Sorry I haven’t written a Mission Fortnight for a long time. Work got kinda crazy the last few months and I couldn’t get to this part of my job. But I’m back. Today’s Fortnight considers the basics of mental health appraisal and management. The most functional diagnosis and treatment paradigm I am aware of did not come from one of my graduate courses in counseling. The orienting framework that most comes to mind as I conceptualize any case are the words: The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
You’ve all heard that expression used in the context of someone who would like to help but is just too tired to pull it off. The saying is actually more than a clichéd excuse. Many of you know that Jesus spoke these words in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal. You can read the entire passage in Mark 14 and Matthew 26. The context is Jesus’ requesting the disciples to watch with Him as He prepared for His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. The disciples were unable to stay awake and dozed as Jesus suffered great torment in His spirit as He anticipated the horrors of the cross. Undeniably, the disciples were tired. Their physiology, especially their central nervous systems, were weakened by the stress and excitement of the travel, the crowds, the city, the Passover, and the intense drama surrounding Jesus’ final week. Combined with the late night air after a big meal that included wine, their spirits said, “Stay awake with the Lord” but their nervous systems said, “It’s time to shut down.” Brain science is certainly more complex than this simple formula but we’ll save that discussion of neural circuitry, neurotransmitters, dendrites and axons for another Fortnight.
The “spirit willing, flesh weak” dynamic is my most common case scenario in missions. I see people who are extremely willing to serve the Lord with their whole hearts and live obedient lives but often come up against the limitations of their flesh. Most want to believe that their brains are spiritual entities with limitless capacity and function. Sorry. Brains are finite. They are made out of the same dirt (Genesis 2:7, 3:19) as the rest of us. The brain functions by the same laws of fatigue, restoration, decline, misuse, disuse and abuse as any of our other body parts. When we push any body part too hard with no recovery time, that part begins to break down. And boy, do I see a lot of exhausted and shaky nervous systems in the course of my work week.
So, treatment often involves nervous system recovery and management. People working with half their nervous systems tied behind their backs gain little benefit from insight oriented counseling. However, if they will get practical rest and medical support for their nervous systems then we can start to examine and challenge the nuances of the spirit.
You may wonder: Does Tim ever see people with good strong flesh but impaired spirits? Oh yes. These people are physically sound but absolutely unwilling to respond to the demands of godly living. You see that dynamic in the disciples when the mob showed up in the garden. Their nervous systems were given a jolt of adrenaline that over ruled the sleep messages and their flesh was strengthened. Sadly, even though their brains were fully online, their spirits were not. Flesh was willing, spirit was weak and they ran away. From time to time I also see some good strong spirits and resilient nervous systems. These are the cases that make me look brilliant as a counselor.
So, if a check of your soul’s willingness to do the right thing and it’s squared away, you’ll also want to check your brain to see if it’s up to the task. Take good care of that central nervous system and it will take care of you. No excuses, folks. Just remember what you’re made of.
And remember: It’s fortnight, for Heaven’s sake. Get out there and git ‘er done…if you feel up to it.