Mental health issues are no longer lurking in the shadows like they have in decades past. A light is shining on this crisis and revealing a significant need for help and resources. The number of Americans reporting symptoms of depression has increased over 400% since 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control. Emotional health takes hard work to maintain. Difficult relationships, stressful schedules, and painful circumstances can drain even the most robust person (mentally and emotionally speaking).
A few warning signs that you are heading toward diminished emotional health and/or depression can include irregular sleep patterns (too much or too little sleep), loss of appetite, and prolonged negative emotions such anxiety, irritability, or sadness. As Christians, pastors, and ministry leaders, we are not exempt.
As dire as this sounds, the situation is not hopeless. If you’re currently suffering from depression, a lack of emotional health, or if you want to take steps to avoid these challenges, we plan to spend the months of February and March detailing some specific action steps outlined in John Opalewski’s book Unshakable You: 5 Choices of Emotionally Healthy People. Please keep in mind that these action steps are not substitutes for professional help, but rather can be done proactively or in conjunction with active therapeutic counseling and/or medical help. They can help serve as part of a larger strategy to move toward wellness.
We hope to help you unlearn dysfunctional thinking patterns and replace them with healthy ones. One of the first action steps you can do to keep yourself in better emotional shape is: Become Your Own Best Friend. We are going to camp out on this one quite a bit. Jesus laid this very solid foundation for emotional health in Matthew 22:37-40 when he said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
In verse 39 of this portion of scripture, Jesus uses the word “as.” In the original Greek, that’s the connector word “os” which means “in the same manner as.” Therefore, He is commanding Christians to love their neighbors in the same manner as they love themselves. So, this commandment contains actually 3 parts: Love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. As Christians, it’s pretty easy to love God. Loving our neighbors sometimes proves to be more challenging. However, for the most part, it’s probably safe to say that most Believers are doing their best on this one. But that third part—love yourself—it’s often not even on the Christian’s radar. And if it is, it’s often not one we want to tackle because it might seem like pride or selfishness. And we eschew these characteristics.
My family didn’t start attending church until I was about 9 years old. I have a vivid memory of an incident that took place in one of my early Sunday School classes. (I cringe every time my hippocampus decides to pop this scene back to the forefront of my brain—which has happened way more often than I’d like in the decades since it occurred).
That day, the Sunday School teacher taught us about how people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at our hearts—and that’s where the true beauty is. I confidently raised my hand and declared, “Well, in my case, I’m beautiful on the inside AND the outside. That’s how God made me.” I can still see looks on the other children’s faces and I can still hear how my teacher gently attempted to “correct” my theology. This is an example of how as Christ-followers, we can get this part wrong and unintentionally squash it in others.
It’s been many years since I’ve loved myself like that 9-year-old version of me. Becoming my own best friend is a choice I must make regularly to stay emotionally healthy. Next week, we’ll break this down even further with several biblical love-yourself principles.
Stay with us over the upcoming weeks to see how you, too, can become the most unshakable version of YOU.
We’re rooting and praying for you!
John & Jaime