Reflections on Trauma, Vocation and What Tips the Balance

Students grappling with their studies in vocation tapped deep into painful experiences – their own and others’ – as they wrote a series of outstanding papers for Paul Wadell (Theology & RS) in their senior capstone class last year. Reprinted here with kind permission of the authors.

“Discerning Vocation and Calling Following Experiences of Trauma,” by Annika Osell ’19
“A Calling to Mental Health,” by McKenna Kaminski ’19

Discerning Vocation and Calling Following Experiences of Trauma
Annika Osell ’19
THRS 460: Advanced Seminar
May 6, 2019

This paper satisfies Goal 6 of the Theology Student Portfolio as I considered questions regarding what vocation and calling means for the individual who has endured experiences of trauma. I argue that if the conversation of vocation is to be meaningful, it should be extended to survivors of traumatic events. Additionally, my presentation engaged members of the St. Norbert College community as we considered questions and reflections regarding the topic of my paper.

This semester, the theme of the capstone senior seminar focused on vocation and calling. Vocation and calling are often highlighted as one begins a process of transition following the conclusion of one stage of life. We particularly discussed vocation and calling in light of our identity as senior college students who will graduate at the end of the semester. After learning about different perspectives of vocation, I have found that the language and topic of vocation can be misleading. Vocation is conventionally considered to be a conversation reserved for healthy people who have the time and means to consider their calling or what the next step in their lives will be. Conversations regarding vocation tend to occur when someone has the luxury of a community of support with which to exchange conversations, assuming that vocational discernment takes place when someone is enjoying their life experiences. This conversation of vocation paints a rosy picture that assumes a person is not facing major struggles or challenges. However, how do we have a realistic conversation regarding vocation with people who have been traumatized or have challenging life circumstances? Too often American society disregards these individuals and their needs are forgotten because it is messier and much more complicated to stand alongside them in solidarity. Examples of such disregard for survivors in society may include a lack of concern for survivors of sexual assault, abuse and violence of any type, addiction, natural disasters, and acts of war and terrorism. If vocation is to be meaningful, it is necessary that conversations regarding vocation be extended to people who have been broken, traumatized, and wounded.

A traditional understanding of vocation leads one to expect that everything within one’s life will fall into place nicely once one “knows” one’s call, but that may not be true for people who have endured trauma. In this paper, I will discuss the process of discerning one’s vocation during and after experiences of trauma. First, I will define trauma and resilience and explain how vocation is often connected to individuals who have survived trauma. In the next section, I will highlight the elements that characterize a traditional understanding of vocation. Then I will expand upon the value of community and friendship to trauma survivors as they embark on a process of healing. The following section will describe possible first steps as one starts a journey to begin a process of healing as the process of reclaiming one’s life can seem daunting and difficult. I will conclude by discussing the virtues as useful tools that can assist one in beginning the process of discerning how to best respond to a calling.

Defining Trauma and Resilience
According to Merriam-Webster, the word “trauma” is the Greek translation for the word “wound.” The dictionary defines the term as, “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” This definition implies that not only can experiences of trauma be a physical wound, but often the wounds can be internal psychological or emotional wounds. The American Psychological Association (APA) operationally defines trauma as “events or experiences that are shocking and overwhelming, typically involving major threat to the physical, emotional, or psychological safety and well-being of the individual victim(s) and loved ones and friends (as well as to others).” Beyond what is noted by the APA, these types of traumas do not always manifest themselves in a visible manner. Such knowledge regarding how trauma can manifest itself in many ways among the lives of survivors can serve as an important reminder that sometimes the results of traumatic events are not directly visible to others.

