Like most primary care physicians, hardly a day goes by that I don’t see patients suffering from emotional distress. Be it anxiety, depression, or a combination of the two. Emotional distress of different shades and colors is one of the most common reasons people seek medical help.
It’s obvious that some people are better at coping and adjusting to life’s vicissitudes than others. For some it only takes a small matter, for others a near catastrophe. For many, they go through their day, and life, always expecting people and situations to act or develop as they believe they themselves would. I tell those who feel his way that if they get up every morning expecting the day’s encounters to be packaged in a box with a bow on top that they are going to be unhappy for a long time.
Over time, a physician, as would anyone in a given profession or trade, develops an internal sense of patterns, or common denominators, that come with particular and even general recurring conditions in their line of work.
The common denominator I’ve noticed, in general, with many people who have functionally impaired emotions is that their life seems to have an absence of something bigger or something beyond themselves. Specifically, the transcendent realm of life. It seems to have escaped them or perhaps was never in their life to begin with.
And so I often ask those with whom I sense this, “Do you have a spirituality in your life?” And frequently the answer is, “Well, do you mean do I believe in God? Well, yes, I believe in God.”
I reply, “Well, I mean something more than that. Even the devil and demons believe in God. But do you practice any kind of spirituality, like a regular exercise or discipline that enhances or cultivates a spiritual experience or development.”
There are many who are without any form of spiritual practice in their lives. And I’m not referring to that which monks and nuns practice. But it’s really no surprise, because the awareness of the Transcendent, God, spirit-things, the invisible beyond, can be counter cultural to us who live and swim in an ocean of materialism, self-interests, and commercialism. Not to mention how ingrained in culture are the notions of autonomy and individuality.
But, in my opinion, this Transcendent is what is lacking in a lot of people’s lives who continue to battle these emotional dragons. Now, this isn’t to say that those who are spiritually adept don’t suffer from emotional troubles. They indeed do. But in general, and as a group, I think this is the case.
In fact, there are studies that show that groups of people who do practice some sort of spirituality have less emotional challenges, see the doctor less, go to the hospital less, than those who lack a belief and practice in the Transcendent aspect of life.
Besides, and not to get too metaphysical or philosophical, but Man has another dimension to his being than just a fleshy body with organs, arteries, joints, and muscles. He has a spiritual dimension too. That is, we are made in the image of God.
I’ve often wondered if in those extreme cases where people act out for no rational reason, like aimlessly shooting a gun in a crowd – a classroom, church, or theater -- that they suffer not so much from mind or mental pathology as they do a spiritual pathology. Perhaps from something that has wounded or “infected” their spirit.
Paul, in the Bible, talks about this spirit. As something that is apart but like the soul. The controversy seems to turn on whether the spirit and the soul are the same, or separate. Is it a spirit and soul, or a spirit-soul? Most agree they are of two different functions, otherwise the word “spirit” would not be needed to communicate what Paul is trying to communicate when he employs the word “spirit”.
So, I wonder. How many patients we physicians miss diagnosing who suffer from spiritual dis-ease, all the while thinking they are mind/mental diseased, giving to them sedatives, antidepressants, and similar meds trying to return them to normal.
In line with this thinking, I recently came across the conversion case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who lured young men to his apartment, killed them, ate some of their body parts, preserved their organs, all the while acting like you and me. Seventeen he did. He of course was caught, imprisoned, and died a horrible death, many say deservedly so, while on a cleaning detail with two other men, and at the hands of a schizophrenic who afterwards said God told him to do it.
Some think Dahmer could’ve been prevented from committing these atrocious acts with prescription medication. I think not. I think Dahmer’s spirit was unfortunately “infected”, or broken, at an early age and he was doomed to be civilly disabled until the correct Physician came to his aid. I don’t think any medication can treat a defective spirit. If you find it to be so, please call me ASAP.
Long before his death, according to the account of prison officials and the prison pastor, Dahmer, aided by the pastor, accepted and embraced Christianity. The embrace seems to have been more than just the typical, “jailhouse Jesus stuff”. He avidly read Christian and spiritual books, spoke and demonstrated sincere contrition, regretted quite coherently his bad deeds. Then one day he asked to be baptized, and was. It appears he was a model inmate after that, and reportedly intentionally did not resist his bludgeoning attacker, having previously declared non-violence as part of his Christian faith.
To the Christian reader who subscribes to the plan of salvation: repentance, baptism, and faith in Jesus – was Dahmer saved? Many say what he did was so heinous that he is certainly burning in hell. That he was beyond redemption. Maybe. Maybe not.
If we are looking for a case to demonstrate how a broken spirit can be revived, I think Dahmer’s case may be it. Yes, I know this sounds like a stretch. And none of this of course minimizes or makes trite his atrocities. But if we are in the business of redeeming broken hearts, minds, and spirits, then perhaps if there is divining hope for Dahmer, there can be hope for anyone -- that is, if you subscribe to the redemption plan of God.
Is your spirit in good health? Do you practice some sort of spirituality?