Four years ago a publisher approached me about a percolating idea for a book project. They suggested pairing me with a psychologist to write a book targeting the epidemic of depression and suicidality in our culture, from a Christian perspective. I’d already been exploring the interplay between whole-person health and whole-hearted discipleship in a previous book proposal that generated interest from publishers but never got a green light. Simply, I had no “credentials” and no formal training as a mental-health professional, so the vision for this work died on the vine. Twice.
And then, out of the blue, I get a call from a publisher asking to set up a “blind date” over the phone with Dr. Daniel Emina, Associate Medical Director of the Amen Clinics in Southern California. We quickly hit it off, and agreed to partner on this two-year project. Our mission was to explore scientific best-practices related to depression and suicide prevention, filtered through the life and teachings of Jesus. The end result is The Suicide Solution, published during the first year of the pandemic, when the mental health crisis in the U.S. morphed into a national emergency.
As Daniel and I neared the end of our writing process, the publisher wanted our input on a title for the book. Among many contenders, The Suicide Solution won out—but Daniel was never comfortable with that title. Instead, he advocated for a title that would be less dark and brazen: A Way to Live. At the time, I told Daniel that his preferred title sounded too generic and vague. But in the years since the book came out, I’ve often wondered if I made a mistake. Daniel believes, and I agree, that we are called by Jesus into a life so vigorous and whole that it forms a bulwark against depression. Jesus modeled a whole-person way of living—an intentionality in both our “hardware” (our biological health) and our “software” (our spiritual and soul health). As disciples of Jesus, our focus in life is not to fight suicidality, but to add fuel to the fire of life. Jesus has come to show us how to live, and offers us the strength and encouragement to do it.
The last two-thirds of the book is a series of chapters that target these whole-healthy “ways of Jesus.” All of them capture the way He lived among His followers, but also reflect the best practices of our emerging understanding of depression, anxiety, and suicidality. I created a short overview of these whole-healthy ways of living, all of them embedded in the way Jesus lives. Here is that short overview—a snapshot resource for your personal life, and for those you influence and counsel…
1: Engaging the Body—There are powerful connections between physical movement and emotional health. So lean toward…
- Active instead of passive activities.
- Things that make you sweat—physically.
- Screen-away time—family walks, bike rides, hikes, ping-pong, croquet, etc.
- “Machine-Free”—things that require bodily movement without devices or machines that do the work for you.
- Play as warfare—throw a frisbee, play fetch, jump on a trampoline, go roller skating or bowling to fight back against the gravitational pull toward depression.
2: Immerse In the Natural World—The Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of our connection to the natural world (Romans 1)—God has embedded his character, personality, and goodness in all of creation. Jesus invites us to “practice the presence” of nature, including…
- Walking in nature, away from concrete and asphalt—dog-walking, biking, stream-exploring, picnicking, scavenger hunt, or stay-cations that include “local“ hikes in natural places.
- Explore mountain/nature hiking trails—go to alltrails.com and search for your state and region.
- Eat outside as often as possible—many restaurants now offer outdoor seating, so when the weather permits, enjoy your meal outside.
- When possible, forego outdoor home-care services—instead of hiring a lawn service, create a list of outdoor family chores, creating opportunities for soul-cleansing hard work while exposed to the healing impact of nature.
- Walk/Bike instead of drive—when visiting friends or family, or simple errands that are close by, substitute your mode of transportation.
3: Pay Attention to the Present—Our obsessions about the future and the past drive us into the darkness—a fixation on the present moment offers us light.
- Do hard things—when the thing you’re doing requires all of your attention, it forces your focus onto the present.
- Life does not begin when you get admitted to the school of your choice or your dream career—pay ridiculous attention to the people, blessings, and experiences of the now. Savor more.
- Ask more questions of people, be more curious about your surroundings, pursue more deeply those interests and hobbies that capture you.
4: Changing the Interior Narrative—We sink or swim according to the narratives we embrace and perpetuate about ourselves—we need to leaen how to tell a better (and truer) story about who we really are.
- Expose our interior narrative to the light—talk to someone about the conversation you’re having with yourself. Ask yourself “why” questions, over and over…
- Compare the messages and beliefs of your interior narrative with the messages and beliefs of the Kingdom of God, as revealed by Jesus (Matthew 5 is a good start). Pay ridiculous attention to what Jesus says and does, and why He says and does the things He does.
- Invite others to offer “truth sonar” to our soul—let trusted people mirror back to us the truth. And make it the norm to tell your own interior story—your narrative of struggle and challenge.
- Recognize: The beliefs we embrace are the beliefs we become.
5: Fighting Darkness with Light—Our physical environment really matters—here are simple ways to impact your emotional health by changing your surroundings.
- More incandescent and warm lighting in your home.
- More candlelight.
- No screens in bedrooms of your kids—phones, iPads, TV, computer.
- Take “light breaks” that expose you to sunlight.
6: Looking Out Instead of In—Outward-focused habits of generosity can keep us from descending into rutted patterns of destruction.
- Get a pet to take care of (or volunteer for pet rescue or horse therapy)
- Develop family habits of service.
- Invite exposure to people of need (refugees, special needs, learning impaired, the poor), and fuel your curiosity about their stories.
- Establish family chores—work together with house cleaning, garage cleaning, lawn care, and gardening.
Important Announcement: I’m inviting you to join me for our next FREE Vibrant Faith Webinar – targeting the results from the ongoing multi-million-dollar EPIC study that researchers with the Hartford Institute for Religion Research are conducting. We’ll explore those results with the Co-Investigator of the study, Dr. Alison Norton. The date is May 18th, Noon (Eastern Time) on Zoom. When you sign up, you’ll receive an email with a Zoom link the week of the seminar. REGISTER HERE!
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following Jesus. He’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.