A God’s-eye-view on mental health

I’m not going to sugar-coat the situation.

I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Although I only sought medical attention early this year, I have suffered with these conditions for many years now.

Now, I realise that having these conditions does not imbue me with a blanket-ability to discuss every case of mental health – because I only suffer from two, I am not a professional and depression and anxiety vary from person to person.

Nevertheless, like some of you I have experienced panic attacks, insomnia, rough dreams, constant fear and depressive and suicidal thoughts. From this – albeit narrow – experience of mental health, I really want to be of some help and encouragement to fellow members of the Mental Health Illness Community.

Mental health, with all its complexities, is insufficiently dealt with in society, and – particularly in the academic sphere – there is a gross misunderstanding of the very concept of health issues which surpass the shoulders.

The very fact that an unprofessional such as myself feels the need to ‘plug a gap’ in the narrative, as it were, reflects this, I think. One of the reasons for this is how ‘illogical’ mental health issues appear. For those who have not suffered similar things, it can be difficult to understand the complicated – sometimes abstract – intricacies of mental illness.

To be frank, this is, on the whole, not the fault of the person who cannot understand; I know many genuinely kind, lovely people who really want to understand, but simply can’t. To a certain extent it’s our duty to try and educate as far as we can, but after that point, understanding that some others can’t understand can be helpful.

That being said, I want to encourage some of you who are suffering much at this time. And no, this is not a “you should be joyful, you’re a Christian” kind of lecture, nor an “everything’s going to be fine” chant with no substance – I’ve had both of those preached at me (in a literal as well as metaphorical sense) and know that both can be harmful and discouraging.

Of course, both of these things are true! The apostle Paul exhorts all Christians to ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4v4), as well as propounding the fantastic truth that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8v8).

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve had these verses quoted at you enough to make you feel a little despondent as to the church’s knowledge of the Bible!

Ultimately, the most important thing is searching the scriptures yourself and seeing the nuances of God’s message for the sufferers of mental illness, which I cannot fully offer in the comparatively short block of text as this article.

Nevertheless, I want to – try to – cover a little about how God’s word has spoken to me in my dark moments. I want to structure a few helpful truths by answering these questions:

  1. Who is God?

‘God is love’ (1 John 4v8).

He is the Creator, who knows the stars by name and sits above the circle of the earth, reigning and ruling, keeping the universe together in his perfect knowledge and wisdom: ‘For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him’ (Colossians 1v16).

He looks after creation meticulously, with a care that only a God of love is capable of and would desire to exert.

‘the very hairs of your head are all numbered’

What’s more he loves humans particularly. Setting Adam and Eve as the crowns of his creation, God set them over all creatures and plants. Jesus states that the God who plans the life-time of a sparrow cares even more for humankind: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (Matthew 10v29-31).

By calling himself the good shepherd and vinedresser, Jesus wants us to understand that the care of a shepherd who has raised his sheep and protected them since birth, and the constant digging, seeding, watering, pruning and reaping of a vinedresser are still not equal to his love for us. He is not just a shepherd, but a ‘good’ shepherd.

God is powerful.

he rules over the entirety of living existence, both celestial and earthly. His voice is the voice of many waters, he is like a fire in his holiness – nothing but holiness can survive in his presence. He has the power to dictate what does and does not happen, and has planned all for the good of his people.

God is understanding.

Throughout the Bible he is described as a father who cares for his children, holding them in his ‘everlasting arms’.

‘You[…]put my tears in Your bottle’

Moreover, Christ in his earthly suffering went through human existence, and hence ‘we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4v15). One of my favourite verses is: ‘You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book’ (Psalm 56v8)?

We have a God who has the omnipotence to create our universe and sustain it, but also the care and consideration to take an invested interest in the individual. He both understands us and has the power over our mental health. We are in safe hands; he knows the plans he has for us (Jeremiah 29v11), and even if it seems difficult at the moment, even before we existed he knew exactly what he had in store for us: ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2).

