How do people change? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, both in terms of general ‘spiritual growth’ and particularly in relation to the ever-growing amount of people in our culture that struggle with mental health issues – depression, anxiety, and ADD. Thanks to Dallas Willard (I’ve been listening to an awesome Christian Audio recording of him reading his Renovation of the Heart) I’ve been reconsidering what had been tired old biblical bromides:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge God and God will make your paths straight. (Proverbs)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans)
How is it that our minds re-pattern, and our brains and bodies re-form? Scientists tell us that every cell in our bodies dies and is replaced with new cellular life every 12 months; it seems like we’re constantly being born again.
If what we essentially are is a pattern of in-formation and not ‘matter,’ how might what we meditate upon effect who we are? I’ve been thinking about this anew while reading up on an organization that exists to help soldiers rebuild their lives after the insanity of war.
“I have ptsd. i know when i got it — the night i killed an 8-year-old girl. her family was trying to cross a checkpoint. we’d just shot three guys who’d tried to run a checkpoint. and during that mess, they were just trying to get through to get away from it all. and we ended up shooting all them, too. it was a family of six. the only one that survived was a 13-month-old and her mother. and the worst part about it all was that where i shot my bullets, when i went to see what i’d shot at, there was an 8-year-old girl there. i tried my best to bring her back to life, but there was no use. but that’s what triggered my depression.
when i got out of the army, i had 10 days to get off base. there was no reintegration counselling. as soon as i got back, nobody gave a f — about anything except that piece of paper that said i got everything out of my room. i got out of the army, and everything went to s— from there.” – Army Veteran, Michael
American troops are taking their own lives in the largest numbers since records began to be kept in 1980. The army suicide rate is now higher than that among the general American population, calculated as 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, compared with 19.5 per 100,000 civilians. In response to this, an organization called CBE launched 411God Hope for the Heroes, a high-touch, high-tech suicide prevention tool specifically designed to reach at-risk service men and women with daily 60-second inspirational mobile phone messages.
Can a scripture a day help keep the demons away from the over 300,000 active soldiers currently suffering from PTSD? The Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) says “unequivocally yes.”
Dr. Arnie Cole, a former mental health professional and CBE’s Director of Research & Development, conducted extensive research on the link between behavior and Bible reading including a 5-year study concluding that those who read or listen to the Bible at least four times a week are more likely to successfully navigate societal ills: emotional sickness, marital problems, drug dependency—all issues suffered greater by PTSD sufferers.
War is hell. Stories like this prove it:
“i had all these images floating around in my dreams, nighttime was the worst. i missed my buddies, i felt like i had abandoned them. i had been so excited to be out, i’d done my time, and it was over. i didn’t anticipate the extreme loneliness and loss of purpose i would feel. i couldn’t fall asleep without putting back a bottle of jack. i needed to numb out in order to not… think. i wasn’t sure where to turn; i felt i would scare my friends and family if they knew what i was going through. a lot of my friends from the service were going through the same thing … and we’d talk … sometimes. but it’s hard when we’re all so far away from each other. i signed up for 411God, sorta on a whim, never realizing the impact it would have–it brought me hope. i started to get strength from that little phone call each day to start looking for a job, to move home and to share a little of what was going on in my head. it’s not over. i still have horrible days, but now i have something else to think about besides my time overseas, i have something that gives me hope.” – private 1 st class, Jason.
Now if you’re like me, you’re thinking “It can’t be that simple.” And of course, it isn’t – as Jason here says, he still has horrible days. But I think it’s important for us highly-educated, nonviolent activist, psychologically-savvy NPR-listening types to realize that some things aren’t overly complicated. The repetition of inspiring or comforting passages of Scripture can have a restorative, reprogramming effect on our minds and our lives. While we should all continue to work for the swords of the military-industrial complex to be beat into the plowshares of sustainable communities, but let’s not neglect one of the important human faces of war: Returning soldiers. Befriending them, getting to know them, being willing to sit with them in uncomfortable silence: This is the ultimate high-touch restorative tool.