It can be difficult sometimes for people of faith to know when, as the simplistic slogan goes, to "let go and let God." At what point do we quit trying to fix a broken relationship, find a more rewarding job or recover from clinical depression and just turn it all over to God (whatever, exactly, that may mean to us)?
This column from Aleteia.org tackles that very question in a thoughtful, rational but faithful way. The author tries to explain why God is not her psychotherapist.
If, she writes, just having faith in God meant we'd never have emotional difficulties, "no believing Christian would suffer from depression, and they would quickly bounce back when feeling down. We wouldn’t need help. We would be self-sufficient, eternally happy, fulfilled individuals, aware of our self-worth. But that’s just not the case."
Another problem, she writes, is that when people are told just to suck it up and pray, they feel guilty if they still feel the need for professional psychotherapy, when in fact that might be exactly what they need. And "these kinds of comments assume that in life we should just fold our hands in prayer (or go to a retreat) and God will take care of everything for us."
One of the problems with all of this in our culture is that we haven't yet fully acknowledged that just as the body can become ill and need professional help, so, too, can the mind.
There are faith traditions -- I'm thinking first of Christian Science -- that suggest that physical ailments are simply evidence that there's something wrong mentally or spiritually and that the way to fix whatever is wrong is to turn to prayer or to other kinds of spiritual support.
And no doubt such thinking has some basis in experience. But for most of us, when we break an arm, get the measles or develop cancer, our first instinct is to seek competent and professional medical help. If that's true for our bodies, doesn't it make sense to seek such help when our minds or emotions are out of whack?
I frequently hear people say that God helps those who help themselves. Well, perhaps that's true, though you can't find that saying anywhere in the Bible. But at least the saying encourages us to seek answers before simply dumping our problems on God's lap and expecting things to change.
As the Aleteia author writes, "Psychotherapy consists of regular weekly meetings between a patient and a therapist, during which a qualified therapist with extensive knowledge of the human psyche and the ways it works tries to help the patient understand himself or herself. It’s not possible without knowledge, experience, empathy and direct, clear conversation. We have to hear some things clearly to start noticing them.
"God is not a therapist, but God works through a therapist."
Christians often say that they serve as God's hands and feet and heart on Earth. Which means engaging in prayer, yes, but not stopping there.
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A SMALL-TOWN CHRISTIAN BOOKSTORE HANGS ON
Many of you in the Kansas City area know about -- and patronize -- the great independent bookstore, Rainy Day Books. In this day of online book sales through Amazon and other outlets, it takes imagination and lots of hustle for such a book outlet to survive. Even tougher is for a bookstore featuring primarily Christian publications to make it. Such bookstores have been dwindling in recent decades. But here's a story about one that continues to provide a wide range of faith-based books in a small town in Pennsylvania. I found it encouraging, especially because the owners focus on real books and not a lot of collectible kitsch. May their tribe increase. And may stores that sell books representing the thinking of authors from many faith traditions increase, too. Next time you want a book, consider getting it from a local independent retailer rather than from an online giant.
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P.S.: Flatland, KCPT-TV's digital magazine for which I write a column, is asking readers to suggest stories to cover. And this time the editors are asking people to pose questions that have to do with religion in the Kansas City area. You can submit your question at this site. I hope you will.