Mental and Spiritual Health

In Support of Mental and Spiritual Health

A Sermon by the Rev. David C. Roth

Boulder, Colorado, USA

January 8, 2017

Lessons:Luke 15:3-7; Matthew 2:13-18; Secrets of Heaven 2077, 905

Luke 15:3-7

So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

Matthew 2:13-18

Now when [the wisemen] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying,“Out of Egypt I called My Son.”Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”

Secrets of Heaven 2077 & 905,The Heavenly Doctrines

Thenature of theLord’s love surpasses all human understanding and is unbelievableintheextremeto people who do not know what heavenly love is inwhich angels abide. To save a soul from hell theangels think nothing of giving their own lives; indeed if it were possible they would suffer hell themselves inplace of that soul. Consequently their inmost joy is to transport into heaven someone rising from thedead. They confess however that that love does not originate one little bit inthemselves but that every single aspect of it does so intheLord alone. Indeed they are incensed if anyone thinks anything different.

‘Going out of the ark’ means freedom. Noah’s time in the ark surrounded by the flood-waters meant that he was in bondage, that is, he was tossed about by evils and falsities, or what amounts to the same, by evil spirits responsible for the conflict that accompanies temptation… The influx of hell by way of evil spirits brings with it a force and impulsion to dominate. Their whole intention is to subjugate a person to the point of making him nothing and themselves everything. When they are everything a person is one of them. Yet he is scarcely one of them but in their eyes a veritable nobody… and if they could they would be tormenting him from one moment to the next.

To begin I want to draw our attention back to the Christmas story for just a moment. It is a wonderful story of both hope and promise. The promise of bringing light into a dark world, restoring a state of freedom and bringing love to people again. We see Goodness setting the stage to overcome those dark forces. And then right on the heels of that beautiful story of innocence, peace and light is this story of evil, pain and horror: the story of Herod, in his jealous rage, killing all the male children two years old and below in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.  I bring up this contrast to remind us that Hell is real and that there are forces at work against us whose influence is powerful, its insidious, its cruel. But it is not more powerful than the forces of love, light, and kindness. And sometimes we forget that. We don’t feel that.

The reading that we shared today from the Heavenly Doctrines says that the Lord’s love is unbelievable in the extreme. I don’t know how He could have said it more strongly than that. Its unbelievable in the extreme. We can’t truly imagine how much the Lord loves us. And Angels think nothing of giving their own life to save us and they would suffer Hell in our place if they could. That’s how much they love us. And their love is something they receive from the Lord. They would suffer hell in our place if they could. That is how much love they have for us.

The point is there is this duality that exists and we are sandwiched between the forces of good and the forces for evil, and their influences affect all of us. We are vessels that receive life. And life is flowing into us all the time. We are supposed to be in a state of equilibrium. We are supposed to be able to freely recognize those things and freely choose what influences we will listen to. To accept the true and good things and to reject the selfish and hellish things. And that’s not always the case.

Earlier this week we received news from my hometown of a beloved teacher, coach, mentor, mother and wife who took her own life. The community was shocked and rocked by that. She seemed so together, so happy and so inspiring to so many people. She was such an influence for good. And you ask yourself the question, “How could that possibly happen?” The answer: She was a victim of mental illness and a terrible assault from the hells. That act is not who she was.

I was in disbelief myself and saddened and left with the realization that we need to turn up the light. To turn it up very brightly. To turn it up so brightly that hell has nowhere to hide. So I am talking about this today. If this makes you uncomfortable, I am sorry about that but we need to bring it into the light and to talk about mental health, mental illness. And I hope that you will take time to share your thoughts at the end of the service too. We have time for that.

You have probably seen this said somewhere or heard it perhaps: “Everyone is fighting a battle that you’re not aware of.” Have you heard that? Everyone is fighting a battle that we just don’t know about. Some of them are what the Writings call trials. We experience these trials for the things that have to do with this natural world, like maybe trying to diet or the struggle that we experience when we are trying not to eat ice cream. That kind of trial. It’s a pain but it’s not that bad, if you think about it. Sure its a struggle, like the struggle around wanting to lose weight. It’s a struggle like when we need to go workout but we don’t really want to. Its that trial that we experience–that struggle. And then there are spiritual temptations that the Writings talk about where we’re actually trying to change our character we are trying to grow spiritually. We are trying to leave behind a bad habit. They concern things that we want to get rid of and as we try to do that we enter into a state of temptation. There is a struggle because we’re trying to do what is good and hell wants to keep us in that negative state. So we experience a struggle. And our experience of it may come in the form of depression, anxiety, fear or all kinds of negative emotions. We don’t even know why, necessarily, but we experience those types of anguish. But what’s happening is that we are being removed from hell and being brought closer to the state of heaven. And that is a good thing. Temptations are a good thing. And they often, we are told, go to the point of despair. Where we just feel like we can’t go or hold on any further, and then–it stops. Its lifted. But there’s a difference with some people. What they experience is that it is not lifted. It doesn’t stop.  It doesn’t seem to end. And they don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

