Summary: We all have some kind of "brokenness" in our lives. Dr. Handysides shares ways that help us heal this brokenness and the importance of faith in our journey of accepting self and others.

Introduction

Broken! My wife had just purchased a set of very fine glassware which she asked me to wash before putting away. Yes, before there was a chance to use the glasses, I dropped one. Now it lay broken.

I wonder how God felt that evening in Eden when visiting Adam and Eve. He found them broken. Listening to their excuses—"the serpent," "the woman," anything but a full and open confession.

Different kinds of brokenness

For many unfortunate individuals, a "broken" mind is the result of inborn errors of brain metabolism. These people require help in the form of medications that can alter "secretion rates," "uptake rates," to modify the internal milieu of the brain. Often, with this medication, psychotic patients can return to a degree of normality. Something like gluing the pieces of a broken vessel together, the medication, though not a normal part of the brain function, does permit fairly normal functioning.

For most of us, our brokenness is not quite as obvious, yet we may struggle with many other types of disorders. Our struggles often center around our relationships. These too bear the scars of our brokenness. We react to those near us in ways that lead to unhappiness, grief, despair, anger, and commonly, anxiety and insecurity. Out of these feelings, we invent even more warped ways of achieving at least some sense of balance. Some of us become "control freaks." Others become obsessive over detail as a way of reassuring themselves. And still others procrastinate, not wanting to confront reality—at least not right now!

How do you cope with flaws?

When we really get to know another person, we find all kinds of little character cracks and flaws. If we think these foibles are tolerable, amusing, or quaint, we might laugh and label the individual a "card," a "character," or an "eccentric." But often we are not so generous with others and roll our eyes or talk about them behind their back.

A few years ago, when I was visiting a church in a part of the world where Adventism is relatively new, I was asked a strange question: "Do you think we should disfellowship people who are depressed?" The question made me depressed, and I felt how poorly we had taught the love of Jesus.

The thinking behind the question was that if we really trusted the Lord, how could we be depressed? Such reasoning does not take brokenness into account. Then again, there are those who suggest our attitudes have nutritional basis and that it may be that we need to eat more healthful foods. Guilt is easy to inflict! Several of my family understand my capacity to "guilt trip" them. Is this really the way to behave?

Mental health and conscious thought

Most authorities agree that our attitudes are a result of choices we make. We choose to be optimistic or pessimistic, gracious or curt, to frown or to smile. But if mental health is modified by conscious thought, surely Christians will be better adjusted than those who have no religious base! If religion has something to add, that value ought to be measurable. Is this really true?

Interestingly, several studies have been conducted. Aristotle (384-322 BC) argued that happiness was the "supreme good" and that all else was merely a means to achieving it. If this were the case, it would seem that a sense of "well-being" might be a good measure of success. Like many perceptions, well-being is not an "all or nothing phenomenon," but covers a spectrum of feelings from depression to elation and ecstasy. Does religious faith give a sense of well-being?

Does faith make a difference?

Studies indicate that many factors play a role in "well-being": health, education, self-esteem, marital status, age, and religion all play a role. Interestingly, income and wealth are not good predictors of happiness. People who feel they possess choice and control in their lives tend to have more well-being. At first it may seem religious people with a dependence on God would feel they had less internal control. In fact, studies have shown that religious people feel more internal control.

Religious people are more likely to have intact, stable families, less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, enjoy less hypertension, fewer strokes, less cancer, and live longer. Optimism is more frequent among fundamentalists than liberal religious people. Hope is also more prevalent among those who are devout. A sense of purpose and meaning in life was also found in persons of strong faith. These studies substantiate the healthy role played by religion in our lives.

Anxiety disorders, ranging from generalized anxiety to specific situations such as phobias or panic attacks, may relate to events in early childhood. On the whole, religion tends to buffer against anxiety, especially in the presence of medical disease.

The most important aspect

If we incorporate our religion into our daily life and yield to the Spirit, then the "fruits" of the Spirit are made manifest. We all know people who bear the fruits of love, joy, patience, meekness, and temperance. These fruits not only bless the person who bears them, but everyone they come in contact with.

Of all the aspects of mental health, attitude is most important. This is something we can consciously choose to make positive. For some, this choice comes easier than to others. A positive attitude of kindness, helpfulness, and peace is something true stewards need to practice. Children should be taught that moodiness, pouting, negativism, and antisocial behaviors, are chosen and under their own control.

Paul’s advice: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Php 2:5 NKJV) is very good therapy. John tells us "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment" (Jn 4:18).

On the path to healing

Clearly we are broken and subject to emotional and mental health problems. But thank God for the "Comforter," the Spirit of Truth that Jesus sends to dwell in us. Through His Spirit He calls to us, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28).

Our communion with Jesus will prepare our minds for heavenly thoughts and wholesome and meaningful relationships. With joy we can say, soon this "corruptible will put on incorruption" and "this mortal immortality" (1 Cor 15:53-54). Until then, let us be positive in our hope, joyful in our confidence, and content in Him.

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January–March, 2005

Health