2. What has God done for us?

The Lord has created each person individually. He doesn’t passively survey a production-line of human babies, but cares for every human being as worthy of his attention:‘For You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s  womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139v13-16).

‘In Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.’

Recently my sister-in-law birthed a wonderful little baby boy, Alistair. Birth is a miracle, each baby is individual, and having this reality quite literally ‘brought to life’ before my eyes has been amazing.

But apart from literal ‘shaping’, God shapes us spiritually as his people. He is sanctifying – continuing to perfect – us as we grow in him as a potter does his clay (Jeremiah 18). He uses difficulties to humble us and make us view more clearly and accept his plan for us. God cares, and he cares for individuals.

Ultimately, however, God’s greatest gift to humankind has been the sending of his son to the world to live a life free from sin, then go to the cross and suffer and die for sins which he had not committed so that we can be right with God.

The Trinity was willing to disrupt their perfect heavenly communion so that Christ could die for the sins of unworthy humans. He took on our sins and bore the wrath of God – what we would have experienced in hell – in our stead. He died so that we do not have to experience that same second spiritual death and suffering.

Now Christ has returned into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for his people as the one mediator between God and humankind, and preparing a special place for his people: ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14).

‘God[…]will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able’

We now live in anticipation of his second coming, where we shall see him face to face, and praise him forever. Here he guides and guards us, not allowing any difficulty or trial to overcome us: ‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10v13).

And we have, at the end of the day, so to speak, nothing to fear: ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’ (2 Timothy 1v7).

This may seem very difficult to align with mental illness. Often it feels that all is not well – we feel very profoundly abandoned, unworthy and many other things.

But these things are not of God.

God does not tempt anybody. All he is doing is allowing Satan to twist illness in order to tempt us, but God only allows Satan this ‘wiggle room’ so that we will grow as Christians and understand him and our purpose in this world to a much greater extent.

Never forget that ‘nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8v39).

God is good and takes no sadistic pleasure in allowing Satan to make us suffer. He only does this for our benefit, because he knows that we will be spiritually healthier through this suffering.

3. Who are we as a result?

At this point it’s probably fairly obvious.

We are the blood-bought children of God, we are the ones he has worked hard to create and who he loves individually and infinitely. We are wonderful, because a wonderful Creator has created us. We have an amazing future ahead of us, because he is preparing heaven for us. Right. Now.

We are here on this earth in order to bring glory to him, and so that we can grow into greater reflections of him. Only through suffering can we understand (and even then in a greatly reduced sense) what Christ has gone through for us.

And given the fact that the comprehension of the latter is what makes heaven so amazing, we have to go through suffering.

We are not purposeless, whatever the devil – or models on adverts, or our grades, or we ourselves – might say.

We are special, because God has declared us so, both verbally and in action.

We are loved. For God has loved us.

How to deal with periods.

None of us like menstruation. It’s not nice when you’ve got something like a hangry parakeet clawing through the good ol’ uterus wall; kinda feels like you’re the stomach contents of a sewer rat. So how do we deal with this?

Well, punching your annoyingly in-the-way brother, venting your inner volcano on your parents through the lava of mid-menstrual expletives and arguing with all of your friends constitute a good start…

No. Nononononono. As women, we’re stronger than that. And you know why? Because of ‘Christ who strengthens’. That’s the only reason, Ms Stomach-Contents-of-a-Sewer-Rat.

When pain claws through our very being, we can ‘soar like eagles’. We’ve been ‘knit in the womb’, we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, God has ‘sent [us] and known [us]’, He sent his ‘one and only Son’ to die for us.

I’ve been married to the wonderful Joshua Hawkes for six months now. He’s an amazing man. But it’s not always easy to be nice – not even to the best non-divine in the world. Believe me, there have been days where I’ve lashed out, grumped on him and neglected him selfishly on my period.

I am human after all.

Breathe those words in. Inhale them in their entirety – ingest the full meaning.

We are human. That means that we are the ‘image’ of God. We are ‘created by him and through him’. We are his daughters.

