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.  


  1. Thank you, Erin! You are so articulate and right on with your difficult journey and the awareness you are coming to about how the atonement works in a daily exercise of examination through "searching, pondering, and praying" to find the miracle of healing that is an ongoing process that does change us, but not our circumstances. I learned so much about the atonement from the article by David Bednar in the April Ensign.
    It is amazing to me how your description of your thoughts, emotions and reactions are so familiar to me and my life and are universal for all of the honest in heart to go through in order to learn how to KNOW HOW to find the healing, strength, and joy in the journey that only comes from struggle to get how the atonement works by putting it to the test. You are very, very far ahead of the pack in your ability to grow spiritually rather than to get stuck in a pattern of self-defeating behaviors fueled by the adversary. A practice I have begun recently is to pray for the Lord to show me my sins. WOW, it happens, but graciously a bit at a time or I might become too discouraged!! Hooray for you. I am privileged to know you and to have this beautiful and uplifting post to inspire me forward!!! LOVE, Kerry

    1. Kerry! For some reason, I didn't see your comment until now. Thank you for your sweet wisdom and for understanding what I am talking about. It is so comforting to know I'm traveling this road with such amazing people. Miss you!

  2. Very close to home!  Thank you.

  3. I read this a few days ago, and have been chewing on it since then, trying to think of a very wise and very eloquent response. Alas, I have a dinky response that may or may not sound a little pathetic. ;)

    Back in my early, early 20s (I think I was actually 20 years old), I discovered the comforting power the Atonement provides. I was going through the most difficult time of my life (up to that point), and was in so much emotional and spiritual anguish and pain. I remember very clearly sitting in Sacrament meeting one day thinking/praying, "I just can't do this anymore. I can't bear this burden alone. Please help." Almost immediately my pain was less intense. I felt a relief and lightness that I hadn't experienced in months. Since then, I have had many similar experiences of my burden being lightened (not lifted, necessarily, just lightened). It is wonderful every time.

    My problem lies not in turning to Christ in times of trouble and sadness, or in joy, happiness,  and gratitude, but turning to Him when I have "smaller" problems. I feel like I'm that obnoxious person who always needs a favor. It's especially difficult when it's been awhile since I've been doing the "supposed to"s (regular scripture study, prayer, etc), because it's like I'm saying, "He-ey...I know things have been going alright, and I kind of ignored you, but now I need something. So, if you could do this for me, that'd be great. kthxbye!" But I guess when I really start to think about it, we'll always need something, and Christ is okay with that. That's why He decided to go through with the Atonement in Gethsemane, and why He died on the cross. He knows we need Him and He *wants* to help us.

    Anyway, nothing life-altering here, but I appreciate the prompt to think about this and my relationship with Christ and Heavenly Father. So, thanks!

  4. I believe your comment was both wise and eloquent. I know what you mean about sometimes feeling like a big mooch spiritually. I used to think that I have to do a certain amount if I wanted to qualify for the Savior's help, but now I feel like I will never improve if I don't have his help all the way along. I think this is part of the plan--the miracle of it is that he signed up for such an unequal relationship because of his great love for us. Thank you for your insight and perspective!

    1. Erin,
      I read your blog today and understood from personal experience much of what you wrote. It is now months later for you but now it's winter and in my case it gets worse. For years I would struggle with depression and in the summer it would go away to some extent but not all the way so that each year it got harder and harder. I finally sought help to get over the initial hurdle of my own imperfections. Once my head was clearer, perspective came in. I think there are times that we all think our problems are too high class to get anxious over. This is really nonsense. Real problems (granted there are imagined problems and those who create them) that are ours are just that, ours. Adam and Eve sinned and left us all out to dry in a new sinful state. It didnt have to be this hard.

      As I read you blog though it really brought home how there are a lot of things out of our control but there are many things that are Jesus was very clear in Matt 6:33,34 to keep on seeking first the kingdom and all these other things would be added to you and to never be anxious about the next day for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness. How true is that?

      One other thing, Jesus was very regular about attributing the power he had to heal, teach, and preach to HIS father. If Jesus couldn't do those things on his own how much more are we going to need Gods power to get us through even the easiest day? It helps me to put that in to perspective. Yes Jesus healed people, suffered for us, was ill treated and then tortured to death for us but he also had his father, who he said in the model prayer of Matt 6, was also Our Father. Granted Jesus had perfect faith, knowledge and wisdom and a really long relationship with his father before ever coming to earth but he said we can have a relationship with that very same God.

      For me meds got me over the worst of it but continual reflection on what God did for us and what Jesus suffered for us helps to put things in perspective. Each day has its own badness as we have all seen lately but knowing these things won't last forever and that the kingdom we pray for will solve the badness, can ease the burden of being imperfect. Jesus asked that his fellow workers work at their preaching, follow his commands, be humble, be forgiving, treat people well, and be aware of the time they were living in. It's not easy but it keeps it all in perspective.


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