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What the Life of Jesus Christ Teaches Us about Mental Health

December 23, 2020
Posted By: Magna Porterfield, Ph.D. (Psychologist)

It’s the Christmas holidays! This holiday season is one of the rare times when the world focuses on Jesus. It is wonderful that He came and was born as a baby  - to bring us salvation. However, in addition to His birth what is also equally important is His life.  There is much we can learn if we reflect on how Jesus lived.  One aspect of his life that will be the focus of this article is his health – particularly, mental health.  Jesus was the most calm, peaceful, content, happy person who ever lived on this earth.  A review of his life (as written in the Bible) reveals some interesting ingredients for optimal mental health.  Here are a few of them:

  1. Jesus was humble. “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men. ” (Phil. 2:4, 5)
    Jesus taught his disciples about humility. He told them things such as “The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve,” which he exhibited when he washed their feet. Interestingly, psychologists have recently begun to look at humility. They’ve found that people who are humble:
    • Have better social relationships
    • Avoid deception in their social interactions
    • Tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative
  2. Jesus lived a life of service. His service was not self-motivated.  Some people are burned out or have overworked themselves and if you peel down to the core, it is about self.  They do things so others will like them, approve them or not get angry at them.  Jesus served others because he truly loved them and desired their good.
  3. Jesus was compassionate. Compassion literally means, “to suffer together.” It is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
    The Bible tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion” when he saw people suffering spiritually and physically (and probably even emotionally).
    Some research findings on compassion tell us that:
    • Compassionate people are more optimistic and supportive when communicating with others
    • Compassionate people are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness
    • Compassion helps make caring parents
    • Compassion helps us feel less vindictive
    • Compassion helps us be more resilient to stress
  4. Jesus lived a life of self-denial/self-sacrifice. This is different to what we are taught – to focus on the needs of self, how to please self, and how to gratify self. Jesus lived just the opposite to this. He often put aside his needs, his feelings, his desires to serve and help others.
  5. Jesus was a forgiving person.  Even on the cross he displayed a forgiving spirit toward those who had mistreated and crucified him.
    There is a lot of research now that reveals that forgiveness leads to better mental health. For example, in one study, researchers implemented programs that focused on teaching forgiveness to adolescents. The results revealed that this increased their positive feelings and reduced depression, anger and hostility, and stress.
  6. Jesus trusted God. In spite of the difficulties he faced, the opposition directed against him, he trusted God.  This helped him to deal with difficulties and to experience an inner peace that was not swayed by outside circumstances. 

There are many other aspects of Jesus’s life that contributed to his overall mental health.  Do you want to experience better mental and emotional functioning? Making a decision to practice some of the things that Jesus practiced will help you achieve that goal. It will not be easy because much of how He lived went against the “norms” of the world.  But, if you commit to doing things differently, taking one step at a time, you will find that you too will experience more peace, joy, contentment, and even happiness. 

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