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Re: Williams: Guest expert on depression and anxiety

Posted by psycjw on April 13, 2005, at 13:25:06

In reply to Re: Williams: Guest expert on depression and anxiety, posted by Phillipa on April 12, 2005, at 23:14:46

Its an interesting issue what role different churches see themselves as having in mental illness - and importantly also in mental wellness. There is a bizarre truth that sometimes when people become Christians it can actually cause them new problems they didn't have before - as well as hopefully bringing many new benefits (forgiveness, acceptance, new relationship/beginnings etc.). One thing about commitment/conversion is that people come as they are - with all the life long views and life rules they already hold. for example many Christians are naturally people who have high standards (with must/should/ought rules etc).

I have inserted below a segment on the book addressing this - because it strikes me that sometimes the way we teach each other in Church (to live lives of victory etc) can interact badly with such high standards - especially when someone is struggling to keep going.

I insert below part of the "I'm not supposed to feel like this" book which illustrates how high standards can backfire for us as Christians. I guess what its suggesting is that we need to be honest in our talk and preaching in Churches - times can be hard, but God is always there to support us thought. Christian life is about victory- but also about struggle. Love is about accepting people as they are - as God does

chris w

Setting yourelf realistic spiritual goals.
Reading the Bible and praying can be especially hard work when we feel depressed or anxious; these basic devotional exercises, however, are part of the solution and not part of the problem. What do we mean by this?

Talking to God can be very difficult when you are feeling distressed. As well as the poor motivation, concentration and energy already mentioned, you may also notice that it is difficult settling your mind, and that upsetting or negative thoughts and distressing memories intrude again and again. If you are someone who has high standards and expectations as a person, you may approach a time of prayer with a long list of things and people you should be praying for, and a belief that you must spend at least half an hour in God’s presence, and that if you can only pray hard enough and long enough your distress will go away. The problem with these sorts of rules is that if five minutes later your mind has wandered a dozen times, and you are only on item three on your list, you may give up in despair and want to stop praying altogether. A different approach is therefore more likely to be helpful.

Two of the feelings that most frequently accompany anxiety and depression are guilt and a sense of failure. We may bring a sense of guilt upon ourselves by having unrealistic expectations of what we can do. Deciding that we will pray for half an hour or more each day, and read seven or eight chapters of the Bible, starting at Genesis and completing the whole Bible in six months, are almost certainly unhelpful targets. If you set unachievable goals this will be unhelpful for you and your relationship with God. The danger is that during times of anxiety and depression, you will find it increasingly difficult to achieve these targets. You may give up after the first few days and then become self-critical, feel guilty and judge yourself a failure. These thoughts come from yourself, not God.

The problem is that although having high targets for prayer and Bible reading may seem like a good idea – instead, for many it reflects personality traits and rules that we have learned over the years and were part of our make-up even before we became Christians. If the motivation to pray and read the Bible is because we should/must/ought/got to rather than to meet God and learn from him, the motives reflect our own self-imposed human values, rather than spiritual ones. Even if to begin with you achieve your target, the prayer and reading may become lifeless, because it misses the real purpose of prayer and Bible study.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Q. Do I set unrealistic targets in what I expect of myself?
In prayer? Yes  No 
In reading the Bible? Yes  No 
In going to Church? Yes  No 
In what I do at home/work? Yes  No 
In other areas of my life? Yes  No 

The consequence of these high standards and black or white ways of seeing/judging things is that you may become so discouraged that you completely give up any prayer or reading at all and then go for several weeks without talking to God or reading any of the Bible. This is sad, because the truth is that Bible reading and prayer are the most reliable ways of communicating with God and hearing what he has to say to us.

Instead, a better approach is to set yourself realistic goals. Instead of an ‘all or nothing approach’, find a middle ground, where you may spend less time praying and reading the Bible but you still manage to do it at least to some extent even when you feel unwell.

> Dr. Williams, Welcome. I am following your posts in an attempt to gain more insight into the role of Church and mental illness. Again welcome, and Thank-you for coming. Fondly, Phillipa




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