Serene Jones, professor and current president at Union Theological Seminary, explains, “like mortal wounds, [a wounded psyche] can destroy a human life, and precisely because they are invisible [wounds], they can do so in secret, hidden ways.” Just as one cannot see from the outside if a person has cancer, one cannot determine from looking at a person whether or not he or she has endured an experience of trauma. After closely studying the work of clinical psychologists Bessel van der Kolk and Judith Herman, Jones states several features of traumatic events. Jones says that a distinguishable feature of traumatic events is “events in which one experiences the threat of annihilation,” through a threat of “impending death or looming destruction.” Another feature is that one has to recognize an experience to be threatening for it to truly be considered traumatic. Next, Jones notes that such a threat is generally developed from a real experience. Jones also clarifies that an event can be traumatic for a bystander or witness of an event, not only a direct participant or victim of that event. Similarly, traumatic events can influence not only an individual, but also collective communities. A community could experience trauma through a shared tragedy such as a mass shooting. At an even wider level, a terrorist attack such as 9/11 has the capacity to influence a national community. Next, Jones highlights that trauma is not exclusively an event that occurs only once but rather can repeatedly threaten one’s humanity. Finally, according to Jones, “traumatic events are ‘overwhelming’ insofar as they are experienced as inescapable and unmanageable. These elements can completely overtake one’s sense of self, leading one to feel hopeless and afraid for the future.”

Upon enduring an experience of trauma, one cannot be expected to immediately readjust to the demands of life following such an experience. There are several key points that must be acknowledged when considering the impact trauma may inflict upon an individual or a community. One should begin by recognizing that people respond to trauma in different ways. Some people may feel lost or scared during and after experiencing trauma, which can lead to frequent reliving of the traumatic incident. These recurring experiences may further lead an individual to feel stuck following an experience of trauma. Other individuals tend to show greater resiliency and have more or better methods of moving through their experiences. Psychologist Dr. Ann Masten provides a definition of resilience as “the capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten the viability, the function, or the development of that system.” When considering the differences in resiliency, meaning the ability to persevere through a hardship, among trauma survivors, one can recognize that resilience is a continuum that encompasses a wide range of abilities as people endure and recover from trauma.

However, a person being “resilient” does not mean that person has the resources and support necessary to process one’s own traumatic experience(s) on one’s own. According to theological scholar Cynthia Crysdale, “the psychological process of healing can lead to adaptation to one’s reality, but it only succeeds in making people whole Selves to the degree that there is some transcendent Other, the love for which holds one in hope amidst the pain.” Crysdale suggests that even resilience is not enough. Healing cannot simply be achieved individually. The experience of one’s limits in confronting trauma can draw one to something beyond the physical realm of our world. For people who identify as Christians, this process of healing is guided intimately by God who brings hope into the lives of those who have experienced trauma and can bring people to resiliently face and transform their future.

Reflecting on Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts regarding pain and suffering, Christian ethicist Paul Wadell writes, “Aquinas suggests not only that intense inner pain hinders and impedes life, but also that unless it is relieved it begins a psychological, emotional, and psychic deterioration that is nothing less than a dismantling of one’s life.” Aquinas suggests that a relationship with God can aid the process of healing; however, it can be a slow process that requires time and patience. While vocation is traditionally considered to be a process of discerning one’s calling to step into a new stage of life, after an experience of trauma, one can make it one’s temporary calling to find ways to reclaim joy in one’s life and rediscover well-being during a time of darkness. Beautiful examples that demonstrate the healing and transformation that Aquinas suggests can be found in the stories of Tattoos on the Heart written by Gregory Boyle. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, is responsible for the founding of a non-profit outreach ministry called Homeboy Industries which focuses on providing intervention, assistance, and rehabilitation to gang members in Los Angeles, California, and its environs. In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle recounts his experiences working with these gang members. Boyle conveys that “everyone is just looking to be told that who he or she is is right and true and wholly acceptable. No need to tinker and tweak. Exactly right.” For gang members who enter Boyle’s ministry, resilience is fostered in their lives by exposing these individuals to a “community of unconditional love, representing the very ‘no matter whatness’ of God.” Additionally, Boyle explains that “resilience arrives in the moment [one] [discovers] [their] own unshakeable goodness.” However, these individuals need others to guide them to see such goodness. Boyle aids in this discovery process by sharing authentic love and compassion with those individuals. This unshakeable goodness is discovered as one finds God in the ordinary moments of one’s life following times of darkness. Such goodness can also inspire individuals to seek God as they choose to begin a new calling.

