Saturday, May 31, 2008

Shalom and Mental Health

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 5B
Isaiah 26:3
Bob Rakestraw
(One-year anniversary of “The Benediction Project”)

Last time we began to look at Isaiah 26:3: “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you.” I have found this text to be extremely helpful over the years, because I grew up in a home without peace, and my mind was often troubled. I did not have good mental health. Because my parents fought vicious wars of words nearly every day of my later childhood (I remember very little of my early childhood home life), I developed an inferiority complex in high school and often considered running away. I even thought of killing my father, because I saw him as the cause of most of my parents’ fights. (Both my parents eventually received Christ and are now with him in his heavenly glory.) I was angry, sad, and troubled inwardly, and, among other things, became the class comedian and sometimes the class troublemaker.

When I became a Christian at age 19 I was made new. This is not some theological concept I began to apply to myself, but was actually my daily experience. It was as though I was seeing in color whereas before all was black and white. I now had a reason for living, forgiveness of sin, and an inner energy (God’s Spirit) for living a wholesome life. Isaiah 26:3 was one of the scripture texts that supported me much then and has continued to encourage me greatly.

When I consider good mental health and Isaiah 26:3, I find it helpful to think about the connections between real peace, a steadfast mind, and trust in God. A thought by F. Derek Kidner in his commentary on Isaiah is very helpful: “These verses are as logical as they are beautiful, rooted in God. Perfect peace…is his gift of well-being and wholeness to a mind not merely steadfast but steadied (the word is passive, as in the old version, ‘stayed on thee’). The call to lifelong trust (v. 4) is equally logical, basing our faith on God’s rock-like faithfulness and basing the ‘for ever’ of our commitment on the eternity of his being (New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition).

The idea of peace (shalom) in the Hebrew is best expressed by the word “wholeness.” Eugene Peterson in his Bible paraphrase, The Message, puts our verse like this: “People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit.” I have found that, even though a godly mind is at the center of successful daily living, every aspect of my being (physical, psychological, spiritual, social, attitudinal) is involved in being whole. I don’t believe there has ever been a time in my life when I have been so aware of the interconnection of all aspects of daily life.

Isaiah speaks of those who trust in God, whose thoughts are fixed on God. How does this work in real life? It helps me greatly to realize that the concepts of wholeness, steadfastness of mind, and trust in God are closely related. Picture a circle with these three concepts on the outer rim of the circle. Trust in God points to steadfastness of mind which points to peace (wholeness, shalom). Wholeness of self then points us to further trust in God. Our basic responsibility is to trust in God (see v. 4). Other words for trust are confidence, faith, and rest—leaving our worries, frustrations and sins with God, resting in his perfect love and care for us. Just a few chapters later we read this offer from the Lord: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

I have never needed these words more at any time in my life than I need them now. I have needed them just as much—many times over the years—but never more than now. I was told in March, 2007, that I would likely not live more than six months, yet have lived fourteen months since then, having spent eight months in hospice care during 2007. After being removed from hospice last December (for which I am very grateful), I have floundered about somewhat, unsure of whether I am living or dying, and unsure of how to spend my days and how to handle bothersome and sometimes debilitating physical and psychological aspects of existence. Depression has been a major problem in recent months, and I am very, very thankful to God that this seems to be lifting lately. God has been at work.

Even with the depression, there have been numerous times lately when I have wanted to shout from the rooftops that God is great, God is good, and God is worthy of the praises of all people on earth. The longer and deeper I know him, the more I hunger for him. I find the Bible to be extremely nourishing and encouraging every day, because it helps me to keep my mind focused on God, which then leads me in the direction of peace, wholeness, and strong mental health. I am reading in the Psalms, in a new (to me) Bible translation with lots of white space in the margins.

Working on these past two blog postings has been one of the highlights of recent weeks for me. I offer them to you, my readers, with the hope and prayer that you will experience the shalom God offers to those who trust in him. Receive this benediction from the Lord of peace:

“The Lord bless you

and keep you;

The Lord make his face shine upon you

and be gracious to you;

The Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.”

(Numbers 6:24-26, NIV)


Anonymous said...

Dear Bob;

Congratulations on the one-year anniversary of your blog! And, thank you for your personal reflection on shalom. I love your picture of trust leading to wholeness leading to further trust. Faith does begin and end with God, doesn't it?

Thank you for faithfully following Jesus throughout ALL the circumstances of your life, and for persevering in the faith.


rbrewer said...

Thanks Bob for your honesty. It validates some of my own feelings. I am thrilled how God reaches out to you when depression comes and visits. God does love us. I very much needed your encouragement today. Love, Rosemary

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hello Jane,

Thank you for the one-year anniversary congratulations, and for your kind words.

You are right on target with your noting that faith begins and ends with God! God makes the first move in the life of every person on earth, in some way, and gives each one the initial faith to seek him further, after which he gives more faith. I love this "reciprocity of grace."

Peace and hope,

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Rosemary,

I'm grateful for you, and for your note. God uses each of us in different ways to encourage one another. Your message encouraged me today. Thank you!

Today I was working on my June blog, and I think I'll do more on depression. I am not certain, though. I always want to sense what God has for that month.

Rich blessings and hope to you,

Kim said...

Thank you for sharing, Bob. It is sobering to realize how far one can be from "assurance" -- growing up I often puzzled about how I could be "sure" and had decided I could not be.

Such a contrast, then, when I did come to faith and learned what assurance really meant. I am glad you found your way to the cross -- that the Spirit helped you go from black and white to color -- real life!

I'm grateful for your sharing that though you have struggled with depression that does not mean you are not assured in your faith. I think too often there is a hesitancy to share the mental health side for fear it will reflect on our spiritual side.

Thanks be to the Spirit who comforts and sustains us in all times.