Posted in Important Conversations, MYF

Important Conversations: Mental Health

It took me several years to build up the self-advocacy skills necessary for getting academic accommodations. The counseling center at my high school, of course, couldn’t take my word for it; I needed the support of my teachers. Their report-backs painted the picture of a happy, healthy, functioning student. This didn’t surprise me.

If your kid is struggling, odds are, you won’t be able to tell. Now, that doesn’t mean your kid is lying to you. Quite the opposite. They are living truthfully into the type of person society most values: the one who hides their problems and puts on a happy face. Schools especially push kids into this role by valuing tangible achievements (High grades, sports trophies, college acceptance letters) over mental health and emotional well-being.

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If I hadn’t spoken up for myself, my teachers and my parents would not have known something was wrong. But I’m lucky. Many kids are taught not to speak up when something’s wrong, so I’d like to take this opportunity to suggest ways you can get the conversation going:

  • Emphasize what’s important. It was far easier for me to take care of my mental health when I knew my parents weren’t going to judge me for expressing negative emotions like sadness and fear. They knew that handling my anxiety was more important than school (and more important than maintaining the image of the happy, functioning student), and verbally reminded me of that. Friends of mine whose parents didn’t take time to verbally acknowledge this often struggled.
  • Teach your kids how to ask for help. This doesn’t seem like a skill you’d need to teach, but when so much of society is sending the opposite message, it really is. Let your kids know that there’s no shame in asking for help, and though it may seem hard at first, it will pay off in the long run.
  • Everyone has a limit. In the same way that we fill our plates with more than we can eat, kids often fill their schedules with more than they can handle. It’s important that kids know dropping an activity doesn’t make them a failure, or signing up for less things than other students isn’t worth feeling bad about.
  • God loves you for who you are, not for your GPA. Bring God into the conversation. Often times, stress comes when you live your life trying to impress teachers, parents, friends, and society. There’s nothing wrong with wanting people to like you, but at the end of the day, the only person you need to look good for is God.

And when is a good time to talk about mental health? All the time! It doesn’t need to be just one conversation. It doesn’t even need to have a serious, “we need to talk” tone. It can be while you’re out at dinner, in the car, at the beach, anywhere and anytime. It should be ongoing. Sequestering mental health into specific scenarios doesn’t do much to fight the stigma. Talk about mental health as often as you talk about the weather. Normalize it. Make it a frequent family discussion topic. Society’s attitude towards mental health won’t change overnight, but rather, gradually with each healthy and open conversation.

 

Posted in Inside Out Series, MYF

Where Your Treasure Is

The Youth Room was locked. The KFC was on its way. And one of the kids said the Bible was boring.

Thus begins Sunday night’s adventure, which found us gathered in a sanctuary alcove with colorful pens and the unfamiliar word of God.

The discussion began with why we’ve come to see the Bible as boring. Some of our answers:

  • It’s long
  • It’s old, and isn’t relevant to today
  • It can be difficult to read and understand

I remember thinking the same things. The Bible is revered as this special, truthful, and powerful book (and rightfully so), but putting it on a pedestal have a cost? What if the pedestal is too high for some of us to reach?

We have to put the Bible in our hands before we can put it in our hearts, and that begins by studying those shorter, interesting, and easily applicable verses. One example is Matthew 6:21, which we discussed as part of our lesson on joy:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

tumblr_naz1buY4JX1svej5no1_1280.pngThe author of Matthew isn’t just talking about happiness here. We all know stuff can make us happy in a temporary sense. And that’s okay. But the Bible is talking now about joy, something far more permanent than happiness, and joy doesn’t come from stuff. In fact, if we hold material stuff as our treasure, we are giving up our hearts to that stuff, not to joy. When we claim our treasure to be our friendships, our passions, and our ability to do good in the world, that’s how we give our hearts to joy.

Not so long, not so irrelevant, not so difficult to read. Practical advice that may be hard to follow at times but can enrich our lives beyond belief. And the Bible is full of verses like Matthew 6:21 – you just have to know where to look. (Or whom to ask!)

Photo Credit

Posted in Inside Out Series, MYF

Joy vs. Happiness

The book of James tells us to find joy in our hardships. Sure, that’s a nice idea in concept, but when things actually get hard for us it seems ridiculous to be joyful. Our natural reactions to adversity can range from irritation to full on hopelessness, so it can seem insensitive that the Bible asks us to be happy.

That’s why it doesn’t.

joy-inside-out-bordersJames doesn’t tell us we can’t be sad when life hands us those proverbial lemons. He doesn’t tell us we can’t cry. He tells us to find joy, which is far different from happiness. When the sun shines after days of rain, we are happy. When we hit only green lights on the way to work, we are happy. When get an A on that exam we didn’t think went too well, we are happy, if only for a moment. That’s they key: happiness lasts for a moment. Our mood for the day is often shaped by how many happy moments we have. But joy? That’s something different. Something bigger.

James 1:2-3 explains,

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

Joy in the face of trials does not mean happiness in the face of trials. If you’re happy about what’s going on, can you even call it a trial? Do happy moments produce endurance? No, it is those difficult, horrible, crushing moments that lead to endurance. And that is something worth being joyful about.

