A leaflet with that heading, issued by the National Health Service, was dropped through our letterbox in mid-May 2022, offering a handful of practical keys to one’s mental health. I was fascinated, but not surprised, to recognise parallel items of advice had been recorded centuries before the NHS existed – in the Bible.
- Helpful thinking
The NHS put at the top of their list the importance of choosing, and concentrating one’s thinking. They advise:
‘Learn to ask yourself whether your thoughts are helpful.’ For instance: ‘is there a different way to see this situation?’ Also: ‘Spend time focusing on the present instead of getting stuck on the past or worrying too much about the future.’
Here’s how our Lord taught us in his renowned (so-called) ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (= Matthew 5:1 – 7:29), that we should be carefree as the birds and meadow flowers for whom ‘God cares’. We should ‘seek first the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.’ He concluded the paragraph Matthew 6:25-34 (in the New Living Translation): ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
Paul’s council to believers in Greece spelled out the same advice: ‘Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me . . . and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you’ (Philippians 4:8-9 NLT).
- Sufficient rest
‘Make sure you have enough down time before bed and a good night’s sleep routine with a regular bedtime and wake up time.’
During their brief three years or so of public ministry the band of apostles and their Master often had crowds follow them. And after they ‘returned to Jesus from their ministry tour Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” . . . because they were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place where they could be alone.’ However, on seeing him setting off, lots of people ran around on land and got there ahead of him.’ So he taught them, then fed them miraculously, and only after that long hectic day of ministry did he insist that his disciples sail back across the lake while he dismissed the crowds, then ‘he went up into the hills by himself to pray’ (Mark 6:30-44).
- Socialise with those of kindred spirit
‘[Share] with friends and family or online communities [with whom] you are able to talk about the way you feel’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted after the two-year lockdown due to the Covid 19 pandemic: ‘We need to get back into . . . the office. There will be lots of people who disagree with me, but I believe people are more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas, when they are surrounded by other people.’ (This was in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail of May 13, 2022.) He added: ‘My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, . . . getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, than walking slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it is you’re doing.’
Right from the memorable day of Pentecost, the earliest Christian church community not only ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . . and to prayer’ but ‘all the believers devoted themselves to fellowship and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper’ (Acts 2:42). And later, Scripture exhorts us ‘not to neglect our meeting together . . . but encourage on another’ (Hebrews 10:25).
- Wholesome food and exercise
‘Eating well and getting enough exercise . . . can help boost your physical health, . . . your mental well-being too.’
Today I have been for a walk while my wife exercised on her electric machine that walks her feet for her and aids her circulation. I then carried water from our garden to the beds of flowers and vegetables. Now I am getting a mental boost by writing, and re-writing, this blog while indoors she stimulates her ‘little grey cells’ (as fictional detective Hercule Poirot was wont to do) by creating new recipes in the kitchen.
Jesus taught us to pray daily, ‘Give us today the food we need’ (Matthew 6:11). The children of Israel in their four decades of travel from Egypt to Canaan were supplied with manna for each day, with a double delivery on Fridays to cover God’s Sabbath ‘shop closure’ each Saturday (see Exodus 16:11-30). For exercise they had to get out of bed to gather it and then to bake it!
Chatty, bouncy, funny Kitty Tait at the age of 14 seemed suddenly to become constantly depressed, housebound and a school drop-out. But she thought she’d do anything to stop her mind from whirring. Ian her school-teacher father tried her at gardening, sewing, and painting over an extensive time – all to no avail. But when he baked a loaf of bread she showed a spark of interest.
She became obsessed for a while, but when their community in Watlington in Oxfordshire (the smallest town in England) supported her business – eventually she could supply a full baker’s shop. During the Covid pandemic ‘feeding everyone became a big part of lockdown for me’, she admits in her biography ‘Breadsong’ written by Constance Craig Smith. Now she supplies the town with a rich variety of bread and pastries.
Whenever she immerses her hands into any of her rich variety of bread mixtures, ‘I feel my breath starting to slow again and my cheeks stop . . . flaming.
By the way, ‘Breadsong’ ‘is Kitty’s name for the cracking, hissing sound of a loaf expanding in the oven.
But, consider again that natural food is only one aspect of a Christian’s diet. When ‘Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted [and tested] by the devil, for forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.’ Then ‘the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread”. But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, People do not live by bread alone but by every [spoken] word (Greek ‘rhema’) that comes from’ the mouth of God’.” And he had already received that word at his recent baptism when ‘a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son who brings me great joy”.’
- Do something for yourself
‘Have some “me-time” by spending time on things that make you happy, whether that is a hobby, trying something new, or relaxing.’
Well, I have to admit that my lifetime study of Scripture has made me dubious about that ‘me time’ phrase because of the Bible’s emphasis on self-denial as a Christian virtue – indeed self-control is ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (see Galatians 5:22-23). Compare Matthew 16:24-25 in The Passion Translation where ‘Jesus said to his disciples, “If you truly want to follow me, you should at once completely reject and disown you own life. And you must be willing to share my cross and experience it as your own, as self-sacrifice and lose your lives for my glory, you will continually discover true life”.’
And, surely, our glorified Lord’s invitation in Revelation 3.20 T.P.T. defines a Christian’s me time as time spent with him. ‘Look,’ he says, ‘I’m standing at the door [specifically that of the lackadaisical church in Laodicea] knocking. If your heart is open to hear my voice and you open the door [within], I will come in to you [singular; = ‘him’ in Greek] and you will feast with me.’ A footnote of the TPT says: ‘this concept is probably taken from Song 5:1-2, where the king knocks on the door of the heart of the Shulamite, longing to come in and feast with her.’
* So, with these means of diagnosis, let’s do a regular mental well-being check up.