Ben Bano, Director of ‘Welcome Me as I Am’ that promotes mental health and dementia awareness in parish communities, reflects this month on what the Scriptures teach us about sustaining our mental health.
Life can be bleak in these troubled times, particularly when the challenges of dealing with the Covid pandemic for ourselves, and our loved ones, seem overwhelming and many restrictions are still in place. When so many uncertainties need to be faced, it is not surprising that our well-being and mental health suffer at the same time.
The Bible is full of references which touch on the anguish we feel in times of trial. Psalm 88 reflects some of the deep feelings we can all experience in times of difficulty. But we don’t have to wait for an expression of hope in this psalm – it’s there at the beginning.
The writer of the psalm admits to a whole range of emotions – being forgotten, rejected and much more. The list covers almost every woe possible – ‘You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths’… indeed the psalmist echoes so many of the emotions felt during the Covid crisis. ‘You have taken from me my closest friends… I am confined and cannot escape’ echoes the feelings many of us have had during lockdown and restrictions on our social gatherings, as well as the many losses faced through the presence of the Covid virus.
But the psalmist strikes a note of confidence – ‘Lord, you are the God who saves me, day and night I cry out to you’. God may be silent, but he is not absent. Just as he promises never to leave us (Deuteronomy 31:6) we can be assured that he is there in the darkness with us. Throughout the psalm the writer cries out to God, just as Jesus on the Cross cries out to the Father. Those powerful words ‘Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion’ chime with the feelings of so many of us whose mental health has suffered. ‘Many of us can identify with the plea ‘You have taken from me friend and neighbour – darkness is my closest friend…’. But our comfort is in those opening lines – ‘Lord, you are the God who saves me’.
These sentiments are echoed in other places in Scriptures. We read in Jeremiah – ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’ And Psalm 34 brings words of comfort: The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit…’ (Psalm 34: 18)In Exodus 15:2 we are reassured that: ‘The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory’.
These passages can assist us as we sustain and nurture our mental health in these difficult times. Simply reading them and repeating them, or reflecting on them regularly as a way of practising mindfulness can provide a helpful focus.
In the New Testament, we also see our own fragile emotions echoed in many instances. And one example that can help to sustain us in these troubled times is that of hope. Hope and healing go together. I am often comforted by the words of Jeremiah – ‘Heal me O Lord and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise’ (Jeremiah 17:14). And this lovely passage in Philippians brings comfort as well: ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus’. (Philippians 4:19)
In the midst of the challenges to our own mental health and those of our loved ones, someone we can turn to is often an anchor for sustaining our wellbeing. I find the story of the road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) particularly comforting at these times. Just as Jesus walks alongside bringing comfort and hope, so we can walk alongside those whose lives have been touched by the virus in the same way.
A prayer in the midst of the Covid Pandemic
Just as you journeyed alongside the disciples on the road to Emmaus, be alongside us as we journey through these dark times.
Help us to reflect and find comfort from the comforting words of the Bible where divine love, mercy and justice are ever present.
We remember all those whose lives have been touched by the Covid virus – may your loving kindness keep them close to you.
Inspire us with your message of hope in the Resurrection, as we seek to keep ourselves and those who are close to us safe and well in these challenging times.
We ask this prayer in your name’s sake.
You will find Mental Health and Dementia resources on www.welcomemeasiam.org