In Secrets of Heaven we read, “From all this one may see what natural trial is and what spiritual temptation is.” Then it talks about this third kind. “A third kind of temptation or trial also exists which is anxiety and depression caused for the most part by physical or mental infirmity. Such anxiety may involve some degree of spiritual temptation or it may not involve any at all.” With those who experience this third kind of temptation they are experiencing this horrible state and it’s not because of spiritual growth. It’s just that they are being attacked and they can’t stop it. Part of the truth of that passage I want to highlight is that there are many people that suffer that way. It’s beyond temptation. It is not a usual spiritual battle they are suffering from. It is the result of what we would categorize as a type of mental illness.

I would ask you to raise your hand if you are close to someone who suffers from a form of mental illness. Look around you. Yes. Most people have someone in their life that is dealing with that. We’re told that the percentage, if you like percentages, is about 25% of the population. About 25% of the population suffers from some kind of mental illness.

So I think we need more dialogue about this. And today is just a beginning.  I’m not going to say everything that you hoped I would say today and I’m not going to solve it. Wouldn’t that be great.

But we need openness around these issues. Its taboo often to talk about it. People are hush-hush about it. If someone was sick or had cancer or a broken arm we would talk about it and we would invite people to support them. And if it was us who was suffering we would get help. Yet often those who are suffering with mental illness and those who are around them suffer in silence. So I hope we can help to bring this issue into the open and help with the healing process.

Think about the 12 step program. Alcoholism in this country was hugely a taboo subject many years ago. Not that long ago, really. But now it’s something we recognize. We don’t shame people about it. We don’t blame them about it. It’s been brought into the light. We can talk about it. “Oh you go to a 12 step group? So do I.” “I go for drug addiction.” Or, “I go for sex addiction” or “for drinking” or whatever it is. We recognize that people suffer from addictions and that’s something we accept. In any case people need our support and understanding and our compassion and our encouragement–the encouragement to seek help. For the battle that they are fighting is very real. It is overwhelming.  And Hell is real and it wants to destroy us. They are not nice. They won’t stop. I could bring all kinds of passages to bear about that but let me just say that they want to destroy us if possible. If they can find a way to do it they will.

Let’s bring this topic into the light and remove it from the place of shame and the place of blame and recognize that people from all walks of life suffer from various forms of mental illness. And that we can do much more than we are currently doing to support one another. One of the things I want to do today is just give voice to some of the types of mental illness that are talked about. Because there are many different conditions that are recognized as mental illness and some of the more common types are these:

There are Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

And there are Mood disorders: The most common mood disorders are depressionbipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. Psychotic disordersSchizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.

There are also Eating disordersAnorexia nervosabulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common forms of that.

There are Impulse control and addiction disorders: Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are often the common objects of addictions.

There are Personality disorders: Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

There is also Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): An example of this is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes his or her hands.

There is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event.

There are other diseases or conditions, including various sleep-related problems and many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of dementia are sometimes classified as mental illnesses, because they involve the brain.

At the Center for disease control they say about 25% of Americans have some kind form of mental illness. Also it is estimated that 20% of teens and adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for mental health disorder.

So teens are struggling with this. Those with symptoms of mental illness are often afraid to speak out about it for fear of being judged by their peers or by their parents.  If you are a parent of a teenager who you believe is affected by mental illness the most important thing you can do is to encourage your child to talk to you about the problem. Encourage them to speak with you. Many teens attempt suicide as a means of escaping those symptoms that they don’t know how to deal with. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents in the United States.

