It’s Happening to Christians!
Millions of people are suffering from chronic worry, hypertension, prejudice, guilt, hatred, fear, and the harassment of failure. In their struggle for inner peace, a quick solution is to turn to alcohol and drugs.
An alarming number of people suffering from these ailments are professing Christians! The person who knows Christ as Savior is not immune to mental or emotional problems. He is as susceptible to tension and anxiety as a non-Christian working beside him at the office or plant or living next door.
If you are struggling with a difficulty, you are not alone. That is, you are not the only one facing a problem, even though you share your inner conflict with no one.
“My problem is so simple,” you say. “How can I talk about it? I can see that I’m mad at my wife. But when I think of the inconsequential things over which I’m mad, I get confused. Why should I lose my temper over a misplaced pair of socks, or why would I leave the house upset because she disapproves of my bowling teammates?”
“But the way I am–my reactions to life at home, at work, at church, with my relatives–causes me to lose sleep at night, to lash out at the children, to say things I don’t mean. I think thoughts that surprise me. I tell myself, ‘This can’t be me.'”
You can see the vague outline of your problem, but you cannot figure it out. You look at a skyscraper and may get the impression that some magician has had a hand in putting together this magnificent, massive structure. But if you had seen it being erected, you would know it was built of relatively small pieces of material–a length of steel, a pane of glass, a copper pipe, a bolt, a weld, a switch, the particles that make up concrete. The problems you face are constructed quite similarly.
While living in the shadow of your problems, you look on them as massive, unexplainable. As you dismantle them to see what they’re made of, you’re a little embarrassed to find their components are so simple and ordinary. So you do nothing. Nothing, that is, till the problems overwhelm you. Then those who know you say, “He blew up,” or “She’s upset,” or “He’s suffering from a breakdown.”
Emotional Ills and Physical Ills
How widespread is emotional disturbance? We have cited the statistic that about half of the patients in our hospitals have become ill due to mental or emotional problems. For every person committed to a mental institution, a dozen are outside, groping in a half-real world. Ours is the age of anxiety, the age of the tranquilizer. We celebrate National Mental Health Week. W.C. Alvarez, of the Mayo Clinic, says:
Even after 53 years of practicing medicine, I still keep marveling at the fact that so many people whose discomforts are nervous in origin have failed to see any connection between their physical ills and the severe emotional crises that they have been going through. A thousand times when I have drawn from some nervously ill patient his story of sorrow, strain, great worry, or paralyzing indecision, he has looked at me puzzled and asked “Could it be that?” Like so many people he has never realized that many illnesses–even severe ones–are produced by painful emotion (Live at Peace with Nerves, Prentice-Hall, pp. 5-6).
Such people are sick. Ulcers are eating their stomachs; chronic headaches are driving them to distraction; chest pains have them frightened nearly to death. So not only are they mentally confused, but physically sick. And because they are sick, their conditions are assumed to be in the realm of the medical physician. After all, when people can’t sleep because of the pains in their necks or their stomachs won’t hold food, the help of medicine certainly seems called for.
Through the years, the close association between our emotions and physical symptoms has made it easy to assume that the symptoms were caused by some disease or by a body organ that has not been working correctly. Lately, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the roots of such symptoms lie in the individual’s adjustment to people. One spokesman for this view is T. S. Szasz, a leading New York psychiatrist, who says:
Psychotherapy is being widely practiced as though it entailed nothing other than restoring the patient from a state of mental sickness to one of mental health. While it is generally accepted that mental illness has something to do with man’s social (or interpersonal) relations, it is paradoxically maintained that problems of values (that is, of ethics) do not arise in this process. Yet, in one sense, much of psychotherapy may revolve around nothing other than the elucidation and weighing of goals and values–many of which may be mutually contradictory–and the means whereby they might best be harmonized, realized, or relinquished (“The Myth of Mental Illness,” The American Psychologist, February 1960, p. 113).
Another articulate spokesman, O. H. Mowrer, psychologist at the University of Illinois, said some years ago,
The only way to resolve the paradox of self-hatred and self-punishment is to help the individual see he deserves something better. As long as he remains hard of heart and unrepentant, his conscience will hold him in the viselike grip of neurotic rigidity and suffering. But if at length the individual confesses his past stupidities and errors and makes what poor attempts he can at restitution, then the conscience will forgive and relax its stern hold and the individual will be free, “well.” But here too we encounter difficulty, because human beings do not change radically until they first acknowledge their sins, but it is hard for one to make such an acknowledgment unless he has “already changed.” In other words, the full realization of deep worthlessness is a severe ego “insult,” and one must have a new source of strength to endure it (“Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils,” The American Psychologist, May 1960, p. 301).
Mowrer thus calls attention to one of the great barriers to finding relief from anxiety and guilt–a sense of deep worthlessness that is indeed a severe ego insult. We tend to shrink away from the truth about ourselves.
Drs. Szasz and Mowrer clearly describe our tendency to wander away from sensible and righteous behavior. We all act stupidly and make errors. The Bible reminds us that “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) and “there is none righteous” (Rom. 3:10). The Bible says our sins are against God. As the psalmist put it:. “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight–that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51:4).
Dr. Szasz sees our salvation in harmonizing, realizing, or relinquishing goals and values. Dr. Mowrer sees our salvation in squaring our past stupidities and errors with our own consciences by making attempts at restitution. Unfortunately, human relief is not the same as God’s forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.