Mental Health & The Way of Jesus

For Christians, Jesus of Nazareth is our Lord and Savior as well as the blueprint for holy, righteous living. More than this, Jesus is also a perfect model of emotional and mental well-being. As the mental and emotional health of our society seems to be constantly deteriorating, we need examples such as Jesus to guide us. Let’s examine some of the many ways that Jesus exemplified great mental health.

Jesus Expressed His Emotions Appropriately
God created us to have emotions, and the fully human Jesus expressed a comprehensive range of emotion in his lifetime. The one emotion we probably most associate with Jesus is love. The Bible provides specific examples of Jesus loving certain individuals, such as his disciples (John 15:12), Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 11:5), and even the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). He also expressed compassion toward those who were downcast spiritually and physically (Matthew 9:36; 14:14). Jesus felt joy at the spreading of the gospel (Luke 10:21) and by knowing what would be accomplished through his crucifixion and resurrection (Hebrews 12:2).

The one emotion we probably most associate with Jesus is love

Jesus also felt “negative” emotions. He expressed sorrow and openly wept at the death of Lazarus (John 11:35) and the many who rejected him (Luke 19:41). He even suffered anguish over his impending crucifixion (Luke 22:44). Jesus got annoyed at his disciples (Mark 10:14) and showed anger toward the stubborn religious leaders (Mark 3:5) and corrupt moneylenders in the temple (John 2:13-17).

Why are these examples significant? Jesus does not bottle up his emotions, which can cause harmful stress. Jesus also does not lash out with his emotions, instead expressing each one appropriately, even the “negative” ones such as sorrow and anger. As Christians, we are not called to be cold and emotionless, but we must be in control of our emotions and not let them cause us to act rashly.

Jesus Had Friends

There’s a joke that Jesus’s greatest miracle was having twelve close friends in his thirties. Sadly, many people lack close, meaningful friendships, and making friends may get harder as we get older. But having friends is important to positive mental health, as they offer us love, support, and comfort. When Jesus began his ministry, he gathered a band of twelve men who would be his closest disciples. These men were not simply followers or coworkers, however; he loved them and called them his friends (John 15:15). He even had an inner circle of friends—Peter, James, and John (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). Jesus was God in the flesh, but he still depended on his disciples for their support in his most difficult time (Matthew 26:3638).

We were designed to flourish in a community. From the very beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded not to neglect meeting together but to encourage each other (Hebrews 10:2425). Being part of a Christian community has spiritual benefits, but it also offers mental and emotional benefits as well. Friends increase a sense of belonging, purpose, self-confidence, and self-worth. Friends also help decrease stress and anxiety.

Jesus Sought Solitude and Rest
As important as it is to be surrounded with friends and family, it is also important to seek solitude to recharge. The first chapter of Mark contains many rapid-fire events in Jesus’s early ministry: being baptized, calling his disciples, preaching, healing the sick, and casting out demons. But in the midst of this action-packed chapter, there is an important break: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35). Mark did not need to include this. He could have kept up with the action. But he didn’t, because this is an important aspect of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus was not a non-stop workaholic; even he needed to rest. He broke away from the crowds who desperately sought his teaching and healing to recover and recharge, as noted in Luke 5:1516.

Jesus was not a non-stop workaholic; even he needed to rest

Jesus also commanded his followers to rest. Jesus had sent out his disciples to preach and heal the sick. When they returned, he commanded them to go to a secluded place to rest (Mark 6:3032). God modeled this for us when he rested on the seventh day of creation, and then built a Sabbath rest into the life of the Israelites. Constant work with no rest is detrimental to our health, both physical and mental. In our fast-paced age of constant messages and notifications, we need time to block out the noise and focus. We may even need a break from the non-stop thoughts in our own minds that causes fear and anxiety. We need solitude and rest.

Jesus Taught Contentment
One of the many things that Jesus modeled and taught is contentment. When a man asked Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute, Jesus responded, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Later in the same chapter, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes” (12:2223). In the parable of the sower, Jesus warns, “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). So many people trouble themselves by chasing the new and exciting, which only leads to stress and anxiety. It saps our time and resources, which could be spent on more fruitful things. But, contentment delivers peace. It frees us from the worry of constantly pursuing the next thing. As the saying goes, money can’t buy happiness. If you wish to be happier, follow Jesus’s commands and practice contentment.

So many people trouble themselves by chasing the new and exciting, which only leads to stress and anxiety

Jesus Offers Forgiveness
Integral to Jesus’s mission was to save us and offer forgiveness for our sins (Luke 1:77). In the famous Lord’s Prayer, Jesus prayed to the Father for the forgiveness of our debts (Matthew 6:12), and then he taught his disciples that they must forgive others in the same manner (6:1415). Forgiveness is central to Christianity, as God’s forgiveness restores our relationship with him, and forgiveness of others restores our relationship with our friends and family. But aside from healing relationships, what does forgiveness do for us personally? It releases us of anger, resentment, and anxietyall of which can eat away at our mental health. Forgiveness brings us peace and increased self-esteem. Unforgiveness makes it harder to enter new relationships and makes us suspicious of others, as we may carry our anger and bitterness with us and take it out on others. Forgiveness does the opposite, helping us to form new, healthy relationships, and relationships offer their own mental and emotional benefits, as discussed above.

These are just a few ways in which Jesus modeled and taught good mental and emotional health. While many of the things listed above are primarily spiritual disciplines, they have the added benefit of improving our mental and emotional lives as well. When the cares of life weigh us down, when we feel depressed and anxious, let us turn to Christ’s example on how to find peace. Furthermore, let us turn to Christ himself to grant us peace:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – Philippians 4:67