Despite the resilience that can be achieved, experiences of trauma can leave people in two equally overwhelming situations. On the one hand, a plethora of options or choices of moving forward can paralyze someone. On the other hand, limited good options or options in general could also leave a person confused as to how to move through and beyond his or her trauma or unwilling to do so. While these scenarios could leave one overwhelmed and hopeless, when considering how vocation can aid individuals during and after experiences of trauma, one can find comfort in knowing that his or her calling originates from a place of goodness. This goodness is God drawing an individual into a vocation that can allow one to redefine one’s life as one tries to find meaning in one’s past experiences. Finding meaning in one’s past experiences is important because it acknowledges that an individual has endured trauma, but does not leave that person to live their life defined by the trauma that they experienced. God allows a person to find meaning in her past experiences by drawing her into a new calling. Sometimes such a vocation may not have been possible without the experience of trauma that person had endured. Additionally, without acknowledging God’s presence in such a situation, one may feel unable to move forward, failing to see that God can help one to continue the narrative of one’s life in a meaningful and hopeful manner. Recognizing that God is a part of a person’s calling matters because recognition can powerfully remind her of the worthiness of herself and the call she possesses, regardless of her past experiences. This recognition can allow a person to reinterpret her experiences through the lens of a hopeful and redemptive narrative of being called by God or something greater than oneself.

A Traditional Understanding of Vocation—A Calling
In the traditional perspective on vocation, each person possesses a calling or a draw to pursue something within his or her life. Some callings are unique to some people. Callings for certain careers, relationships, or lifestyles often differ from one person to the next, taking very unique or individual forms. However, other callings are universal and apply to the lives of many individuals. In general, these callings ask people to embrace their identities and to know and be who they are in the truest manner possible. A daily calling may consider a commitment to authentically respond to other people in ways that bring out the best in both oneself and others. Ultimately, if a vocation is noble, one will feel called to make a commitment to do the work of love on a daily basis. According to Wadell, “we human beings are made to journey and grow.” As people embark upon various life experiences, they seek to make sense of fundamental questions regarding human nature, such as “What is my purpose?” or “Who am I supposed to be?” as they pursue different callings or vocations. However, following experiences of trauma, one may not feel equipped to pursue these questions or know how to begin the process of vocational discernment.

As briefly stated before, vocation has traditionally been a conversation for individuals who have the time, ability, and resources to have discussions regarding calling and the future. However, many people do not enjoy these conditions enabling the practice of vocation in its traditional understanding. Even if someone has not endured a traumatic experience, many individuals from a variety of backgrounds, even backgrounds of privilege and power, have experienced some type of brokenness. Vocation should not simply be reserved for people with complete and stable structures to discern the next step in their journey. Rather, the conversation and experience of vocation should extend to and include individuals experiencing a lack of wholeness.

When one has the opportunity to begin a lifestyle characterized and oriented by vocation, one may be able to begin healing the brokenness or filling the emptiness present in one’s life. According to theological scholar Charles Pinches, callings can bring important healing, a transformation that allows us “to become fully ourselves.” Pinches illustrates that we cannot heal ourselves, but rather that healing comes from God. Additionally, just as healing comes from God, God can work through others to aid in the healing process. This is why it is vital that community members and authentic friends respond to their own call to be present with those who have endured a traumatic experience. Next Pinches explains that if a call fits us, it will call us back or even forward to our truest selves and mend the source of brokenness and emptiness. This highlights that healing is an ongoing process that does not simply disappear following the experience of trauma. Vocation allows one to live out an individualized call to pursue the steps necessary to embark on a process of healing.

