The Spirit and Health
Our spiritual “underpinnings” and our philosophy of life affect our ability to cope with life–individually, inter-personally, socially and internationally.
We will seldom, if ever, find only one cause for a mental or physical illness. Multiple factors are involved in becoming ill and multiple factors are involved in becoming well.
Our spirituality and philosophy are the roots to our tree of life. Whether or not our spiritual beliefs and philosophy of life provide us with psychological comfort and hope, rather than distress and discouragement, is very important. Whether or not they provide us the wisdom and courage to act affects us for life as we branch out in our “decision tree” (a term used in the medical field for the decisions we make in relations to our perceptions of the situations, for example, if “this” is true, we do something for “this”; but if “this” is not true we do something different). And, the strengths and weaknesses of our spiritual lives contribute to our society’s strengths and weaknesses.
From a specific mental health perspective, it is very important for mental health staff to understand, and for family, friends, and pastors to explain to them, the religious practices and religious “culture” of a person who has been brought to them for mental health or psychiatric care.
While teaching a clinical group I saw a patient pacing in the community room, alone, and talking out loud. A social worker passing though, said, “What are you doing? Talking to the walls?” “Yes’m,” the old gentleman said. In staff report, she said he was “talking to the walls,” and interpreted it as a sign of either visual or auditory hallucinations.
The next morning, I happened by at about the same time. What I heard was:
“Lord, what am I gonna do? Hep me, Lord. What am I gonna do? They thinks I’se crazy.”
I said, “Praying, this morning?”
“Yes’m. I’se jist tryin’ to help mah poor brother.”
“Yes, I saw you go into his room while I was his observer. You were praying for him, weren’t you?”
“Yes,m. I feel sorry for him, he a big man, an he real mad. I’se scared, but seems nobody was heppin’ him. But they tole me I cain’ go in to him no moe.”
“That’s O.K. I thought you were very brave. He hadn’t let anyone come near him before you went in. He’s much quieter now. I gave him some water this morning. He doesn’t seem so angry now. I think you helped him…You were asking the Lord what to do a little bit ago. What does he say?”
“I dunno, Ma’am. He don’ say nothin’ to me. They thinks I’se crazy. I jist wanna hep ma brothers.”
“Well, you don’t sound crazy to me.”
“I said, ‘You don’t sound crazy to me.'”
“Oh! Thank you, Ma’am! Thank you, Lord! I don’ sound crazy!”
Feeling misunderstood and embarrassed, the patient found it hard to explain to staff, and agreed when asked, “What are you doing? Talking to the walls?” Sometimes patients themselves are uncertain as they question their own experiences. Even if the patient is able to explain, staff members frequently make their own determinations without inquiring into the patient’s religious background or even talking to the patient about the experience at the time it occurs.
For “charismatic” Christian groups, the practice of “speaking in tongues” is important in their reliance on God’s Spirit as part of prayer or worship. Speaking in tongues may be part of an ecstatic experience, normal everyday prayer, or a response to severe psychological stress. If the professional staff is not aware that “speaking in tongues” is part of the Christian belief and practice of a particular patient, its meaning can be badly mistaken. Christians who are overheard by staff as they “pray in tongues”, are usually thought to be exhibiting a sign of mental illness, that is, speaking gibberish or “word salad.”
“Speaking in tongues” can occur even when the individual has no previous introduction or education into that segment of religious culture. Perhaps the “inner child” cries out in distress for spiritual help and is understood by God, just as the mother interprets and distinguishes the different sounds her baby makes.
Staff members need to inquire about religious orientation and practices when taking histories of their patients and clients. The term “charismatic” may be used as a substitute for “speaking in tongues.” Respect for their clients’ religious positions and experiences is due, even when the professional is inclined to disagree with them. The information so gained may prevent further complications to the person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual condition by facilitating staff-patient communications, preventing unnecessary anxiety, fear, or indignation on the client’s part, and by preventing inappropriate diagnoses, medications, and treatments by staff.
