One Thing I Learned in the Pandemic Year

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Who hasn’t wanted to hide this year? Who didn’t feel the sting of failed hopes and expectations?

Psychotherapist Viktor Frankl survived Nazi prison camps in large part because of his determination to accomplish what he knew life expected from him: the completion of his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, and the development of his therapeutic method. That book is, by the way, considerably more powerful for its use of prison camp stories to demonstrate the use of Frankl’s therapies, which depend on the individual’s recognition of the meaning and purpose to be found in the life they have been given.

What did life expect of you in 2020? What is it expecting of you as you look into 2021 — which is likely to hold challenges for many months yet?

One of the things I learned in 2020, as fundraiser for a nonprofit that supports people with disabilities, is that many people become much more generous when they find their circumstances more precarious. As one donor told a colleague in offering his gift, “I have it today, so I should do something helpful with it.” In 2021, I will be responsible in my job for continuing to offer people the hope of doing something valuable, even during unpredictable times.

Outside of work, I see many opportunities to nurture friendships among other older, unmarried women who also are often overlooked. Much as I might expect life — and my married Christian friends — to “set the solitary into families,” as God says will happen (Ps. 68:6) it seems much more likely that we solitary will band together in God’s love to create care groups of our own. This is the life and the task that God has set before us, and as difficult as it may be, we are called to walk into it.

What did 2020 teach you? What opportunities do you see in 2021?

More Resources:

A collection of Viktor Frankl’s lectures was published in 2020 for the first time in English. Say Yes to Life (In Spite of Everything) is encouraging as we continue to live into uncertainty in 2021.

Free Resources: COVID and Mental Health Courses by University Instructors

FutureLearn in the UK offers a wide range of educational resources, often free. You can enroll now, at no cost, in their three-week online course “COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health.” The self-paced course is presented by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust and is offered in English.

The University of Toronto is offering a three-hour course titled Mind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19. Psychology professor Steve Joordens hopes the class will help people understand and control the anxiety many are suffering. The class is offered in English, with subtitling available in Arabic, French, Portuguese (European), Chinese (Simplified), Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, German, Russian, Turkish, Spanish, English, and Hungarian

‘How Are You?’ Umm … What to Say?

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The holiday lights aren’t uplifting the way you hoped. The prospect of a COVID Christmas is leaving the kids low. And then there’s all the stress you’re carrying from trying to work and parent and partner in a house that’s organized for after hours activities, not the entire day every day.

And someone asks: “How are you?”

The automatic “Fine” would fall flat. Plus it’s patently untrue.

What do you say? Your answer could help market my forthcoming book on how faith communities best support people in times of mental health challenges. Add your answers below … we definitely need some new ones.

Life Lessons from Sad Saints: Luther, Spurgeon, Mother Teresa and More

Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. By Diana Gruver. Intervarsity Press. 2020.

I have long wished for someone to write this book. Over the years, I’ve lived with mental health problems, volunteered in mental health support, and learned bits and pieces about the challenges faced by Spurgeon, Cowper, and Mother Teresa. And I’ve wished there were a convenient way to point other Christians to the truth that faith isn’t a remedy for mental health problems. Faith is how we continue to live forward in hope when our condition tells us hope is a lie (Heb. 11:1).

I’m grateful that Diana Gruver has assembled this collection telling briefly and beautifully the stories of seven people whose faith is unquestionable and whose struggles are undeniable. May it help us all. I am confident it will help those of us who struggle to persevere. I found it personally encouraging to see these saints of history finding relief in life strategies (hobbies, outdoor activity, the company of others) that also work for me. Indeed, these saints recognized that to “pray more!” in isolation is a prescription for worsening mental health, not recovery. I’d love the 21st century American church to learn this lesson from history!

I especially hope these essays will be found instructive by those whose efforts to encourage people with mental health problems can fall into accusations against the quality of our faith. Our faith is, in many cases, what has kept us alive over many years. I’m not sure it’s easy to know what it means to “choose life” (Dt. 30:19) when you have not had to do so — literally — day after day and week after week. Gruver’s accounts of these sainted lives may open eyes to how hard those of us with mental health problems work to maintain our contributions as members of the Body of Christ, and to the ongoing need of the entire Body for us, as “members of the body, which seem to be more feeble” yet are, according to God, still necessary (1 Cor 12:22).

The lives described are those of: Martin Luther, Hannah Allen, David Brainerd, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Support independent booksellers! Order this book from Hearts and Minds Bookstore.

This Week’s Top Free Resource: Church Mental Health Summit

Invest World Mental Health Day in learning about best practices for congregations and mental health at a free global conference.

The Church Mental Health Summit is hosted by Hope Made Strong, a Toronto-based mental health ministry. Attend the online event free, or pay just $59 to receive all 60 sessions recorded for continuing use.

Register and get more info here.

Hope to see you at the summit!

Free Resource: Evidence-Based Workbooks for Growing Forgiveness, Humility, Patience

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Who wouldn’t love to be more patient by next week? More forgiving in just 6 hours? All without leaving home or paying a cent. These evidence-based, free downloadable workbooks could be as transformative for you as they are for me.

Evidence-based workbooks make it possible to start clearing unforgiveness and gain freedom from the past in just 6 hours at home.

Everett Worthington, Jr., a Christian and a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, has spent much of his career developing an evidence base for how good character can be formed. Over decades, his teams developed and tested workbooks that can be used by individuals or in groups. Although developed in a secular realm, these function as great DIY discipleship for Christian character formation.

Worthington describes his personal mission as to help every heart (individuals), every home (couples and families), and every homeland (communities and countries) to forgive. His professional studies in forgiveness, as a psychologist, began in 1990 after many years work in couples therapy. His Campaign for Forgiveness Research awarded more than $6 million in grants to studies researching forgiveness. He mentored researchers worldwide.

Worthington’s personal mission is to help every heart, every home, and every homeland to forgive.

After his mother was murdered in 1996, Worthington’s thinking became both more expansive and more personal. The emotional impact, even after forgiving the killer, was tremendous. Self-forgiveness became a new research interest. At the same time, his writing began to relate the personal experience of forgiveness to the larger concerns of justice, faith, and virtue.

DIY Discipleship in Christian Character

I’ve found a lot of value as I worked through the six-hour The Path to Forgiveness¬† workbook. For me, the benefits of Worthington’s approach included these:

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