It also means that Jesus has been – and is – in his incarnate being just like us. Cliché verse, but girl you need it, so I’m gonna say it whether you like it or not: ‘For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15).

And Jesus is still on the right hand of God ‘interceding’ for us as the ‘one Mediator between God and man’. Isn’t that amazing.

Jesus was manifested as a man in his incarnate form. So he didn’t suffer the pain, hormonal imbalance and discomfort of periods. But unlike the males in your life, whether they be a father, brother, uncle, grandfather, friend, boyfriend or husband, he truly understands your situation.

Honestly.

Not like the abovementioned lovelies who may try so hard to comprehend our situation, Jesus really can and will suffer next to you. After the famous Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus made a significant promise: ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the age (the world, or time)’.

Woah. Reread that.

Jesus hasn’t only fulfilled his promise to send the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) in his physical absence from this Earth, He’s also promised to remain with us.

So next time you feel alone, misunderstood, yuk, angry and down during your period, don’t vent this into the people in your life.

Tell you what, I’ll let you in on something. As I’m writing this, my uterus is crying out in pain. I’m having to take breaks every few words because it’s so acute. But focusing on how I can honour God through this frustrating and trying experience (in so many ways ahhhh) is helping me.

It’s directing my focus away from the pain, the period, myself, in essence – and towards God and others.

Which in this instance, at least for me, is helpful. Not focusing on the problem which is unsolvable, and redirecting your attention to other issues that can be solved.

Like the washing-up, if you can; or hugging your mum or friend if they need it and are there; or just smiling when it’s so hard.

I don’t think this is escapism. I think this is re-direction. Understanding the problem is there, but partially solving it by acknowledging the larger picture, if that makes sense.

Ultimately, too, the larger picture that we share our brothers and sisters in Christ, is heaven. Consider that for a moment. One day Christ will ‘wipe away every tear’; He, the only one who truly understands us, will be with us forever; there will be no more pain, or fear, or discomfort.

All will be well because of what Christ has achieved on the cross.

So remember where you’re going, sister.

Your path lies heavenward.

And it’s not just a hormonal fantasy! It’s a reality in our Lord.

So stay strong.

Because not only are you a massively strong woman, brave and bold – the source of your strength means that you will always succeed.

You are and will always be, undefeated.

In the end Satan and pain and death and hurt and tears and negative emotion will be defeated.

And good will triumph.

Make-up – to Wear or Not to Wear?

Note from the editors: we see Eat Write Sleep as a channel for young Christians to share their ideas, life experiences and talents with everyone. Henceforth we shall be inviting a number of such Christians to post their work on our blog. Jemimah has the privilege (or misfortune, depending on which way you look at it!) of being our first ‘guest blogger’. So without further ado… take it away Jemimah!

When I first heard about Eat Write Sleep my reaction was, “What an amazing idea!” Taking the narrow window of the whole world as a topic area, Josh and Michael are two young people consolidating their personal viewpoints on culture, politics and life with the super glue of scripture. And I think it’s fantastic.

Who am I? Jemimah, a Christian girl in my mid-teens and fortunate friend of the writers of this blog, who have kindly invited me to add a seasoning of my own to the simmering compilation of ideas that constitute it.

As a teenage girl who experiences these issues myself, I’m really excited to use God’s word as a primary reference as I delve into some of the hot topics concerning young women in the modern world.

So, what’s my topic? I had so many ideas that this took rather a while to decide on.

However, as a decision had to be made, I eventually chose “Makeup”.

Many Christian girls today wear makeup, many others don’t, and speaking from my own experience, many girls have strong opinions on it.

But what does the Bible say about makeup?

Is it a good thing, or a bad?

In answering these questions, I’ve categorised makeup-wearers into three ‘types’. I realise that this is stereotypical, but seriously – it’s hardly possible to interview every single girl in the world!

So, here are my three ‘types’:

  • the Enhancers
  • the Coverers
  • the Unsures.

