This is the third in a series of ways we exhibit low quality mental health in normal everyday life. As a reminder, I claimed in a previous blog that every human, with the exception of Jesus, that ever existed or will exist, up to the moment God makes all things new, is mentally ill or if you prefer, has imperfect mental health. The first of this series, my previous blog to this, was about not asking for help, the second was on the subject of inner permission. This one is a sub-set of what I would call self-love or possibly self-care; it is about not seeking nurturance from self, others or God.
- Nurturing – the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.
We are designed to be nurtured. As a very young child we are pre-wired by God to seek physical and psychological sustenance from our caregiver(s). As a baby we cry when we’re hungry, or cold, or have a dirty diaper (nappy); and we coo and smile when life feels good to us – when we’re clean, fed and our caregiver is speaking love to us through their presence, their words and their gentle physical treatment of us. When we’re a little older we might still do those things, but we start to unconsciously notice that others can give us nurturing, maybe our extended family or friends. Then some of us will become aware of the reality that we can self-nurture as we learn to play alone with things like dolls, coloring books and reading. At some point, we begin to realize that there are some needs we have that cannot be met by humans. Some of us will choose to ignore these, and some of us will begin to connect with God, as only He can nurture us spiritually.
One thing about nurturing is that the built-in need for it never goes away. And this is where mental illness or poor mental health practices become apparent.
Here is our nurturing verse:
Gen 3:8(a) – They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.
I’m sure this is a weird looking piece of scripture if we’re talking about nurturing. Go with me here. God is said to be walking in the garden, so this is probably a pre-incarnate visitation from Jesus, and it sounds like it was a regular or everyday habit. The question is why would Jesus need to visit the man and woman habitually? The answer, at least partially, is they were designed to constantly connect with God, who would provide them with something they couldn’t get from anywhere else. Jesus nurtured them.
Hopefully you are with me so far. Now let’s look at some ways we demonstrate poor mental health in the context of nurturing; we’ll observe some actions that indicate poor self-nurture and some where we don’t allow others to nurture and lastly some that demonstrate we don’t allow God to nurture us – and they all “normal” behaviors.
How many of us care for ourselves by eating well? No-one can do this for us when we become truly volitional creatures, usually somewhere in our adolescence. Do we “eat our vegetables”, are we balanced in our diet, do we eat too much or too little? Do we consume excessive alcohol (For those that don’t know, excessive alcohol consumption is defined by the NIAAA, National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.), do we binge drink at weekends? Do we consume drugs for psychological reasons that hurt our physical condition? There is no valid reason to not care for ourselves as best we can within our economic and/or cultural situation. In North America we have so much data and information available helping us to understand what healthy diets are, that there is no other significant explanation, in my opinion, except we have poor mental health.
Are we balanced in our physical activities? Do we regularly walk or work out, or is our idea of exercise a trip to the fridge to get ice cream? Again, how can anybody in our society not know that exercise is necessary for good physical and psychological health? Once again, we can say that for the most part, not exercising is an outward indicator of poor mental health. (We must, of course, make the obvious point that some people might want to exercise but cannot due to actual physical limitations and/or disabilities.)
Do we self-nurture by having good bathing habits, getting our teeth cleaned regularly and keeping our clothes clean. I’ve heard of people who, by choice, only bathe every few days. Some of us never visit the dentist, we might be fearful of what they will say and ask us to do. I have even talked with people who like to wear their clothes three or more times before cleaning them. These kind of bad choices indicate poor mental processes, and often result in unexpected consequences such as diseases and lost relationships.
Sleep is a major self-nurturing activity. Do we get enough sleep? One simple thing that many of us find hard to do, me included, is to take a nap when one can. Instead we’ll do work, or watch something mindless, when a siesta would lift us up. Play, another self-care activity, is sometimes lacking; some of us have forgotten how to play. Sleep deprivation and being serious all the time are more examples of mental illness. That may seem negatively judgmental; but unfortunately it is still true.
The second big aspect of nurturing is that we need each other; we were built for relationships. God puts it this way:
Gen 2:18 – It is not good that the man should be alone.
He designed all humans to need something from one another – it is called intimacy. When we are intimate with one another, remembering that sex is not intimacy, we are in nurturing relationships. Good connections with others allow them to comfort, support, encourage and affirm us. These are nurturing activities.
Examples of poor mental health in this area can be found all around us.
Are you someone who won’t ask someone to pray for you? If you are sick, do you keep it to yourself? When your child is out of control do you tell your friends? Are you a person that says, “I don’t need a counselor?” When you can’t pay your bills, do you try to stumble through it, hoping you’ll be rescued? Would you let a friend take you to a movie, their treat? Can you, without objecting, allow a neighbor to throw you a birthday party? Here is a big one, if you would like to connect with your spouse in a nurturing sexual way, do you ask, because your spouse cannot read your mind about this? Answering “no” to any of these shows your mental health is suspect – and I know that is challenging, because some of these are me!
Finally we can come back to that first scripture I quoted. God designed us to always desire and possibly need intimacy and nurturing from Him. For the Christian the most recognizable forms of nurturing are found in this scripture:
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Here they are:
- Faithfulness – consistency of character, reliability.
- Justice – mercy and grace at work.
- Forgiveness – the clearing of our debts.
- Cleansing – the cleaning up of our inner person, an aspect of healing.
So then, are we the kind of people that won’t go to God for nurturing, even though we call ourselves Christ-followers? To me that is madness. Here is my definition of insanity:
- Not doing what God says.
Do you exhibit that trait? Do you obey Him by going to Him for the things he has reserved for Himself like forgiveness of sins, salvation and healing? Be honest with this because to lie about it is further evidence of mental illness.
I could write so much more on this, but I’m at the place that I think my point is made.
I want to ask, as an end to this blog, that every person reads this and reflects on the question, “What is my part in the level of nurturing I get on a daily basis?” Then, change your ways and become more mentally healthy.