Skip to comments.Five Steps to Better Mental Health – According to St. Paul
Posted on 07/24/2014 3:24:07 AM PDT by markomalley
We tend in modern times to link our notions of happiness and inner well-being to circumstances and happenstance. And thus happiness will be found when the things of this world are arranged in the way and quantity we like. If we just get enough money and creature comforts, we will be happy and have a better sense of mental well being.
And yet, it remains true that many can endure difficult external circumstances and yet remain inwardly content, happy and optimistic. Further, many who have much are still not content and are beset with great mental anguish, anxiety and unhappiness. Ultimately happiness is not about happenstance or circumstances, it is an inside job.
St. Paul says,
For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil 4:11-12)
Interesting, Paul wrote theses words from Jail.So its not a bunch of slogans.
Earlier in the same chapter he tells us the secret to this contentedness, to joy and mental well-being whatever the circumstances. He gives a kind of five point plan, that, if we work it, will set the stage for a deeper, inner peace, a sense of mental well-being and contentedness not easily affected by external circumstances. Lets review what St. Paul has to say as a kind of five-point plan. (I am indebted to Rev. Adrian Rogers for the alliterated list, though the substance is my own reflection).
Here is the text of St. Pauls five point plan for better mental health. And then we look to each point.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your moderateness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in meput it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)
Step I. Rejoice in the Presence of the Lord - The text says, Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your moderateness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Of supreme importance in the Christian life is to request, receive and cultivate the gift of the presence of the Lord. We are too easily turned inward and forgetful of Gods presence. To become more consciously and stably aware of Gods presence is to be filled with joy and peace.
Note that the text mentions joy, (χαίρω) but it also mentions moderateness. The Greek word here is ἐπιεικὲς (epieikes) which means to be gentle, mild, forbearing, fair, reasonable, or moderate. Epieíkeia relaxes unnecessary strictness in favor of gentleness whenever possible. Such an attitude is common when one is joyful and unafraid. By contrast, an unbending and unyielding attitude often bespeaks fear.
There are of course times to insist on precision and to not easily give way. But often there is room for some leeway and the assumption of good will. A serene mind and spirit which are the gift of the presence of God can often allow for some leeway and presume good will. There is an increasing ability to allow things to unfold rather than to control and manipulate conversations and outcomes and to win on every point.
As we become more aware of Gods presence and thus serene and less conflicted within, we no longer need to shout or win in every moment and on every point. We insist on what is true, but are able to express ourselves more moderately and serenely. We are able to stay in the conversation and are content to sow seeds rather than insist on reaping every harvest of victory.
Cultivating a joyful sense of the presence of God and the serenity and moderateness that are its fruits are a first step toward and sure sign of greater mental health and contentment.
Step II. Rely on the Power of the Lord The text says Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition present your requests to God.
There are very few things as destructive to our mental health as worry. Worry is like sand in a machine. It not only hinders the working of the machine, it damages it.
But simply being told not to worry isnt very helpful. In this case St. Paul is not simply saying Dont worry.
He has already laid a groundwork for the diminishment of worry in telling us to cultivate a sense of the presence of God. Some years ago when I was a little boy, my Father left for the Vietnam war. For the year he was away, I spent many anxious nights worrying about a lot of things. But when my Father returned my fears went away. Daddy was home, everything is alright.
And for all of us, to the degree that we really experience that God is near, so many of our fear just go away. My own experience is that as my awareness of Gods presence has grown, my anxieties have significantly diminished.
Paul also says, that the power of God is only a prayer away. Here too, I and many can testify that God has a way of working things out. He may not always come when you want him, or handle things exactly as you want, but when I look back over my life, and I think things over, I can truly say that God has made a way for me. And whatever my struggles and disappointments, none of them has ever destroyed me. If anything, they strengthened me.
Whatever it is, take it to the Lord in prayer. And ponder deeply how he has delivered you in the past, made a way out of no way, and drew straight with crooked lines.
Let the Holy Spirit anoint your memory to make you aware of Gods saving power in your life and recall how God has delivered you. These memories give us serenity when we consider how prayer is both effective and an every present source of power.
So much worry, which is a kind of mental illness just goes away to the degree that we experience God is both present and that his power is only one prayer away.
And here is the second step to greater mental health, knowing by experience that God can and that God will make a way.
Step III. Remember the Provision of the Lord - The text says, with thanksgiving,
Thanksgiving is a way of disciplining the mind to count our blessings. Why is this important? Because too easily we become negative. Every day ten trillion things go right, and about a half a dozen things go wrong. But what do we tend to focus on? You bet, the half a dozen things that go wrong. This is a form of mental illness that feeds our anxiety and comes from our fallen nature.
