When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
Reflection: A Discipline for the Anxious
By John Tillman
We live in distressing times. If there are corners of our world not touched by division, aggression, worry, and angst, you probably can’t get email there.
Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise—especially among younger adults. National Survey of Children’s Health researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety among children ages 6 to 17, between 2007 and 2012. The American College Health Association found that anxiety, rather than depression, is the most common reason college students seek counseling services and that in 2016, 62 percent of undergraduates reported “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. (An increase from 50 percent in 2011.)
Studying this, science is discovering things that are not exactly new under the sun. A recent Harvard study found that church attendance paired with spiritual disciplines such as meditation and prayer have a beneficial effect on mental health. In a Forbes article, study author Ying Chen noted that being raised religiously, “can powerfully affect [children’s] health behaviors, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.”
The psalmists would not express surprise at these findings. Though we think of our society as facing pressures unknown to humanity until now, we would be mistaken to think of ancient times as idyllic and calm.
David and the other psalmists certainly knew what it was like to live under threat, under financial pressure, under the constant weight of political instability and the wavering loyalty of an unpredictable government.
Amidst such pressures, they had a safe haven. Their help for the stresses of life was meditation and prayer.*
The psalmist writes of being “too troubled to speak,” yet he cries to God. He writes of insomnia, yet he rests in God. He writes of doubts and of feeling that God has rejected him, that his love has vanished, that he had forgotten to be merciful. Yet in the midst of doubts and fears, he remembers God’s faithfulness in the past. He meditates on these memories in the heated moment of stress.
Although the benefits of meditation can help in a crisis, meditation is not a quick fix. It is not a fast-acting antidote for the world’s venom, but an inoculation to be taken ahead of time.
When beginning (or returning to) meditative prayer, start small and short. Use the prayer provided at the end of this devotional (Psalm 119.147) as a start. Spend two to five minutes simply re-reading the prayer with an expectant heart, asking God to be with you.
This week we will explore a bit more about this practice.
*We are in no way implying that meditation should be pursued in lieu of proper medical treatment. If you are in need of counseling and professional services, please consider the following resources:
Mental Health Grace Alliance
Not A Day Promised Resource Page
Life Recovered (Resources for Ministers)
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Read More about Treatment of Mercy
May we seek to treat those suffering from mental illness medically, spiritually, and relationally, as we support them within our communities as treasured ones, loved by Christ.
Read More about When Help Isn’t Help :: Readers’ Choice
May we understand that times of trial and hardship will come into our lives. May we listen to understand, and when we do respond, may it be with sincerity and sensitivity.
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