Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mental Health Prescription #1: Nuture Your Spirit

Disclaimer: This is an unabashedly Christian, religious post.  If that is not your cup of tea, happily skip it and come back in a few weeks for a more general post :).  I would also be interested in any comments about what you do to nurture your spirit in your own way.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I hope that's not really true. Because I have good intentions to blog, and I often post something that alludes to a future post as though it's immediately forthcoming, and then wait months before I do anything about it.

However, like most good things that I procrastinate, I get to them eventually.  Thus, here we are.

After my last post, I've been continuing to work on becoming happier.  At the center of this effort has been doing what I need to do spiritually so that Jesus can help heal my heart and open my eyes to the joy in my life.

For most of my life, I've thought that Jesus' sacrifice was mostly for sinners and for big sins--you know, the "big 10" :).  I knew theoretically that I, like everyone else, was by definition a sinner and that I thus needed his atonement.  I believed that his sacrifice was necessary and that he loved me, but because I was defining sin so narrowly and not sinning in super visible and traditional ways, I often struggled with understanding how Jesus fit into MY life.  So I consequently kind of did my own thing.  I was living my life like I was a spy on a covert operation in deep cover, trying hard to fulfill my mission but not checking in with headquarters very often. 

However, there were huge, difficult parts of my life that I found overwhelming--things like depression/discouragement, personal weaknesses, disappointments, frustrations, fear, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, difficult relationships.  But since most of these things didn't seem to fall under the "sin" category, I just soldiered on, praying for God's help but not really taking the time to understand how he could help me with these burdens.

Part of my problem was too much humility, and part of it was too much pride.  Too much humility because I would think that I don't deserve to ask the Savior for help with my "First World Problems" when there are people with really terrible problems out there.  I felt like I just needed to stop whining and buck up.  Too much pride made me think that I was doing just fine on my own, thankyouverymuch--what could Jesus do for me, anyway?  Either way, it was a lack of faith and lack of understanding about Christ's role in my life.

 However, several months of protracted stresses and sadnesses earlier this year softened my heart to the idea that I couldn't do my life, any of it, the way I'd been trying to do it.  I couldn't do it on my own.  I tried at first to do lots of other things to cope with that helpless feeling--shop, eat (bad idea), exercise, distract myself with computer stuff, talk it out with people who love me.  All of these can be or should be part of a healthy life, but they don't get at the core of life's problems on their own.  My search to find something--anything!--to help me feel better makes me think that most of the sins we silly humans commit or the addictions we may have are often just imbalanced attempts to find the peace that only comes through God. 

In desperation, I started to realize that despite church-going and serving, I needed to learn how to truly "come unto Jesus" one-on-one.  It's not that I haven't felt his love and help throughout my life, but I definitely felt like I had lost that easy connection with him over the last few years.  My reaction when things have been difficult has been to turn inward rather than turning towards him.

I started to study the scriptures and other books about the Atonement with a new intensity.  I read conversion stories of people in the Bible and Book of Mormon and was reminded that Jesus came to heal us in every way.  Anything that weakens us, or saddens us, or hurts us, or separates us from him is on the table.  If he can heal Paul, or Peter, or the woman in the New Testament who had been bleeding for years, or Alma or Enos--he can heal me, too.  Completely.  Miraculously.  Graciously.

In order to be able to access the Savior's healing power, however, I've had to get some of my own ducks in a row. The process has involved first learning more about who Jesus is and how he helps us.  I have a feeling that this learning will be a life-long process.  I then had to do some serious soul-searching to figure out what I need help with (what are the REAL problems?), which is not as easy as it sounds.  Lots of the things we think are the problems, are really just symptoms.  The last step is to humbly ask for his will and his help in that thing and open my heart to his help, guidance and blessings.  This has been hard for me--both to pay enough attention to recognize my needs and weaknesses and then to ask for help.   

The good news is that this process works.  It is repentance.  I know that this is why Jesus came here to earth--to allow all who are willing to come unto him and be healed from all their infirmities, again and again.  Jesus is real, and his love and power has transformed my heart the last few weeks from ingratitude and despair to joy and thankfulness.  My life isn't miraculously easy for me all of a sudden, but I feel like my burden of sadness has really been lifted.  And that feels very, very good.