is so easy to overlook. All of us have a certain finite emotional capacity or reserve. How do I know when I am reaching my limits? Life is full of so much coming at us in different directions. How do I know when I am getting overwhelmed and over-extending myself? How do I ensure I am in a healthy place to deal with all the demands on my time and energy?
This 8 minute video by Wayne Codeiro gives some helpful insights from when he went through his own personal burnout and emotional exhaustion. (by the way please don't be distracted by his shirt - the content is too important!). I first came across this video almost 10 years ago, and since then it has profoundly influenced the way I live my life:
According to Wayne Codeiro we all have a certain emotional capacity, or tank if you like. There are certain activities that will drain and fill that tank. Generally speaking those things we enjoy fill our tank and those things that bring us stress and tension tend to drain our emotional tank. Its as simple as that.
If you occupy your life with just those activities that drain your tank then you will notice a series of predictable effects on your overall emotional health and wellbeing. While the effects presented are somewhat simplistic they are still a helpful framework within which to monitor yourself.
These symptoms become like those canaries mine workers use to take down into the mines in the 19th century to warn them of the dangers of a lack of oxygen. As the oxygen levels in the mines depleted, then the loss of consciousness of the canaries with them served as a warning that the conditions were becoming dangerous and they needed to act quickly to get out. So what are the symptoms to watch out for?....
We hear a lot about balancing life and work in our day and age. Wherever you look and whoever you talk to, getting the right balance in life is something many people are hungry for. With so many priorities and responsibilities in our lives this is becoming for many of us increasingly important and relevant.
But what do we actually mean when we say we want balance in our lives?
Do come and join my co-host Andrew Horton and I as we unpack this important subject. In particular we discuss:
How balance is grossly over-rated as a concept.
Why balance is more of a tension to be managed than a problem to be solved.
How work-life integration can be more helpful than balance.
The power of looking at my life as symphony
The relevance of seasons to life.
Counter-intutitive reflections and examples from my favourite hero and book when it comes to balance.
Creating a future that is greater than your past is essentially an act of your imagination. You have to be willing to go there. That for most people is easier said than done. If growth is about creating a future greater than your past, then the first step is having the faith to believe a greater future is possible. You don't need to see the whole path, but you can have faith to take the next step. And the next step. And the one after that again and again. (Also see The Law of Process).
Creating that vision of the future is an act of faith, drawing on your imagination.
In other words then it is in the quality not the quantity of our thinking in our information saturated world that all future potential lies.
As Einstein put it, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." So to create a better future we have through our imagination to change the quality of our thinking.
I've been struck how the opening verses of Genesis in the Old Testament imply this with the story of creation. God spoke - or, put it another way, He expressed a thought - and it was so from light to the heavens to dry land to the celestial bodies to the fish of the sea and animals. While you and I are certainly not God, we are God-like in that we are created in His image. Even with all our weaknesses and failings, it is staggering what we are capable of through the quality of our thinking.
Everything is created twice - first in the mind and then in the physical world. As human beings made in the image of God we see the outworking of that everywhere around us. Just look around the room you are sitting in right now. Everything, apart from the people and plants in your room was once a thought in the mind of another human being - from the chair you are sitting on to the paper clip on your desk to the computer you are reading this from.
On one level so obvious, but on another level quite amazing. Changing the quality of our thinking can have astounding results in our lives and in the world around us. The quality of our lives is intimately woven into the quality of our thinking.
Here is how the writer C. S. Lewis puts it:........