Spirituality, Emotions, Conflict, Counseling and Medications
“Our prayer meetings seem to have so little meaning! In fact, we have hardly any time for prayer at all. The preacher uses the time for Bible Study. Then some long-winded old soul prays on and on about things that don’t relate to anybody. When I tried to say something about it, I got the meanest look! It went sharp as a dagger right through my heart…It makes me sick that people don’t have a chance to share their pain and worries during prayer meeting. That’s what prayer meetings are supposed to be for. I give up. Nobody listens. Nobody is interested in changing anything. But they gripe about having to go to prayer meetings and nothing is happening in that church but strife. The preacher is fair game for ‘roasting’ every Sunday dinner. It’s not supposed to be that way…What’s the matter with our church? It must be dead. There’s no life there. Then my husband got mad at me when I decided to stand up for what I think for a change. Now, he says I’m not actin’ normal. I’m scared, he wants me to go to the hospital. He’s already made an appointment!”
When interpersonal conflict, internal conflict, and conflict among one’s religious beliefs contribute strongly to the patient’s distress, medication must be used very judiciously so that those areas of conflict may surface for counseling.
Spirit and Emotions
The emotional part of yourself is as closely related to your “soul” or “spirit” as it is to the physical part of yourself.
The “soul/spirit/psyche/mind” is what you must protect and “save.” The body is the house or “tent” you live in as the apostle Paul said. Your brain and nervous system with its electrochemicals and hormonal stimulation and response patterns is the primary method the “soul/spirit/psyche/mind” has to operate both your emotional and your physical being.
Spirit, Conflict, Forgiveness and Emotions
Your body is precious because of its vital connection with the inner person. The body is the “temple” of the Spirit of God when we are born of God. The chemistry of your body affects the functioning of your nervous system and your brain. And, the inter-workings of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual factors affect body chemistry. Therefore, keeping our bodies as healthy and fine-tuned as possible is important to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and vice-versa. Spiritual health helps us meet and overcome difficulties in every other aspect of living.
I often compare the body to a car that requires regular care and “feeding” to preserve its beauty and function in order to get us from one place to another while also reflecting the owner’s unique personality. At death, this model is turned in for a new model that is beyond our current imagination.
As “body,” some of us are not aware of the inner person, soul/spirit/psyche/mind, and our emotions residing there. Many times we are so busy and anxious about pleasing others, including God, we do not even recognize ourselves. A symptom of not knowing and not recognizing ourselves, is our criticism of others for things that we ourselves do, but do not like, and do not see in ourselves. We are unconscious of some of our behaviors.
“Lord knows, I’ve done everything I could think of to get them to change. Scold, nag, nothin’ helps. ‘Like father, like son,’ seems like they’re both total losers. Like Grandpa, runs in the family. Never a decent word to anybody, always runnin’ others down. They are total exasperation! You know, I feel like a failure as a wife and mother!”
Much of our conflict with others is decreased when we look for symptoms in ourselves of the very things we do not like in other people. This lady, acutely aware of how her male family members affect her, appears unaware of the effects of her scolding and nagging on them.
A friend reminded me of Jesus’ parable, or short story, about the “beam” in one’s own eye that keeps us from seeing to clean a “speck” from someone else’s eye (Matthew Chapter 7 and Luke Chapter 6). My friend was kind enough to point me to the story rather than criticize my critical disposition.
When criticizing others we tend to see a reflection of our own faults. When we realize the extent that this is true, it makes us much more able to forgive and forget. Deep within our own inner being, psyche/soul/mind/spirit, we know we also need forgiveness for the same faults.
Not long ago I was, internally, very critical of my husband for not cleaning the mirror after flossing his teeth. In exasperation one day, I cleaned the mirror in order to see better before I flossed. As I was leaning toward the mirror and flossing, I was amazed to see white flecks flying “splat” onto the mirror! Seeing my own contribution to the mirror-mess, I was glad I had kept my complaint to myself. I was able to forgive my spouse, and was happier about cleaning the mirror!
“What? Oh, uhm, mmm (mumble, looking away, another project in mind.)
“I don’t care what you have scheduled this evening! This has to be done now, no matter how long it takes!”
The mental attitudes and behaviors, the “spirit” or “presence,” we exhibit to others affects their well-being and ours. We may be self-oriented, other-oriented, task-oriented, or we may blend these orientations. In a particular situation, any one of these modes may be most needed. To be spiritually attuned to the needs of people and their situations involves the “Presence of the Spirit of God” active in us. When we orient ourselves toward God, so that God can orient us to others and the need of the moment, we are “walking in the Spirit.”