True vocation will contribute to the common good and do the work of love. A calling will align with one’s abilities, concerns, and interests. God will not lead an individual into a vocation if it does not truly lead one to a more authentic life and deeper relationship with God. Through such deepened relationship with God, many people believe God will be with them as they move forward into their vocational journeys. Instead of reserving vocation exclusively for people ready, willing, and able to embark following the choice to act upon a calling, vocation must embrace people of all backgrounds, including individuals and groups living in the midst of trauma, brokenness, and suffering.

Value of Community and Friendship During and After Experiences of Trauma
As a member of the human community, those who have not experienced trauma must recognize their calling and responsibility to respond to those who are hurting, suffering, and wounded. For Christians, offering support and care is a demonstration of God’s love. Gregory Boyle tells of his time teaching courses in Folsom State Prison, just outside of Sacramento. When discussing a few short theological readings with inmates, he asked them to define the terms sympathy, empathy, and compassion. One inmate described compassion as God. Boyle expanded on this definition: “God is compassionate, loving kindness.” He continues by arguing that our calling is to “be in the world who God is.” In this case, compassion calls us to be like Jesus and enter into friendship with those who are hurting regardless of their stories.

In a Christian worldview, we as humans are called to do what we can to mend the brokenness of the world, and such a vocation can begin within our own communities. The process of mending brokenness can begin when one enters into a commitment to authentically support an individual in need. When entering into this friendship, the authentic friend should be careful not to assume that he knows what is best for the individual walking through an experience of trauma, especially if he has not encountered a similar experience. Even if the friend has experienced a similar trauma, it is also important not to project his experiences upon the person he is consoling. Not one experience of trauma is identical to the next. Being able to listen attentively, support the survivor in the ways that will best benefit him or her, and serving as a source of love are much more effective and compassionate than entering into friendship with a vulnerable individual assuming that one knows what is best for that individual. Through this empathetic and supportive friendship, a traumatized person has a better ability to begin discerning the next step of her own healing process as more callings develop amid the brokenness.

Experiences of trauma can frequently lead a person to adopt a lifestyle of isolation that can in turn create or intensify a feeling of loneliness further contributing to the darkness already present in his or her life. Creating a safe space characterized by authentic friendship in which one can sit in one’s sadness is of critical importance. Boyle tells of an experience with a young man named Pedro, who shared a dream with Boyle. In this dream, Boyle, holding a flashlight, silently accompanied Pedro in a completely dark room. Boyle simply held the flashlight, and Pedro recognized that it was his own responsibility to turn on the light. He flipped the switch, and the room was no longer dark. When explaining this dream to Boyle, through his tears, Pedro came to the realization that “the light…[was] better...than the darkness.” While Boyle didn’t say anything to Pedro, his presence simply provided Pedro an opportunity to come to an important realization regarding his calling out of addiction. Boyle additionally allowed Pedro a safe and non-judgmental place to vulnerably express his emotions. Western society often views expressions of negative emotions, such as sadness or anger, negatively or as inappropriate. Such negative societal expectations can lead to further harm for traumatized individuals as their expression of emotion is suppressed. However, honestly experiencing and expressing various emotions facilitates the opportunity for people to begin processing their experience. Friendship can create an environment that fosters tolerance and support of such emotions following experiences of adversity and trauma.

By entering into friendship with those who have experienced trauma, one can help begin the process of humanization and allow the traumatized to claim his goodness and recognize his own value as a person in a safe space characterized by healing. Wadell discusses the value of friendship following experiences of trauma, highlighting that “victims of violence need someone they trust enough to share the secrets of their hearts ... someone who cares enough for them that they do not fear sharing what has happened to them and what they have suffered on account of it. They need someone who is the antithesis of the person who did them harm. A good friend fills this role.” These friends bring more than simple companionship, as they can become an integral element to the process of healing. Friendship also allows those who befriend the traumatized to demonstrate care and kindness to others in a way that encourages the traumatized to realize their true potential to achieve greatness. In this way, when you befriend someone, the empathetic friend can serve as a vessel of kindness which can provide the opportunity for the traumatized friend to begin to recognize his or her calling. Through the grace of the friendship, the isolation of the survivor subsides, allowing him to finally recognize his worthiness and his capability of making meaningful contributions to society through his vocation.

