Sunday, January 31, 2016

Mormon Musings: Does Prayer Cure Mental Illness?

This is a new series I hope to publish over the next few Sundays. I’ve made myself a goal of writing an article every day for my various freelance projects, and since Sunday is the day of rest, I figure I can explore recent statements by my church leaders on mental health while not running afoul of other promises I’ve made. It doesn’t indicate any sort of editorial shift on this blog. I’m Mormon. I’ve written about that before. No surprises here. Hopefully, you are tolerant, secular, and educated enough to handle diverse life-views.

Recently, there has been a spate of prayer shaming on social media. Otherwise rational individuals have suddenly begun to tell religious people how pointless prayer is in the face of tragedy. Because they are supported by like-minded peers, these humbugs are convinced that they represent rational thinking. But having a non-religious person pass judgement on religious behavior is akin to a meat-lovin’ hunter telling a vegetarian how pointless their diet is. I mean, it’s all free speech, right? Every one of them is entitled to speak their mind on any subject they please, just as I am now shaking my head publicly at them.

The urge on hearing your religious behavior mocked is, of course, to fight – to roll up our sleeves, put on the war paint, and jump into the fray. No? Not your urge? Well, it’s certainly mine, though my Native American ancestors were generally farmers and fishers from Cape Cod, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. I readily admit that I struggle with that whole turning the other cheek concept.

I recently came across a post by a fellow mental health blogger where she more or less tossed down the gauntlet that prayer is pointless because if there is a God, He gave you your mental illness, so why expect Him to remove it?

She’s close to a truth there, but we’ll come back to it in a bit. She also stated how she felt encouragements to pray were insulting because the proselytizers were assuming that she was religious, that she accepts faith as a process towards healing, and that she believes that praying to God isn’t just talking to herself.

Whooboy, did her blog comments light up.

Respecting others means not forcing your viewpoint on them

The thing is, she has a point. Well-meaning people in their zeal proclaim lots of things that they feel strongly about, and they’re generally insensitive about it, too. Prayer shaming is an example. Global warming alarmism, another (Don’t you know that if you don’t believe in man-made global warming, you’re a moron, no matter what facts you bring up?) Here are some others: Meat is murder. Mormons aren’t Christians. Taxing the 1% will fix all our problems. Removing taxes will fix all our problems. Dark chocolate makes you lose weight. Feel the Bern. OK, maybe not that last one. It’s not absolute enough.

I remember I used to have a reader who insisted that my tic disorder wasn’t caused by psychmeds, despite my doctor’s diagnosis and concern about side-effects. This reader would get quite incensed, then he’d quote the DSM-IV at me in an appeal to authority. It was annoying. So, I can feel for this blogging peer’s irritation.

I don’t agree with her for a minute on most of her statements regarding prayer, but I certainly appreciate that nobody likes having a belief system forced upon them. People of religion need to proselytize only to those who are hungry. Force feeding religion down people’s throats will just make them grumpy.

So, what was that truth she was close to?

There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon that I find very comforting.

Ether 12:27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

This is Christ explaining that we are indeed made flawed, but that if we turn to Him, He can make our weaknesses strengths. It’s a very beautiful sentiment, and one that I happen to believe.

So why hasn’t my ADHD, Depression, Chronic Motor Tic Disorder, and chronic illness been done away with? I’ve certainly prayed with belief. I’ve fasted and prayed. I’ve searched the Gospels. I’ve consulted religious leaders. I’ve received numerous priesthood blessings. I’ve even seen many miracles in my life, and yet my mental health problems still remain. That female blogger would have seen this as evidence that there is no God.

Here’s why this is not a crisis of faith for me.

When I pray, I no longer pray for a cure. The Spirit guides us to know what to pray for, and I have been given the strongest impression that this is my burden. Once I accepted that Heavenly Father wasn’t going miraculously heal me, I began to look inward for solutions, and that’s when my life began to improve. I prayed for strength. I prayed for wisdom. I prayed for inspiration. And I slowly took back control of my life. Our weaknesses are meant to be overcome, not removed.

Just because I cannot be healed doesn’t mean that my Father has abandoned me. Through prayer I have conquered my Panic Anxiety Disorder. Through prayer I learned the principles behind Cognitive Behavior Therapy before I knew the name. Through prayer I learned that my perspective was toxic and needed improving. Through prayer I learned that I was using ADHD to excuse my temper issues. Through prayer I became a better, stronger, more compassionate man. Each time I received an epiphany, prayer gave me faith that I could conquer my weaknesses. And so I did.

Now if only my list of weaknesses wasn’t so long. I may need the years of Methuselah to work them all out!

I am thankful for prayer. It is a deep period of inward reflection that is not dissimilar to Mindfulness or intense Yoga, and studies have shown that it is very, very effective as a coping strategy (Chapter 9 in my book). The blogger who inspired this post may not think much of prayer, but I can’t help her by going to war in her comments section. Instead, I share with you how I look at the matter just in case you have struggled with this issue on your own—within your own faith. Be kind to others who do not believe as you, and don’t let the cynicism of the world rattle you. If faith & prayer helps you be optimistic towards managing your mental health, don’t stop!