God Cares About My Mental Health

August 8, 2021   Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Lectionary: 116)

Reading I   1 Kgs 19:4-8
Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it.
He prayed for death saying:
“This is enough, O LORD!
Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,
but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.
Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water.
After he ate and drank, he lay down again,
but the angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”
He got up, ate, and drank;
then strengthened by that food,
he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Responsorial Psalm   Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Glorify the LORD with me,
Let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy.
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the afflicted man called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Reading II   Eph 4:30—5:2
Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.

Alleluia   Jn 6:51
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven, says the Lord;
whoever eats this bread will live forever.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel   Jn 6:41-51
The Jews murmured about Jesus because he said,
“I am the bread that came down from heaven, ”
and they said,
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?
Do we not know his father and mother?
Then how can he say,
‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Stop murmuring among yourselves.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They shall all be taught by God.
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.
Not that anyone has seen the Father
except the one who is from God;
he has seen the Father.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes has eternal life.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

By Jenna McAndrew 

God cares about my mental health.

I feel as though the term “mental health” is looked down upon by Catholics or Christians, as if it is made up or something that can be solved by simply “praying harder.” Today’s first reading clearly shows us that mental health is a biblical issue and that God cares about it.

Before the events of the first reading, Elijah ends a drought in Samaria by challenging the prophets of a false god named Baal to a fire duel (see Elijah 18); Elijah would call upon the LORD to light his bonfire, and the prophets of Baal would call upon him, and thus all the people would know whose god is real. As always, the LORD is victorious and lights Elijah’s fire while the prophets of Baal’s fire remains unlit. Elijah captures and kills the prophets of Baal, and this unsurprisingly irks King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, and she threatens to kill Elijah as he killed the prophets of Baal, so Elijah runs for his life into the wilderness, where we meet him in the first reading.

Why is Elijah in so much distress?

Obviously, he is being pursued by a powerful king who wants to murder him, but this is hardly the first time someone has wanted to kill Elijah. Maybe he’s also completely exhausted from taking on several intelligent prophets, or maybe he just murdered a bunch of people. Yes, the LORD showed himself and was victorious over a false god. Elijah “won.” But that’s not enough to keep Elijah from going into suicidal despair. Victory, success, money, and even joy are not always enough to sustain mental health.

Just because things seem to be going well for someone doesn’t mean we know the whole story.

Yes, Elijah appears the victor, but that doesn’t mean he is OK.

As Elijah is praying that God ends His life, God gives him what he needs.
Elijah takes a nap.
Elijah eats something.
Elijah drinks some water.
Elijah takes another nap.
Elijah eats another snack.
Elijah drinks some more water.
That’s it.

After a single day’s journey on the run, Elijah is ready to throw in the towel, and yet this simple solution sustains him for 40 days. I’m not saying that sleep, a snack, and water are enough to rid someone of suicidal thoughts. But these things can provide CLARITY, what Elijah needed most in that moment.

This was all he needed for him to realize that just maybe he could go on.

Notice how God does not speak directly to Elijah in this encounter, nor does He scold him for his prayer for death. He cares for Elijah. That’s all.

Again, naps, food, and water are certainly not enough to heal someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. But what we can learn from this reading is that in moments when we are in the depths of despair, when we are ready to give up on life or trying, sometimes we just really need rest and nourishment.

God wants us to have that.

It is important to God that we are getting enough sleep, that we’re drinking enough water every day (half your body weight in ounces, people!), and that we are eating good, healthy foods that nurture our bodies and minds, but also not punishing ourselves for indulging once in a while in something sweet or greasy. It's a scientific fact that dehydration and lack of nutrition can affect your brain and your organs.

So in the moments when I feel like I’m about to bite someone’s head off, I want to just lay down and give up, or I want to start crying in public or at work for whatever reason, maybe God is just telling me to take a nap, drink some water, and have a snack.


Jenna McAndrew is the Director of Parish Services at a parish outside of Philadelphia and the host of A Shower of Roses, a weekly podcast which provides an explanation of the upcoming Sunday’s Mass readings. She has her Master’s degree in Religious and Pastoral Studies.  Jenna lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her wonderful, saintly husband, Paul.  She loves corgis, coffee, guitar, and writing music.  Follow her here or listen here.

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