The spiritual consequences of poor mental health can be great.
In the previous post I said that I think your mental health basically serves as the bridge between the spiritual and physical parts of your being. When your mental health is poor, for whatever reason, both of these aspects of your being will be affected. The physical side of poor mental health is, I think, better understood because most people are familiar with what low energy, low motivation, and not sleeping well feel like. Even if they don’t understand how poor mental health can cause physical symptoms like this, they most likely know what those physical symptoms feel like.
What is less understood, I think, is the spiritual side of poor mental health. Contributing to this lack of understanding is, I think, the difficulty of describing a spiritual experience. This is typically why we often have to resort to metaphors and imagery to describe them. For example, sometimes Christians will invoke the imagery of a desert to describe when they are going through a difficult time spiritually. It is meant to contrast basically with the imagery in Psalm 23.1-3:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
There are no green pastures for a sheep to feed on in a desert. There are no waters, still or otherwise for a sheep to drink from. There is no restoration or rest in the desert for a sheep. So, if a Christian describes their spiritual life as a desert what they basically mean is that they are at a point where God seems to be absent. They are not being restored or growing spiritually. In short, they basically feel that they are whithering. The desert is a place you don’t want to be.
I think you can also use winter as a metaphor for a spiritually difficult time because it too can be harsh and unforgiving, much like a desert. I’m not super familiar with winter having lived all my life in Florida and Texas, but I did get to experience a little bit of it in Dallas. So, I present the following using winter as a metaphor for a spiritually difficult time, a time which could be brought on by poor mental health:
There’s a weather phenomenon that I became familiar with after moving to Texas: sunny and cold. To a native Floridian like myself it seemed quite strange that it could be sunny and yet the surrounding air feel cold at the same time. These two things should not go together. The sun is warm. It produces heat and makes things warm. How could the sun be brightly shining and yet the air around me be cold? Is the sun somehow defective?
There’s a spiritual phenomenon that I’ve become familiar with during my life: sunny and cold. To a life-long Christian like myself it seems quite strange to have fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and yet for them to feel distant at the same time. These two things should not go together. God indwells me. God is near me. How can God indwell me and yet feel distant? Is God somehow defective?
In reality I know that the sun is not defective; it is producing as much heat as it always has. Yet this does not make me feel any warmer.
In reality I know that God is not distant from me; He is as close as He always has been. Yet this does not make Him feel any closer.
If I put on a coat I will feel warmer, but this will not change the fact that the air around me feels cold.
If I spend time praying, reading Scripture, worshiping with others, and fellowshiping with others I will feel encouraged and persevere in my faith, but this will not change the fact that God feels distant.
I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and the air around me feels warm once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.
I know that it is only a matter of time before winter ceases and God feels near to me once again. I must persevere through the winter if I want to feel it again.
When winter comes around again, and you are huddled around the dying fire of your faith, clinging desperately to every scrap of warmth, wondering why things are not the way they seem like they should be, take note of those around you because they have passed the test. The spiritual winters in our lives, those times when God feels distant and we struggle with our faith, are tests not only for those of us who are in the midst them, but also for our Christian brethren who see us in the midst of them.
The sun does not cease to shine during winter.
God does not cease to be near us during our winters.
We should not cease to be near our Christian brethren in their winters. They are not expecting us to bring about spring. They just don’t want to be alone during the winter. Do not merely pray for them, but huddle with them around their dying fire, however low it may be. God has not abandoned either of you and will see both of you through. Spring will come, and it will be evident then that God is in you because you have loved as God loves.