Biblical, Mental and Emotional Health
At the age of thirty, Joel was a successful professional with a rewarding and stable position at a software firm. He was also an active Christian who helped his church in various capacities, especially with his computer expertise. He had maintained a good friendship with a young woman from church that could have ended in marriage, but she decided that he wasn’t her type and walked out of the relationship. This left Joel very troubled and insecure – to the point that he wasn’t willing to attempt another courtship.
Joel’s problem was compounded by lust. He had acquired the habit of fantasizing sexually about women he saw at work or elsewhere. After he held an ordinary conversation with a woman he liked, he would almost always follow up by imagining sexual encounters, and sometimes he ended up doing un-natural acts with himself.
Joel felt very uncomfortable with all this. As a Christian, he felt that what he was experiencing wasn’t God’s plan for relationships and sexuality, and he didn’t like that. He prayed about his problem from time to time, but it didn’t go away. He thought of seeking counseling but decided that his issue was too embarrassing to talk about. Finally, however, he decided to talk to his college roommate, who had completed a graduate degree in counseling. He didn’t want formal counseling; he just wanted to share his burden with someone discreet and perhaps get some tips on how to solve his problem.
Although at the first Joel found it difficult to talk about his concerns, eventually he told his friend everything. They had a two-hour conversation in which Joel did most of the talking and explained all the details of his problem. He was also surprised that his former roommate didn’t look at him strangely or judge his deviant behavior, but instead showed willingness to help him as a dear friend. The conversation gave Joel a great sense of relief.
The two men met five or six times over the course of two months, and Joel was delighted with the results. He was also excited about the approach his friend had followed, which included drawing the power of the Holy Spirit into the process. For him, one of the drawbacks of secular counseling was that the therapist would likely try to convince him that there was no reason to feel guilty about his behavior because it supposedly didn’t hurt anyone. His friend, being a man of faith, had included spirituality in the psychotherapy, and they also prayed during their meetings.
What did Joel learn in his sessions with his former roommate? He learned that the patterns of thought he harbored before, during, and after his behaviors, were of utmost importance. He also came to understand how the more frequently he went through these patterns, the more deeply rooted his habit became. He, therefore, had to be continually aware of his thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
One of Joel’s homework assignments was to keep a record of the most significant feelings and emotions he experienced each day, as well as the events and thoughts surrounding them. Then, together, he and his therapist friend tried to find the meaning of his emotions and thoughts and their connection with the problem, Joel learned that in order to stop thinking lustful thoughts, he had to identify the stimuli – circumstances, persons, thoughts, and so forth – that initiated them. Then he could avoid or reject those stimuli.
Joel also learned about his underlying issues. The lustful thoughts and inappropriate behavior were surface manifestations of deeper problems. For example, he had difficulty dealing with female friends in a natural and relaxed way. He also realized that he had personal insecurities that prevented him from relating to all people naturally. The core issue was that he was very afraid to be rejected by women, possibly because of the rejection by his girlfriend. He also thought he bored people and kept repeating to himself, “How boring I am.” All these issues required attention and action so he learned some strategies that his friend called “self-instruction.” He had to drop the negativistic and unrealistic thoughts and beliefs about himself and replace them with others that he and his friend agreed were satisfactory. His therapist friend also gave him the homework assignment of holding positive conversations with female friends in a natural manner without following them up with sexual fantasies.; He even rehearsed some of these encounters with his friend to gain confidence and skill.
Lastly, he learned something for which he would be forever grateful. He learned to depend on God via consistent, frequent prayer. Joel had a watch that beeped on the hour. At the beep, he would pause and offer a short prayer thanking God for specific blessings, great and small, and for strength to win the battle. The hourly beeping of his watch caught him in many different places and situations, but he always prayed. He started to pray for others too – for his family, friends, coworkers, for those women he had lusted for, and even for the strangers in his life. Although initially this was a counseling assignment, he kept this practice even after the treatment.
Many of the routines Joel followed are part of a widely used form of psychotherapy known as “cognitive – behavioral therapy” (CBT). The basic theory behind CBT techniques is that people are emotional disturbed not just by events and circumstances, but by how they process their thoughts. The approach had two basic components: thinking (cognitive) and acting (behavioral). Joel needed to change both his thinking and his behavior. The point is that once he changed his thinking, he found it rather natural to change what he did.
Those who practice CBT believe that a positive and reasonable outlook can produce both a better mood and better results in all sorts of areas: personal, interpersonal, and more. They also believe that if people’s thinking is exaggerated, hopeless, unhelpful, biased, and distorted, they are likely to become dysfunctional. That is, people who apply faulty thoughts to themselves, to others, to current events, the past, and the future will become angry, upset, worried, hostile, and depressed.
The thinking-acting connection and the possibility of personal control apply to multiple situations; work, family, friendships, stressful events, etc., all very important areas of mental health. In addition, our spiritual life is notably affected by the way we think. The Bible teaches us about the connection between thoughts and actions, both good and evil. It also reminds us of our responsibility to control our thoughts and submit them to the obedience of Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). In the rest of this lesson we’ll extract some lessons from scriptural admonitions and stories that will make us more aware of the importance of our thinking and will help us find divine support to make necessary changes.