Several months ago, a few of the pastoral staff of Connection Point met with the directors of a local counseling center in West Lafayette. This center was started due to the increasing need for counseling in our area, and the need continues to grow.
The Center for Disease Control, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Psychological Association all report, in various ways, that there is a rise of mental illness in our nation, particularly among adolescents and young adults, the ones most susceptible to societal change. But what is the root cause?
Every organization and news outlet you research will provide various answers, including increased use of technology or a lack of opportunity for proper medical care, but when you look at the timing of when cases of mental illness began to increase, it is most closely tied to our culture’s shift toward a secular worldview. As stated in a previous article, this shift occurred in the mid-1990’s. Since that time, the incidence of mental illness cases has continued to rise.
But how can a secular worldview result in mental illness, things like depression and anxiety?
It is because secularism fails the secularist.
For one, it is anti-relational. Whether in politics, fashion, or lifestyle choices, people live in tribes in our culture. These subcultures are self-enclosed worlds strongly self-reinforced by marketing, personalized news, and educational systems. A culture of “tribes” can lead to isolation due to the polarization of different values and belief structures between groups.
Our world is more connected than ever and more lonely than it’s ever been.
Secularism also reinforces the compartmentalization of people’s lives. People become collectors of experiences and everything simply becomes a part of the mosaic of their life. But this can eventually lead an individual to live a fractured life, which leads to chaos or someone feeling like they are living “out of control.”
Secularism also fails the secularist because the power of self is finite. When something goes wrong, and if you are your own god (self is at the center), then you are the only one to blame, and this causes problems. We can not handle the weight of our own lives. We were never meant to.
Peter Scazzero points out in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that,
“Only the love of God in Christ is capable of bearing the weight of our true identity.”¹
This is the solution for reversing our current cultural trend. We lead people toward the peace they are offered in God. Paul, a faithful follower of Jesus, in the first century wrote to believers in the ancient city of Philippi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9).
The first thing that needs to happen is for people to think about those things that are true, honorable, pure, lovely and commendable. It’s not uncommon for me to have negative thoughts throughout my day. Someone does something annoying in traffic, I can get frustrated with people in a check-out line, or my kids are not getting along in the way that I think they should. If I am not careful, I can begin to think negative things about my situation or the people involved.
What do I do? Thanks to resources like Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, Switch on Your Brain, I’ve learned to take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to walk through a process where I partner with the Holy Spirit to renew my mind (Romans 12:2).
Instead of thinking, “Where did this person learn how to drive?” I stop and recognize the negative thought, and instead turn the frustration into a prayer, “God be with that driver. I have no idea what’s going on in their lives, but I pray your peace fill their lives today.”
What I have learned is that the more conscious I am of my thoughts, the more intentional I am to “take thoughts captive,” the more the Lord has opportunity to renew my mind.
But why does this matter? Why is it important to take thoughts captive, to renew your mind and to think about those things which are true, honorable, pure, lovely and commendable? One reason is scripture tells us, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7, NASB). In other words, what you think about has a deep impact on your life. You become your thoughts.
Paul also writes, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Romans 8:6, NLT). So be careful what you think about. It can either lead to chaos or peace in your life.
Another reason it matters is the promise to those who think right thoughts and practice the way of Jesus, as Paul tells the Philippian believers to do. Paul says the God of peace will be with them.
The word “peace” describes a state of mind, inward soundness, and well-being.
Peace is referring to wholeness. Paul is telling these believers to think about good things, and to take what they have learned and heard and seen in him and to do likewise. As they do, they can expect to experience God’s peace. In other Paul is saying, “follow me as I follow Jesus” and the result will be inward soundness and well-being. What a bold statement!
Yet this is the kind of statement every follower of Jesus should be able to make if they have learned to take thoughts captive, to partner with the Holy Spirit as He renews their minds, and then live like Jesus in such a way that others can too.
It can take time to learn how to live like Jesus, and it’s a process. Becoming whole starts with recognizing the effects family and culture have had on our lives and then working with the Holy Spirit to become the new creation He makes us (2 Corinthians 5:17).²
Next week, we’ll talk about the process of becoming whole and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We’d Love to hear from you!
How has negative thinking affected your life? Share your comments below.
1 Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. pg. 50.
2 You can also find a video message of this content here.