The Enhancers first of all. To my view, these are those who consider Scripture and only then decide whether or not they will wear makeup, and how much they’ll wear. Let’s take the 1 Peter 3:3 text to demonstrate what I mean: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be in the hidden person of the heart, with the incomparable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”

So basically, we shouldn’t be just thinking about what we look like outwardly – our hairstyles, our jewellery and clothes (and makeup!) – but rather worried about what our heart’s like, wanting to have an incomparably beautiful, gentle and receptive heart which is really precious to God.

Does that mean that girls should not wear makeup, full stop?

Well, that is for each girl individually to decide. But with all things, we must keep in mind that we are “the temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). God’s very spirit lives in us! Surely then, we’ll want to honour Him in how we look after our bodies.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not much of a makeup wearer. Yes, I do use BB cream and mascara on special occasions, for the soul purpose of novelty. I suppose it could be compared with putting on a nice dress for a wedding?

But I don’t think wearing or not wearing is necessarily the issue; what can be is when makeup draws away attention (either your own or others’) from our main goal. If makeup becomes a weight and draws away from the Lord Jesus Christ, then it’s definitely something to cut back on!

And there can be benefits of not wearing makeup regularly!  

  1. Firstly, foundations can be dermatologically harmful.

Personally, I’m not interested in covering my face with any product that will cause dermatological problems on the long run. I see that as plain counter-productivity, and definitely not the way to preserve the “temple of the Holy Spirit”!

  1. Going ‘clean’ is a time-saver.

I don’t think that I could ever imagine getting up earlier to put on makeup; I prefer to have more time to sleep. But remember, there are biblical reasons for not spending too much time on anything that’s not legitimate/furthering the cause of the Gospel. Ephesians 5:16 talks about “redeeming the time”; or in other words using the (relatively short) time we have on this Earth to the best ability that we can, to bring glory to our Heavenly Father and spread the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, it’s impossible to spend every free moment we have in spreading the Gospel – that’s not what I mean. Many of us have busy family lives, busy church lives and a job or are in full-time education – and helping at home and at church and working hard is a ministry in itself.

But perhaps spending less time in front of the mirror in the morning would give you more time to phone someone who would benefit from a call or do some washing up?

It may be only 30 minutes that you’ll save each day, but every little helps – and you’d be surprised how much a half-hour ‘free’ on your schedule can do.

  1. Making up on occasion is a novelty!

In July of this summer, I was a bridesmaid at my elder brother’s wedding and decided to wear some makeup. I admit, this was more for my brother’s and sister-in-law’s benefit than my own. I didn’t want to ruin their wedding photos by my eye-bags and spots.

However, it wasn’t actually that bad! I made the dangerous decision of entrusting my elder sister with ‘the deed’, and was expecting the worst. But it was a novelty; and made the day, and the photos afterwards, that little bit more special.

So let’s think about why we’re wearing makeup before we put it on.

Let’s not wear makeup to dramatically change our faces, but rather recognise that God has created us in our mothers’ womb for His own glory! I don’t know about you, but personally, I find that amazing. He “knit” each human being into the complex forms they are today (Psalm 139:13). WOWZA.

But what about Coverers?

Well, we girls have a tendency of overdoing things sometimes, and it’s the same with makeup. Those that struggle with overdoing makeup are the ones that I would class as Coverers.

I think that this ‘covering’ attitude arises from one main source:

What others look like.

If I didn’t struggle with this myself I might say that’s it’s irrational. Of course, it is, but how easy it can be to look around at others and then compare ourselves to them and put ourselves down.

I just want to encourage you to remember that ‘covering’ is not a biblical solution to this problem, even if it’s an easy route: God has made every human being to his praise, and so completely covering our faces because we think they’re ‘unworthy’ or worthless is actually wrong!

Try and keep in mind that Christ is our goal, not any dream wardrobe or ‘perfect face’.

Peer pressure may be hard at times too, but ultimately the way man sees is different to how God sees – and how He views us is what we should really be worried about. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Isn’t that amazing!

God is certainly not superficial in any way – rather, He wants us to have hearts that are holy and honouring to Him.