But gratitude disciplines our mind to count our blessings. As we do this, we begin to become men and women of hope, and of confidence. Why? Because what you feed grows. If you feed the negative it will grow. If you feed the positive it will grow. And the fact is, God richly blesses us everyday if we will but open our eyes to see it.
Step three is disciplining our fallen minds to see the wider reality of our rich blessings. This heals and gives us us great peace and serene minds.
Step IV. Rest in the Peace of the Lord - And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As we begin to undertake these steps our mental outlook and health improves. Gradually, serenity becomes a deeper and more stable reality for us. The text here says that this serenity will not only be present, it will guard or as some translations say keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words as this serenity grows it screens out the negativity of this world and the demons of discouragement. Having this peace allows us to see the Lord, and seeing the Lord deepens that peace and the cycle grows and continues!
It has been my experience that the profound anxiety and anger that beset my early years has not only gone away, but also the serenity I now increasingly enjoy makes all that anxiety unlikely to return. I am guarded and protected increasingly by the serenity God gives.
Step V. Reflect on the Plan of the Lord - Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableif anything is excellent or praiseworthythink about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in meput it into practice.
And as this serenity, this sense of well being, this mental health, comes to us, St. Paul finally advises a kind of maintenance plan wherein we intentionally and actively focus our thoughts and attention on what is Godly, true, good and beautiful.
While it may be true that we need to stay up with the news of the world, be careful of too steady a diet of the 24/7 news cycle. They focus on the bad news, on what is controversial and adversarial. If it bleeds it leads. Too much of that and youre unsettled before you know it. Limit your portions of this and focus on the greater, better and lasting things of God. Ponder his plan, his truth, his glory, his priorities.
And old song says, More about Jesus would I know, more of his saving mercy show, More of his saving fulness see, more of his love who died for me.
Yes, more about Jesus, less of this world. How can we expect to keep our mental health and serenity on a steady dose of insanity, stinking thinking, wrongful priorities, endless adversity, darkness, chaos and foolishness?
Do you want peace? Reflect on the plan of the Lord for you.
So then, here are some steps to better mental health. It all begins with the practice of the presence of the Lord, calling on his power and being grateful for his providence, savoring his peace which inevitably comes and turning our attention more to the things of God and less to the things of this world.
Heres to good mental health for us all!
Msgr Pope ping
Bookmarking for later!
Thank you. Very helpful to me, personally.
“As we become more aware of Gods presence and thus serene and less conflicted within, we no longer need to shout or win in every moment and on every point. We insist on what is true, but are able to express ourselves more moderately and serenely. We are able to stay in the conversation and are content to sow seeds rather than insist on reaping every harvest of victory.”
That alone was worth the price of admission! :-)
Thanks again, and GOD bless you.
 Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.  Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is nigh.
 Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.  The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you.  Now I rejoice in the Lord exceedingly, that now at length your thought for me hath flourished again, as you did also think; but you were busied.
 Whatsoever things are true: Here the apostle enumerates general precepts of morality, which they ought to practise, in words, in promises, in lawful oaths, etc., he commands rectitude of mind, and sincerity of heart.
 Whatsoever modest: by these words he prescribes gravity in manners, modesty in dress, and decency in conversation. Whatsoever just-- That is, in dealing with others, in buying or selling, in trade or business, to be fair and honest.
 Whatsoever holy: by these words may be understood, that those who are in a religious state professed, or in holy orders, should lead a life of sanctity and chastity, according to the vows they make; but these words being also applied to those in the world, indicate the virtuous life they are bound by the divine commandments to follow.
 Whatsoever lovely: that is, to practise those good offices in society, that procure us the esteem and good will of our neighbours. Whatsoever of good fame-- That is, that by our conduct and behaviour we should edify our neighbours, and give them good example by our actions. If there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline-- that those in error, by seeing the morality and good discipline of the true religion, may be converted. And finally, the apostle commands, not only the Philippians, but all Christians, to think on these things-- that is, to make it their study and concern that the peace of God might be with them.
Douay-Rheims translation and Chaloner notes (Source)
Very good homily, but "moderateness", in particular, is not an English word.
Another good one. My MIL worried, unceasingly. When my FIL died his daughter said, Well, at least my mother doesn’t have to worry about my father dying anymore. It colored her whole life and all her personal relationships. She’s gone now. I pray daily that she is a grumbler and not a grumble and that she will get on the bus. For those of you who don’t understand that reference, read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.