Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A cheerful heart

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22 
Ya know, I did a lot of research this week…maybe too much because I got way, way off the track.  There are sooooo many theories about how to stay healthy!  Some of them are really really strange – and really not helpful, at all. 

The one thing pretty much everybody agreed on was that our minds and our bodies are so closely connected that if one is sick so is the other.  Exercise can help you beat depression; pessimists tend to have more heart disease than optimists, etc.  In fact, most of the articles can be summed up in this quote from an article put out by the Public Health Agency of Canada:
Positive mental health can help you cope with life’s challenges and enjoy life to the fullest. It can also help your recovery if you develop a mental illness.  The following suggestions can help you develop and maintain positive mental health.
• eat a well-balanced diet based on Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating;• take part in physical activity regularly;
• get enough sleep each night;• avoid overuse of alcohol, such as binge drinking or drinking to cope with problems;• avoid the use of illegal drugs;• learn to deal with the stresses of modern life and take steps to minimize the stress in your life; and• talk to others – your family, friends, colleagues – about things that concern you. Sharing feelings and anxieties can help you cope with them.”
Pretty much everybody said the same things unless they were trying to sell something.  Something very important is missing though, and it was missing in almost everything I read…you know what I’m talking about, don’t you?  There’s a third part to the health equation – the spiritual part.  The only time I saw any reference at all to spiritual health was when I was told that meditation was the best way to relieve stress.

But then, I came across an article that I really enjoyed.  It said that research has proven that people who laugh more are less prone to have heart attacks and heart disease.  And you know what text immediately came into my mind.  Of course, in my own misquote, it’s a cheerful heart that “doeth good like a medicine.”  I looked and looked but could not find a translation that actually says it that way, so I must have made it up. 
Anyway, that sent me off searching through the Ellen White database and I found that she was a real proponent of maintaining a cheerful attitude.  She urges people over and over again not to dwell on the sadness and frustration of sin because that that is a tool of Satan.  But she goes further by saying that those kinds of feelings affect the efficiency of the way our bodies work, causing all kinds of health problems.

So, I’m convinced that we’re supposed to keep our hearts “merry”.  The question is, is that something that I can control over?  My psychologist colleagues would have us believe that our emotions are something we experience, not control.  In fact, some would say that if you control your emotion s, that you are “repressing” them which is a really bad thing to do.  I mean, come on, can I be happy just by choosing to be happy?  What if I’ve been diagnosed with depression?  I can’t choose to be happy can I?  I need medication for that right?

Are we at the mercy of our feelings?  This is another spot where I think teaching people that they are descended from monkeys causes problems.  So many of the kids I see everyday are at the mercy of their emotions.  When they get angry they throw things, hit things or people, break things, yell – all things we’ve seen an angry animal do.  If you talk to the student afterward, you’ll see very quickly that he (or she) feels no remorse for acting that way.  In fact, he thinks it’s perfectly normal.  The student will explain the behavior as, “Well, [that person] made me mad.”  In his mind, his response was acceptable and the expected response.

Now I’m going to ask a scary question.  What if everybody reacted to anger and frustration like the animals we’ve been taught that we are?  Don’t answer too fast because I believe the evening news is proof that a lot of us do act and react like that.  I guess the bigger question is:  Is that how God wants us to act?  He didn’t make us to be just another animal.  He made us in His image, just a little lower than the angels.  Did He make us to be controlled by our emotions?  I believe He made us to be better than that.  I believe that God has given us the ability to choose our reactions and, to some extent, our emotions themselves.

Now, don’t disagree too fast.  Even psychologists agree with me on this one.  There is a therapy style that teaches that if you start acting a certain way, your brain will follow.  Yes, I know it’s weird.  These are the same folks I told you teach folks that controlling your feelings is a bad thing…but sometimes humans do think things all the way through.  Anyway, the theory is that you should act the way that you would if you were happy or not scared or whatever.  And as you act that way, your brain follows along and you begin to feel that way.  There is even a behavior theory for teachers to use that goes so far as to tell the teacher to talk and react to students as though they were reacting to you exactly the way you wanted them to…whether they actually are acting that way or not.  That may go a little farther than I, personally, am comfortable with, but some folks that I’ve heard speak claim that it works. 

What I’m trying to say is that I believe that God has given us a choice not only with how we act, but in our feelings as well.  Think about how many times in the Bible we’re told not to be afraid.   Well, we’re also told over and over again to rejoice and be glad.

¯    Psalm 32:11  Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
¯    Psalm 68:3  But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
¯    Psalm 118:24  This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
¯    Psalm 97:1  The LORD reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
¯    Isaiah 65:18  But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a   joy.
¯    Isaiah 66:10  Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her:
¯    Joel 2:21  Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.
¯    Zephaniah 3:14  Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.
¯    Matthew 5:12  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
¯    1Peter 4:13  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
¯    Revelation 19:7  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

Nowhere does it say TRY to rejoice and be glad. And we know that wherever God tells us to do something, He gives us the means to do it, right? 

So, does that mean that we never admit to feelings other than happiness?  I don’t think so.  We know that Jesus was sad, angry, and afraid.  We know that God has those same emotions.  But remember that God, instead of annihilating us whenever we mess up the perfect world He created, He sent His own Son to make our mistakes right. Can we really ever lose our joy if we keep that thought always in our minds?
So, what do we do to maintain that cheerful heart that will help keep us healthy?  God tells us all through the Bible.  “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things.”  Joel 2:21 Remember, there are supposed to be 365 “Fear Not” verses in the Bible; one for every day of the year.  And there’s another text that a friend showed me a few years ago that I really like in this context:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed.” (2Co 10:4-8 ESV)
I especially like the phrase “take every thought captive to obey Christ”.  I believe that that is God’s promise that we don’t have to act on every thought that comes into our heads.  We don’t even have to think every depressing, angry, bitter, frustrated, sinful thought that comes into our heads.  Ok, well, the thought can pop up…but we can take it captive and throw it out as soon as we can.  Or we can dwell on that thought.
We have a decision to make.  Will we let our emotions run our lives and make us sick?  Or will we
“… count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (Jas 1:2-4 KJVR)

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