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The 700 Club

Debra Fileta on “Are You Really Okay?”

You're Not As Healthy As You Think You Are

According to a long line of psychological studies, Debra says that most people see themselves as better than they are. When asked about random things like how well they drive, how they rate as friends, or how morally they behave, most people rate themselves as “better than average.” This better-than-average-effect applies to all strata of society, from prisoner to pastor. Mathematically, of course, this can’t be the case; half of all people will fall below the median.  

She says the same holds true for Christians. “Coming to Jesus doesn’t fix everything,” she says. “It doesn’t fix our high cholesterol levels, and it doesn’t fix our lonely childhoods, and it doesn’t fix our proclivities toward fear and anxiety. That fix will only come when the trumpet sounds and when all things are made new. But in the meantime, in this life, the Spirit gives us what we need to come face-to-face with our struggles and declare that Christ will be victorious in the end (I Corin. 15:57)!” Christians, she points out, understandably tend to focus on spiritual health, and assume that emotional, mental, and physical health come as a part of a package deal. “No, not even close,” she says. “What Scripture calls us to is health (not perfection) in each of these areas. As Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). One thing I love about His direct answer is that it covers every single base. Loving God is not just something we do in our hearts. Loving God is something we have to do with every layer of who we are: with our emotions, our spirit, our thoughts, and our bodies.” 

Why Emotional Health Matters 

Debra likens unexpressed emotions to a volcano: “Eventually the buildup of the pressure is so strong that the magma finds the point of least resistance to escape and explodes in the form of a volcanic eruption,” she says. “Emotions are much the same way. When we continue to ignore, repress, avoid, or stuff what’s going on underneath the surface, we create a natural buildup of pressure. Emotions aren’t meant to be stuffed. They’re meant to be expressed and shared and dealt with. They’re meant to be experienced and used as a compass to guide us and a signal to warn us.” Like a volcano, pent-up emotions will find some form of expression, Debra teaches. The unhealthy expressions are often burnout, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. 

The first step to emotional health, Debra says, is emotional awareness. “I believe that our inability to deal with our emotions is often rooted in a lack of awareness of our emotions. If we can’t identify them, we can’t express them. If we can’t express them, we can’t deal with them.” She says research confirms that when we become aware of our emotions and start talking about them, there are positive emotional changes in our bodies. “Awareness shifts the power from our emotions to ourselves.”  

Mental Health Is Not Spiritual Health 

“Historically, the church at large has not had the greatest reputation when it comes to responding to mental illness,” Debra states. “Underlying the failure to properly address this subject is the false belief that mental health issues could be rooted in sin or a lack of faith. People who struggle with mental illness are often encouraged to trust God more, to pray more, or to read Scripture in order to receive healing.” She continues: “The problem is, we often confuse mental health with spiritual health, but the two are not one and the same. If anything, mental health has more in common with physical health than it does with spiritual health because the body-mind connection is one that can’t be denied by modern science. The brain is a vital organ of the body, and when the brain is sick, it impacts every other part of the body. Mental illness doesn’t reflect a character issue. It reflects a chemistry issue. And anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have a proper understanding of mental illness,” she states emphatically.   

As to the misunderstanding of mental illness by Christians in particular, Debra clarifies the issue. “Not only is it false to believe that struggling with mental health issues is a reflection of your faith, but it’s the antithesis of the entire message of Christ. As believers, we are never promised a pain-free, disease-free, struggle-free life. In fact, Jesus reminds us that in this world we will struggle (John 16:33). But in our struggle, we’re promised a Savior, a Comforter, and a Friend. Mental health struggles have nothing to do with lack of faith; in fact, for me and for so many others,” Debra says, “the struggle has been the catalyst for even deeper faith.”   

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