In various and sundry ways we have addressed the question of mental health in the pages of this newsletter.
In this article we are returning to a key piece in the battle for lives built on right thinking and ordered passions (i.e. a mentally health life). Before we go any further, though, please understand that the words in the preceding sentence are deeply significant. We are aiming for lives established on right thinking, on thinking aligned with reality, with creation as it really is (because it’s possible to have wrong thinking, thinking out of line with reality). And we are striving to order our passions precisely because they need to be ordered, because disordered passions wreak havoc in our lives. Disordered passions are a lot like immature, undisciplined children left to their own devices. It’s not pretty. Another way of saying this is that we are aiming for human flourishing and that is largely dependent on right thinking and ordered passions.
So the first step in honing mental health with an aim toward human flourishing is accepting that reality is a certain way. It has been fixed that way by the Creator (Scripture regularly refers to this as “the fear of the Lord”). I regularly tell my children, “Reality has edges.” These edges are fixed (and often sharp!).
We cannot live a life set against these edges and expect to experience mental wellbeing (or physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing!).
Second, we need to acknowledge that our thoughts and our desires can be out of line with reality. It’s possible that our thoughts are wrong and that our desires are disordered. In fact, it’s exceedingly likely that at least some of them are wrong and disordered because this is what it means to be fallen creatures. Our thoughts and desires have been warped by sin. So to ensure we’re building our lives on right thinking and ordered passions, we must go to the Definer of reality and learn what He has called good. And this will require submitting our thoughts and yielding our desires to Him (which is why regular worship and Bible reading and studying are essential!).
With these foundational pieces in place, we can move forward into the focus of this article: saying our thoughts out loud. To avoid making our point prematurely, though, and thereby, diminishing its importance, we need to start with an image: imagine solitary confinement. Imagine being locked into a dark cell… alone… for weeks, months, maybe years. What does that do to a person? In two words: bad things. These bad things include anxiety, depression, anger, panic attacks, paranoia, hallucination, self-harm, violent outbursts, and many, many more Very. Bad. Things.
So if we are able to recognize the deleterious effects of solitary confinement on people, why do so many of us lock so many of our thoughts (our deepest struggles and mental battles) into solitary confinement? Why do we refuse to let them see the light of day? Are we afraid they’re too dark? Do we fear what others might say? Or are we afraid we might have to let them go? The truth of the matter is that some, if not most, of these thoughts are false (or a warped version of the truth) and they deeply impact our feelings and powerfully influence our behavior (because what you believe affects what you feel affects what you do). And if they are not built on truth, they will mislead us and disorder our lives and that is a recipe for mental mayhem and emotional turmoil.
So let’s journey together for the next few moments into our minds’ prison rooms and see what we’ve confined there.
- I am a failure. There’s no point in trying. I might as well give myself up to destructive behavior (binge eating, alcohol abuse, pornography, etc.).
- People don’t appreciate me like they should and I need to be appreciated so I’m justified in harboring unkind thoughts about them or undermining them.
- My wife is a negative person and that’s not right. If she’s going to do wrong things, I will too.
- I’m not happy in my marriage and I deserve to be happy (whether through divorce, an affair, or escape through a mental or virtual/online affair).
- My parents are a mess. They care more about themselves than me. So I’m going to find someone who will make me feel loved even if that means doing things with him that I know are wrong.
- I’m afraid my boyfriend will leave me if I don’t move in with him and I don’t want to be alone.
- I am an outcast among my peers. If I identify as LGBTQ I will be accepted and loved.
All of these beliefs make perfect sense in the darkness of solitary confinement, which may explain why we are hesitant to bring them out into the light. But in the light things look differently. To be more specific: Saying our thoughts out loud forces us to hear them and then to evaluate them.
Try it. Go through the previous list and say them out loud. How do they sound? Do you hear the half-truths, the justifications, the overstatements and mischaracterizations? If someone else said them to you, would you nod your head in full agreement? Surely not.
This is why we all need to say our thoughts out loud. We need to hear them. We need to bring them into the light. Ideally, we will do this with a mature Christian, a competent counselor, our pastor, and/or our husband or wife. This may be, initially, a scary thought, which is why we routinely keep these thoughts locked in solitary confinement. We don’t want to face the thought of releasing them because they have been the justifications we’ve used for our feelings and actions, but if we want to flourish as people, if we want to build our lives on right thinking and ordered passions, we need to bring our imprisoned thoughts into the light. We need to say them out loud. The journey toward mental health and human flourishing involves much more than this, but it certainly doesn’t involve less. So, let your thoughts out of solitary confinement. Find a mature listener and say them out loud and join the journey toward mental health and human flourishing. – Pastor Conner
 Pastor Johnson has contributed several insightful and personal articles, Janet B. includes a monthly piece on a different piece of mental health, and I have periodically addressed it. I encourage you to check out the three pieces recently posted on Zion’s blog (http://zionmanning.com/blog.php, entitled "A Conversation on Mental Health") that take a little longer look at the question of mental health.
 I also like to tell them (with a smile on my face): “I am reality.” In other words, my vocation as a parent requires me to stand in the place of reality for my children so that they can learn where its edges are in a safe and loving environment. My “edges” are softer and more forgiving. If I serve well in my vocation, I will prepare children who respect reality and live in line with it, and thereby flourish as individuals. I also joke that I need a T-shirt with the words: “Parent: I am reality.”