Looking Up - The Key to Emotional Survival
I turned the corner only to stop dead in my tracks, stunned by the scene before me: white drifts of snow rolling on like an endless sea. There was no road, not even a hint of one! The sun's rays reflected on the new fallen snow in such a way that all landscaping disappeared!
I could not go forward, I did not know where to drive! I could not turn around and go back, people were expecting me! I sat in silence for what seemed an eternity, thoughts swirling in my head.
If I continued on, would I even get there? How would I know if I was on the road? If something happened to me, what would I do? There was no one around for miles! I bowed my head and prayed, "Dear Father, please help me!" Not a minute later, I heard an audible voice say, "Look up."
I turned around, expecting to see who had spoken, but there was no one. With tears running down my face, I looked again at the scene before me. There, on either side of the road, was the faint outline of a fence. If I simply kept between the fence lines, I would be on the road. I continued forward, arriving at my destination safely.
Have you ever felt that all was lost, that you could not go on?
Fiery flying serpents
The words, "Look up and live" remind me of a situation the children of Israel had that is recorded in Numbers, Chapter 21 of the Old Testament (KJV). They had been wandering a long time in the wilderness and were discouraged. Day after day, all they had to eat was the small white bread called "manna," which they gathered every morning. To make matters worse, they had run out of water.
The scripture tells us that the people began to murmur and complain against Moses. They regretted having left the comforts of Egypt, and wanted something more than manna to eat. The Lord's response was to send "fiery serpents" among the people. Those that were bitten died.
When the children of Israel realized that they were being destroyed, they pleaded with Moses, apologizing for their folly, and repenting of their complaining ways. Moses was instructed to make a "serpent of brass," which he hoisted on a pole. The people were told that when they were bitten, all they had to do was to look on the brass serpent, and they would live. Those who did survived.
...and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.— I Nephi 17:41*
The serpents of our day
The fiery flying serpents we face in our day are just as powerful, and just as deadly. Depression, rage, anxiety, guilt, and other negative self-esteems are all around us (see Fighting Dragons). Like cancer of the soul, they eat away at the very core of our being, leaving us feeling that there is no hope, and no reason to go on living.
The Christian perspective teaches us that if we but look up, we will live. Our faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice are the balm that heals the wounded soul, the manna from heaven that if we will but eat, our souls will be filled. As a result, many people mistakenly believe that a Christian person with strong faith will never succumb to mental illness. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The dragons of mental illness blind us with irrational belief systems, sear our souls with the fires of unworthiness, and wound us with the sharp teeth of distorted thought patterns. Once in this state of weakness, we are thrown into a pit of despair, where dark caves of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-hatred fill us with shame and guilt, leaving no hope for salvation.
The horror of mental illness for the Christian prevents seeking help and guidance, thinking that others can not and will not understand. The words, "Look up, and live" become a haunting ritual that others chant while we sink back for fear that others will think we are not Christian, since we are lacking in the very thing that will save us!
The video below tells the story of two young Christian men who fought the dragon of depression. One did not make it and the other nearly lost his life. Notice what the friends and family of the second young man did to help him have the strength to look up and live.
Mental illness affects everyone in society
In Valley of Sorrow: A Layman's Guide to Understanding Mental Illness for Latter-day Saints, author Alexander B. Morrison addresses myths about mental illness from a Christian perspective, as well as those specific to the LDS culture (LDS is the abbreviation for The Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons).
Morrison has first hand experience with mental illness in his own family. He explains specifically how the Christian is affected by depression, anxiety, and other common mental illnesses, and the difficulty associated with seeking medical assistance. I found this book to be very helpful during my own journey, and purchased copies for all of my family members. It is available in both print and Kindle editions.
Just as professional medical intervention is necessary for cancer of the body, professional medical treatment is necessary for cancer of the soul. We cannot heal ourselves from any type of chronic illness, and mental illness is no exception. If we or those we love are experiencing abuse, hallucinations, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, or thoughts of hurting ourselves or another person, it is time for medical intervention.
Choose health before sickness settles the score, choose life before death comes to knock at the door. Choose to give before a request is made, choose to bring sunshine into the shade.
Choose to call before its too late, choose to unlock your garden gate. Choose to forgive before repentance is shown, choose to enlist before time has flown.
Choose to be wise before gray hairs appear, choose to be kind to everyone near. Choose to follow, though you are in the lead, choose to help others when they are in need. Choose to be clean in body and mind, choose to bury any poison you find.
Make the choice. Prepare a plan. Leave nothing to chance, take a strong stand. Let others know what you believe before they assume that you'll take a reprieve. Go forward with faith there's a better world, and make it so by your deed and word.
Remember that there is room at the top, and not just for pails and a broom or a mop. Those who lead will be followed for sure, as others are looking for a pathway secure. Build a bridge to the other side and others will follow you right in stride.
Choose to be honest in all that you do, choose to see clearly a new point of view. Choose to be prepared before the storm, choose to step now outside of the norm.
Choose to teach others what they need to know before embarrassment steals the show. Choose to speak quietly before others shout, choose to have time before it has run out. Choose to learn before circumstances require, choose to sing peace before the funeral choir.
Emotional survival is choosing to look up
I found in my experience on that winter day that when I looked up, I was able to see things that I did not see before. My point of view broadened and my eyes focused in different things. Looking on the ground right in front of me, I could not see a path to follow. Shifting my gaze upward allowed me to see that there was a way.
Life around us is filled with circumstances that try our patience and our faith. We don't know which way to turn. Until we look up, we stumble on all the rocks and debris that are surrounding our feet. These trials and difficulties are hard. They force us to examine ourselves and make necessary changes, and sometimes that is painful.
Looking up gives us a long-term perspective. We are able to see beyond the trials, and have the motivation to make changes that are for the better. In essence, we turn the rocks and debris we were stumbling over into a pathway on which we can travel.
With the many medical advances we have in our day, mental illness is no longer a death sentence. When we, or someone we love, has the signs and symptoms that indicate we are in need of assistance, the sooner we get help, the better.
Looking up is getting help early. It allows us to see ourselves and those we love in the light that gives hope and security that there is a better world; the light that comes when we live for and with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Make the choice today, look up and live.
*I Nephi is found in The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Click here for an on-line copy.
**Poem "The Choice" by Denise W. Anderson.
© 2014 Denise W Anderson