On October 10th (Thanksgiving Day here in Canada), I noticed that some people were celebrating something else, called “World Mental Health Day.” Apparently, international organizations like the World Federation for Mental Health and the World Health Organization have been celebrating this day since the 1990s.
Our Prime Minister made a special announcement for the new holiday as well. He stated: “Today, we mark World Mental Health Day, an opportunity to raise awareness of the mental health challenges that can impact all of us…Whether it’s you personally, a family member, or a friend, we are working to get everyone the access to the mental health care they need, when they need it. Mental health is health. Over the past couple of years, Canadians have experienced rising levels of depression and anxiety…From coast to coast to coast, we are investing in projects that deliver mental health supports to those who need it most, while we work with the provinces and territories to improve mental health care by developing national standards.”
Is the government of Canada trying to phase out Thanksgiving and replace it with this new day? I’m not sure. The Prime Minister also gave a Thanksgiving announcement. But this does at least reveal that our culture’s emphasis has shifted from giving thanks to God, to focusing on our individual “mental health.” I want to just share three points regarding this shift.
A Christian View of Mental Health
Sometimes, using the term “mental health” may get confusing. The term may immediately make us think about the brain. But when the popular culture talks about mental health, it is speaking of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Biblically speaking, these areas all fall under the domain of the “heart,” the “inner man,” the “spirit,” or “soul” of a person.
A biblical view of human beings is that we are composed of two parts: body and soul. There is a material and an immaterial, or physical and spiritual, component to all human beings. The physical brain belongs to our body, while our thoughts, motives, desires, will, and affections, fall under the “soul” category. Our body and soul are interconnected, so we cannot completely separate them, but we can distinguish them. This has implications for how we view “mental health.”
Conditions of emotional distress like depression and anxiety can sometimes have physical causes (for instance, hypothyroidism can make someone feel depressed and drinking too much coffee can give someone a feeling of anxiety). It is important that we maintain our physical health for these reasons and consult doctors when we think there may be a physical cause to these things. But most of the time, the condition of our soul is what leads to our emotional responses.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). In other words, your whole life—words, actions, emotions, etc.—flows out of the control center of your being that the Bible calls “your heart.” This is not the physical heart, but rather the deepest thoughts, intentions, desires, affections, and motivations of a person. So, we must watch over the condition of our heart like a jail-guard watching a prisoner. Our spiritual quality of life depends on it.
How to Have a Healthy Heart
What are some practical ways to encourage heart-health? It is certainly not to run to psychiatric drugs and psychological counseling. Medications may have their time and place, but the Bible does not tell us to run to these things for our spiritual health. It prescribes for us many spiritual medicines for the soul. The main ones, often called the ordinary means of grace, are like a healthy diet with supplements and vitamins.
- The Scriptures. The Word of God “revives the soul” and “rejoices the heart” (Psalm 19:7-8).
- Prayer. Pouring our hearts out to the Lord in prayer is a way to unload our burdens and find peace in the midst of fear, trials, and anxiety (Psalm 55:22; Psalm 62:8; 1 Peter 5:7).
- The Church. Worship and fellowship with other saints gives us joy, and points us away from soul-destroying sins towards righteousness and wisdom, which is the path of blessing (Psalm 42:4; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 4:18-19).
All of these means are ways of connecting with God and his people, communing with Christ alone or together. As Christ himself, by the Spirit, is the one who produces spiritual health and fruit in our lives, we must connect with him continually through these means. John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The fruits of the Spirit include things like “joy and peace” (Galatians 5:22).
When you go to a doctor with any problem, he will probably first run routine checks and ask simple questions about your diet, exercise, and sleep. If you go to a pastor with any problem, don’t be surprised if he asks you how your Bible reading and prayer life is going, and if you’re attending church regularly. These are the sunlight, water, and good soil that help us to grow in Christ, like healthy plants in a garden.
There is certainly lots more to be said on this subject of keeping a healthy heart. But here, I just want to mention one more key to spiritual vitality.
Thanksgiving: A Spiritual Superfood
There are food items people call “superfoods.” Apparently, it is more of a marketing term than anything. But we do recognize that some foods have concentrated doses of healthy vitamins and elements. Oranges have Vitamin C, eggs are high in protein, etc.
We could say that thankfulness is a spiritual superfood. Giving thanks to God for all his blessings, spiritual and physical, is so key! It does wonders to the soul, lifting our spirits and giving us a better perspective on life. Even in the worst of situations, if we can remember God’s manifold goodness to us in many other ways and give him praise for these things, we can avoid falling into many ditches of anxiety, depression, and anger.
The Bible calls us to be honest before the Lord with what we are feeling. Many of the psalms are written from a place of utter depression and despair. Some of them have no resolution except that the psalmist turns his cry upward to the Lord (see Psalm 88). And that is okay. It’s okay to not be okay. But, the Bible does eventually call us out of the pit of sorrow.
The Bible shows us how to rejoice, and be glad, and give thanks, in the full range of life’s circumstances, including when we are troubled and anxious (Psalm 7:17 in context; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-7).
Thankfulness is a major theme in Colossians. Paul reminds us by his exhortation and example of the importance of thanksgiving.
- We are to give thanks for other Christians (Colossians 1:3).
- We are to give thanks for our deliverance, redemption, and inheritance in Christ (1:12-14).
- We are to abound in thanksgiving as we walk in Christ, the same way we initially received him (2:6-7).
- At the climax of a section in Colossians dealing with personal sanctification, Paul mentions thankfulness three times in four verses: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:15-17).
- In his final instructions, Paul tells us, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4:2).
Thanksgiving is a spiritual superfood. Munch on it often. Keep it in your desk drawer and snack on it while you do your work. Bake it into all your other activities, thoughts, and prayers. Maybe keep a journal for a season where you deliberately record a specific thing you are thankful for every day. Find Christian music you like so you can sing with thankfulness in your heart to God. Try to open your day with thanksgiving to your heavenly Father who has showered you with every blessing through his Son Jesus Christ.
And if Canada moves on from Thanksgiving Day, let it live on every day in the hearts of true believers, and let us show the world that the way to true peace and happiness is to keep our hearts according to God’s word, abounding in thankfulness.
Thankful in Christ,
P.S. Here is a good song I’ve been praising the Lord with this week: O Give Thanks (Official Lyric Video) – Matt Boswell & Matt Papa – YouTube
This is called the “bipartite” or “dichotomous” view of human nature. There are some who view human nature as “tripartite” or “trichotomous,” distinguishing “spirit” and “soul,” but Scripture usually uses these terms interchangeably. See Systematic Theologies for discussions on the matter.
For a good book on this subject see Blame It on the Brain? By Ed T. Welch.