The extremely task-oriented person may think that “doing a job well is the least you can do,” be oblivious of others’ efforts, and take all they do for granted, because, that is what they “ought” to do. Consequently, we do not express appreciation to those who are efficient, kind, and courteous to us. Our “presence” does not reflect the “Presence of the Spirit of God.”
When we are overly self- and task-oriented, the lack of recognition of others can dampen their spirits and discourage some people to the point of depression. If we are overly “other-oriented,” we can become too dependent on others and not sufficiently responsible for our own actions. To be God-oriented, allowing God’s Presence to guide our thoughts and actions, provides a balanced orientation toward others. Then we can be “in tune” to the needs of the person and the demands of the task. Compassion, mercy, love, and justice find a balance in our behaviors.
For me, as a person who developed a “task-orientation” toward others, communication of deeper thoughts and feelings was difficult and infrequent. The importance of expressing appreciation and of “presence” is made clear to me in two episodes of Jesus’ life. Jesus met a group of ten lepers on the road. Ten lepers requested healing, were sent to the priest, and were healed on the way. Only one returned to thank Jesus. He asked where the others were. (Luke 17:12-19.) We need to give our thanks to each other, and receive appreciation from one another.
The second episode is Jesus in Gethsemane. He foresaw the immediate future, his arrest and crucifixion. In anguish, he prayed to be spared, if possible. He concluded, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” He returned to his disciples. They were asleep. He asked, “Why could you not stay awake one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) The soul, the inner being, needs nourishing presence. Jesus needed that nourishing support. And the disciples needed God’s help to overcome the approaching temptations. Do not we also need each other?
Jesus advised us, however, not to expect thanks for doing our duty. When we have done what our employer told us to do, we should say we were merely doing our duty (Luke 17:7-10). When we adopt the attitude, “I’m only doing my duty,” we avoid hurt feelings, and possibly depression, when ignored.
Reward For Service
The good servant is one who is profitable. He is commended and given greater responsibility (Luke 19:11-27 and Matt. 25:14-46). When we reward others by expressing our appreciation, we help build up their spirits and improve their emotional health. Consequently, they are less vulnerable to illnesses of many kinds and capable of more and better work.
If we know we are task oriented, we also can be more “profitable” by making the extra effort to notice and express our appreciation to others, not only when they have performed above their duty, but even when they have done only their duty. Remember, the good servant was commended.
When the disciples were arguing over which of them would be greatest, Jesus responded that those who wish to be great should concentrate on service. Even such small things as giving cold water to the thirsty would be rewarded in his realm. (Mark 9:33-41 and Matt. 25:34-46). Rewards affect emotions and motivation toward service.
INVITE GOD’S PRESENCE
Jesus said he would like to have gathered the people of Jerusalem like the hen who gathers her chicks, teaching them how to live in God’s Kingdom with one another. But they would not.
Let us not distress the one who would teach us. Let us each examine ourselves and invite the Spirit, the “Presence” of God, the Teacher and the Teachings, into our presence, our homes, ourselves. The spirit and soul need the gentlest presence. The Teacher will be gentle with us. Let us sit at the feet of the Teacher and learn. Our service will improve. Recognition and reward are assured.
We have been dealing with the topic of spirituality in one way or another throughout this article. We will continue to weave aspects of spirituality into our discussion of health and illness, because spirituality affects all areas of our lives, even when it is totally lacking in our lives.
We have examined some territory which you may not have explored before. You may find some strong, thick timber in those regions of your life that helps protect you amidst the new growing attitudes in your life. Think now. Shall you cut all the timber down to let in new light on your life? Or, just trim it and conserve the best wood? Do not be afraid to let a little new light onto your path. It may direct you back to Eden. Take hope, in following these blogs you are making the choice to examine a number of factors over which you yourself have some control. Yet there area many things we cannot control. Here are three quotations from the Christian Bible that have been very meaningful to me.
In certain ways we are weak , but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people. We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children.
Romans 8:26-29 Contemporary English Version
Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue, whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
II Peter 1:2-8b King James Version
I remember you in my prayers, and ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, to give you the Spirit, who will make you wise and reveal God to you, so that you will know him. I ask that your minds may be opened to see his light, so that you will know what is the hope to which he has called you, how rich are the wonderful blessings he promises his people, and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power in us is the same as the mighty strength which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world.
Ephesians 1:16-20 Today’s English Version