Tonight at MYF we’ll explore what the Bible says about joy, how we can nurture it in our own lives, and how it greatly differs from happiness. Check back soon to see what we find!

Posted in Inside Out Series, MYF, Uncategorized

Another look at WWJD

What would Jesus do?

It’s the kind of question invoked in moral or ethical dilemmas to guide us in a Christlike direction. It’s deeply tied to that soft, mainstream Jesus whose ministry is built on quiet and gentle peace. Love your neighbor, love your enemies, be a good person. But sometimes when you ask “What Would Jesus Do?” the answer is: “flip a table.”

Of course the ministry of Jesus is tied to peace and love, but it also advocates for the loud and disruptive fight against injustice. This past Sunday, MYF explored different mentions of anger in the Bible, and here’s what we came up with:

  • Feel your anger, but don’t let it lead you to sin (Ephesians 4:27)
  • Surrounding yourself with angry people could have a negative influence on your character (Proverbs 22:24-35)
  • God is slow to anger but quick to forgive, and we should be the same (Psalm 103:8, James 1:19-20)
  • Some things are worth getting angry over (Mark 3:1-5, Matthew 21:12-13)
  • Don’t let anger stop you from listening (Proverbs 14:29)

The key story of last night’s program was found in Matthew 21, in which Jesus gets angry at corrupt business dealings within the temple:

Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  He said to them, ‘It is written,“My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’

We talked about what our table-flipping moments are today. What’s worth getting angry about now that con men selling doves in the temple isn’t really an issue? MYF members recognized similar signs of injustice in 21st century USA, and discussed how our anger can be channeled in the form of protest signs and rally cries.

In those times when it would be easier to remain quiet and removed from the brokenness of the world, we must remember that our role model as Christians did the exact opposite: he stormed right into the center of injustice and unapologetically flipped a table.

Next week at MYF we’ll be talking about joy. What does the Bible say about joy and how we can obtain it? What’s the difference between joy and happiness? And how can we continue applying the ancient stories in the Bible to our 21st century lives?

Posted in Inside Out Series, MYF

Reading the Bible Inside Out

What’s the point of reading the Bible? There are the stories we learn in Sunday School, like Noah’s Ark and  Adam & Eve, but what do those have to do with our everyday, 21st century lives? Sometimes the Bible can seem like nothing but a collection of ancient stories that don’t really do much for us today.

But there’s an important aspect of human nature that hasn’t changed since the time the Bible was written: emotions. We might not need the story of Moses to tell us not to eat shrimp anymore, but Moses was a person with complicated feelings just like us: he was scared, angry, and insecure. The Bible is filled with characters and stories that address the full spectrum of human emotions, and reading these parts of the Bible can help us each and every day.

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Six weeks of exploring what the Bible has to do with our everyday emotions

This semester’s curriculum highlights some of the key emotions we all feel and sometimes struggle with. The Bible is a handy guide for how to cope with difficult emotions like fear and sadness, just as relevant today as when it was written. This week, we’ll be talking about anger.

Perhaps the most famous line about anger in the Bible is Psalm 103:8, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” But what about those times when God does get angry? And did you know that one time, Jesus got so angry he flipped a table? And what does the Bible have to say about those times when anger is justified? What do we do with our anger?

When you can get past the occasionally archaic language of the Bible, it can actually be a really helpful companion for navigating the complicated range of emotions we experience throughout our lives. Last week, MYF tackled the times when disgust shows up in society, and how Jesus challenges us to shed our biases and welcome everyone to the table of God. The next five weeks will give us the skills to use the Bible as a source of guidance when we’re angry, joyful, and everything in between.

Posted in Live the Bible

Living the Bible

Written by Patrick Landau, our youth director.

On Sunday, I preached a sermon in which my basic point was that sharing our faith is more about living out what Jesus teaches and sharing how that affects us than about heaven or hell.  I heard from one of the Sunday school teachers that some of the youth were interested in picking out a verse to try to live out each week.

Since the Bible is rather long and it might be hard to know where to start, I am going to write a few posts over the next month that will hopefully be helpful.  Let’s start by looking at the book of James found near the end of the New Testament.  James is a great practical book as it mostly deals with how Christians are supposed to act and treat each other.  It’s also five relatively short chapters, so it easy to read through.

Try this week to take one verse from the book of James and live it out.  It can be connected to the themes or passages below or something completely different.

Important Themes:

Watch your mouth! There are several verses that deal with how we are supposed to speak and use words.  James tells us to be quick to listen, that it is important to control what comes out of our mouths, and to follow through on the things we promise.

Rich and poor. James is pretty clear in saying that among Christians there should be no discrimination between rich and poor.  Selfish ambition is greatly criticized in the letter, and there is a specific admonition against rich people who are trying to cheat people by not paying them for their work.

Faith needs action. Probably the most well known passage in the book is James 2:17, which says that faith without works is dead.  In this passage and repeated later, James makes it clear that our faith is something to live out through our actions.  We cannot just wish people well and ignore their needs and consider ourselves to be good, religious people.

Miscellaneous. There is also some stuff about learning from hard times, praying, temptation, making plans, and some strange thing about Elijah at the end.

Popular passage:

“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” -James 2:15-17 (NRSV)

Random verse I didn’t know was there:

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, and peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” -James 3:18 (NRSV)