No matter who you are everyone needs to feel there is someone they can talk to.  If we keep the issues bottled up inside it will only make the symptoms of the mental illness worse. I think about this from a spiritual perspective. Hell thrives under cloak of darkness. When we are unwilling to bring what we are struggling with into the light that’s a victory for them. You Don’t want to talk about it? That’s a victory for them. We are too embarrassed to talk about it? That’s a victory for them. Can you imagine someone in such a state of pain and despair that this – suicide – seems like the solution? Seems like that’s a better choice – a better choice than even trying to get help for it. It feels worse for them to actually talk to somebody because its too embarrassing. So ending their life seems like a better solution than sharing what they are struggling with. I want to say it’s not okay if that’s the culture that they have to exist within. If we knew that about them we would certainly try with all of our might to help them.

And the hard thing is we don’t always know. We don’t always know. But we need to shine a light. We need to help to make it okay that if you’re struggling that there is help. That there is hope.  That there is someone you can talk to. And we can’t always prevent it. If someone is determined, they might just do it. They will find a way. But I think what we can do is to create community and connection and reach out to people and try to normalize this the best that we can. Because most often people who are struggling feel isolated.

Think of the story of the little lost lamb from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15. I usually think about that story from the perspective of the man who had lost his sheep instead of thinking from the perspective of the lamb who is lost. Being that little lost lamb must be really hard. You’re lost, you’re scared, you’re worried. What can we do if that is a picture of how we feel? We can cry out. Can I say something? Can I speak out? It is hard to do that. I think we live in a culture where we’re supposed to feel tough enough. That we can handle it. That we should be able to suck it up, right? This is not a healthy culture for us to live in.  We need to check in with each other and have the courage to show up for one another. I think a lot of us don’t do that because we are afraid we don’t have the right thing to say. “I don’t know what to say”.

There isn’t a right thing to say. Just say, “I’m thinking about you.” Or, “Hi.” Or, “I’m here for you.” It doesn’t matter what you say, just let them know you’re there. That you are just thinking about them.

So why does this happen? Why is there mental illness? I don’t know how to answer that question but I do know that there are spiritual influences. And with some, whether its chemical or physiological, there seems to be a problem, as I see it, with the filter–with the ability to get rid of what’s flowing into them from hell. They can’t stop it, or they can’t see it. They can’t recognize where the influences are coming from and be able to say “Oh that, that’s not me. That’s hell flowing in.” And they can’t differentiate between what’s coming in and who they are. So it seems like there’s a crack in that wall where under normal circumstances we can say, “oh that’s hell flowing in and I don’t want that.” Then it can go away. But for them it just keeps coming. There is a crack there. It doesn’t stop. In some cases I believe that medications can help seal that crack for them. This can create a level playing field for that person so they can then engage in what we might call normal battlesagainst the hells, as opposed to ones that are completely overwhelming all the time.

We are a church that feels good about the truth that we have. There are some very wonderful truths about the Lords power. The one I have been referencing – that all evil is flowing in from evil spirits from hell and that all good is flowing in from heaven from the Lord. That it’s not us. That’s such an important teaching, I think. If we can recognize that those voices – those negative impulses, those negative thoughts – are not me. That I didn’t create them. That they are flowing in to me. Or that we can reflect, “Oh, I can say no thank you to that.”

And that we can choose.  And again not always. Or the comforting teaching about the power of the angels to help remove evil from our minds. It teaches that an angel armed the truth can disperse thousands of evil spirits with just a look and an effort of the will.

But I offer these beautiful truths with a caution. I want to set this up by saying that when I first moved here to Colorado I went up to CSU (Colorado State University) to take some graduate courses. I thought I was going to study Marriage and Family therapy. But I found that trying to pastor a new society of the church and go to graduate school at the same time was too much. But I did take one course on Grief and Loss and started one on Adolescence. In the course on Grief and Loss they were talking about suicide. They said that in Larimer County (the county where CSU was) at that time they had the highest suicide rate in the nation. They were puzzled by that. “Why is that happening here in Larimer County?” After much thought, research and reflection they realized or the thought that came came up is that there is such external beauty in Larimer County and it’s sunny almost all the time. If on the inside you are struggling to feel sunny and beautiful and happy. And the world around you is sunny and beautiful and happy the disconnect, dissonance, or tension can feel too overwhelming. “Why don’t I feel the way it looks all around me all the time?” And that was what they decided was their best guess at why that happened.