Don’t you think it’s contrary to God’s perfect attitude and superficial to think about what we look like for an unhealthy amount of time?

Let’s put it like this: For me, when I’m thinking about my outward appearance – in front of a mirror or choosing my outfit for the day are classic examples – it’s pretty much a definite that I’m directing my thoughts away from God.

This is both unbiblical and unhelpful! As Christian young women, we’ve got to remember to go about our daily lives in everything – be it in makeup or anything else – bringing Jesus with us.

What does this mean practically?

Well, something slightly different for each girl, I believe. Some people agree with makeup, some don’t, but as the Bible is not prescriptive about whether or not to wear makeup, I think it’s up to the individual to apply as they see fit, according to scripture.

This is not a licence to apply our own standards under the banner of ‘having our own reading of the bible’. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! As we apply God’s standards in our lives, it will definitely become more evident for all of us that this way is a way of self-denial.

Yuk. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

It does to me, but that’s because I still have a sinful nature which is always trying to tell me that “my way is the best way”. But it’s simply not true. God “knows His plans for you” (Jeremiah 29:11), and they’re far better than any human can think up.

He knows the future, gal.

Last but by no means less common are the Unsures. This third group is formed of people that either wear or do not wear makeup because they have no opinions on it.

And for the most part, I’ve seen that people in this group are prone to being rather ill-informed on the topic. They can also be purely confused as to the opinions they have formed due to what they have heard, read or watched. So, for those that find themselves in this category, let’s try and dig into a bit of Scripture to discover God’s way.

1 Peter 3:15 says that we should “always have a reason for the hope that is in us”. This is intended primarily towards the truths of the gospel and how we should be ready at all times to give a defence of the same to non-believers. But as the “hope” that is in us links to our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ, surely this verse underpins every aspect of our Christian walk! We are members of the body of Christ, and as such, we have a duty to be well informed as to our reasons for opinions.

What if you are an Unsure and you don’t know how to go about forming your opinions?

Well, rather than automatically putting on makeup without thinking, perhaps take a break to ask yourself why you actually wear it. Is it a must?

Remember, if you choose to wear makeup, it should be for enhancing and not to change the vessel that Christ has crafted.

However, there is also the people that we meet to think about. These people can be affected by the message that we send by what we wear, how much we wear and how we wear it.

I recognise that this can be a tad sensitive as a topic area, as all of us have a habit of being selfish when it comes to putting others before themselves. But as I pose this point, I hope you’ll see how crucial it is.

Take eyeliner and -shadow, for example. Is it seriously necessary to wear a thick layer of either of these alongside mascara?

As a pair, eyeliner and eyeshadow can put forward different messages, according to how they are worn. Indeed, if the wearer chooses to wear them so, they can cause a gothic or emo mood to form, which can be less-than-helpful for a Christian!

We are “children of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5), and if we put forward an image of someone who is misogynistic or self-hating (which is essentially what emo and gothic styles do), surely that is creating a persona of someone who is “of the darkness”, just as Paul says Christians are not to be? No, this isn’t me trashing all eyeliner and eye-shadow as evil…rather, it’s a caution against makeup styles that form a negative image.

Taking it from another perspective, it can be equally possible, via makeup, to put forward a provocative message. Think of the effect deep eye-makeup coupled with crimson lips could bring – and will bring if we’re not careful. The chief purpose of unnaturally-coloured eye-shadow and lipstick is to draw attention to the eyes and lips, so do give it a thought whether the makeup you choose is so innocent; or not.

I know what you’re thinking now, not this ‘think about the guys’ thing again! But think of Proverbs 31, if it helps.

I fall short of this so often! I’m too quick to think of myself before others, and I’m sure many of you young Christian women out there often feel the same.

But remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength, and the work of grace in us making us want to live to serve Christ in the first place is all of Him and nothing of ourselves!

And in closing…Please don’t cover up the face that God has given you simply for the point of doing so! God has made your body, it’s glorious, so yet again I ask you to pray to Him for help in using it more to His glory as you live to honour and serve Him.