Now, back to the truth. I wonder if it’s possible that with our teachings on the beauty of heaven and the ideals of marriage — so beautiful and so amazing– in contrast to how a person might be feeling within can be overwhelming. If someone is feeling sad, feeling depressed, feeling unworthy, feeling like a failure because they in their lives they can’t live up to the high ideals. That tension is too great. “I can’t live up to those things.” And suicide might seem like a better choice. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach those truths. But I am saying that we need to be careful how we do it. We need to recognize that people struggle. That we are not perfect. And we should not be expected to be perfect. It’s difficult to live the life that we want to live, isn’t it? It’s a struggle. How many of you would say, “I wish I was doing a better job of being patient?” “I wish I was doing a better job of being kind” or whatever it is you’re struggling with? I think we would all say “Yeah, I wish I was”.  But we are working on it.

So we share these truths recognizing that we all struggle. That we’re dealing with struggles and we need to admit that. We are not our thoughts. We are not our bodies. We are not our diseases. We are not our illnesses. They do not define us. And no one here is perfect or without issues. Look around you. It is a room filled with imperfect people. Welcome!

That’s the power of the men’s retreat. Sign up for that. Come. Be part of that. It is a great place to share your struggles with other men who support you and who struggle too. There is such a power in the truth. Equip yourself with the truth. Defend yourself the best you can with that. The Heavenly Doctrines say that the church that has Divine truths from the Lord has power over the hells. Power over the hells. I encourage people to read the word every day. I think that’s a powerful thing you can do to be in the Lord’s presence because it’s not just a book with words on it. It’s the Lord Himself. He’s there with you as you read it. It’s connecting with His power. Even if you don’t understand what’s being said. Even if you don’t get the point. To connect with that. I think of it as suiting yourself up with your armor so you can go out and live your life. Life is hard.

The Writings teach, “Nothing is of greater importance to us than knowing what the truth is. When we know what the truth is, and know it so well that it cannot be perverted, it cannot then be steeped in evil desires and have a deadly effect.[AC 794]

So that’s important.

And reach out. The task I want to give each of us this week is to reach out to five different people. It could be through Facebook or on the phone or in person. Whatever you do reach out to someone and just say, “Hey how are you? “I was thinking about you.”  Whatever it is — reach out to somebody. Research confirms that people who have support from family and friends that that is a key part of helping them with their mental illness. It provides a supportive network network that supports them gives them emotional help. It can feel very hard to reach out and it can feel very hard to ask for help.

I want to read an excerpt from an article that someone shared with me. The author wrote about how hard it was to call the suicide prevention hotline. I want to read part of it. I think it highlights what we struggle with. It says:

“A few days ago I found myself on the phone with the suicide prevention lifeline… embarrassing to admit. I felt guilty and ashamed, and I didn’t have the strength to call anybody in my regular support network of friends and loved ones. My mind was fearful I would be a burden on them. It’s this shame and guilt that makes this such a deadly issue.  Our minds tell us to hide, to pretend it isn’t there, and not to “bother” the people we would effect if we were no longer living (and who would do anything to help us.)”

A little tension there. There are people that love us and would do anything to help us but we feel too embarrassed to reach out to them.

Here is what the Lord says:

TCR 457 – “God loves every one of us but cannot directly benefit us; He can benefit us only indirectly through each other. For this reason He inspires us with His love, just as He inspires parents with love for their children.

THE LORD IS CALLING ON EACH ONE OF US TO BE THE PEOPLE THAT REACH OUT. The Lord can’t directly benefit us that way. He needs us to do that.  You hear that? He needs us to do that. There is much more I could say but I want to leave plenty of time for your thoughts after closing.

So what I want to say loud and clearly to you is that you are not alone. We see you. And we love you. And we accept you and we want you here. You’re not less than. You are not unworthy. You’re more than good enough. You are loved and you are valued.

We read in Jeremiah 29:11“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

In Isaiah 59:49: “Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;the Lord has forgotten us.”“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,I would not forget you!See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”

We read in True Christian Religionparagraph 56 “These few considerations can reveal the madness of those who think, even more believe, more still teach, that God can damn anyone, curse them, cast them into hell, predestine their soul to eternal death, avenge injuries, be angry or punish anyone. He is not even able to turn His face away from us and frownupon us.”

And in Secrets of Heaven 223“Since the Lord’s faceis mercy, peace, and all good, it is clear that He always looks with mercy on anybody, and never turns His faceaway from anybody.”

And finally in Deuteronomy 31: “Be strong and courageous. Don’t tremble! Don’t be afraid of them! The LORD your God is the one who is going with you. He won’t abandon you or leave you.”

AMEN

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255