Reclaiming One’s Life
Following experiences of trauma, calling often finds its roots in pain and brokenness. After an experience of trauma, a survivor must recognize that God is with her and has been with her through her experience of brokenness. Similarly, because callings originate in God, God will remain with the survivor as she discovers her calling and determines how to pursue it. Although God is intimately involved in one’s pursuit of a calling, one may not understand the meaning of it immediately. This ambiguity does not indicate sinfulness on the part of the called person, because callings are inherently dynamic and we come to understand them as they develop. Calling and vocation do not ask a person to abandon his past, but rather asks him to find meaning in his past experiences and move courageously into a new light. This movement requires several steps.

The process of discerning a calling must begin by clearly identifying the root of experiences of pain and the ways that it has manifested itself in a person’s life. According to Cynthia Crysdale, “healing…[has] to begin with naming [victimization], [while] embracing the pain of the past and living with it in the present.” This may lead a person, at least temporarily, into a calling characterized by lament. The process of lament can provide traumatized people with the opportunity to grieve in a healthy manner by bringing them into conversation with God and inviting or asking God to enter into one’s hurt or suffering. The practice of lament holds an important place in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity. The people of Israel express lament at various points in the Hebrew Bible, particularly the Psalms and the Book of Lamentations. Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice explain that “the prayers of lament in Psalms were public prayers, intended to be read and inserted into the corporate life of worship.”

Many Christian traditions find value in the ritual of reciting and praying the Psalms. While there are Psalms that are categorized as Psalms of praise, wisdom, and thanksgiving, Psalms of lament serve as statements of communal despair. According to the Gospel of Mark, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ ” This statement is found in Psalm 22, which suggests that Jesus was reciting the Psalms while on the cross. This Psalm is significant because it begins as a sorrowful lament, but later develops into a Psalm characterized by a hope for deliverance. While Jesus died before he was able to recite the hopeful portion of Psalm 22, this can serve as inspiration for individuals recovering from trauma to not allow their process of lament to end in despair but rather conclude the process of lament in a hopeful manner.

The discipline of lament can challenge a traditional, stigmatized understanding of grieving. American society usually takes a critical stance toward grieving as an overly drawn-out process characterized by the loss of hope following trauma. The grieving process can certainly lead one into a life characterized by despair manifested in giving up on everything and “ceasing to hope for a share of God’s goodness.” While the practice of lament is an expression of grief, lament is a positive way of managing the permanent and complete loss of hope that characterizes despair. What can lead people into a life that adopts an attitude of despair is thinking that an experience of trauma limits them from experiencing future goodness. Despair also manifests itself in a fear of the constant possibility, even inevitability, of disappointment when someone cares about someone or something. However, a careful commitment to the discipline of lament can prevent one from falling into the depths of despair and suffering its effects. Lament can lead to a more holistic view of oneself and life, as it challenges conventional understandings of grief and despair. By welcoming others to walk with one out of one’s brokenness, a person invites a community of support into his life by engaging in a “fundamental journey of transformation.” Sharing the practice of lament with others can help establish a community or bring one into community, sustaining one on the journey of healing.

The Necessity of Virtues When Responding to a Call
As discussed, while some calls develop from positive circumstances, other vocations can originate in pain and suffering. When one attempts to begin discerning one’s vocation, fear can seem to overtake one’s life. How can one move forward from this fear, especially following an experience that overwhelms or traumatizes? In his response to this challenge, Charles Pinches references Matthew 6:25 which says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Pinches argues that this verse encourages one to live life in the present moment and abandon all fear of the future. It is difficult to not succumb to the pressures of our fast-moving Western society which tends to force an anticipation of and preparation for what the future may hold, especially following traumatic experiences. People quickly recognize the successes of others by liking posts on social media or sending a congratulatory text message to a friend; however, these same people can be equally quick to predict their own failures. The predictions often stem from a fear of moving into a new call. In order to balance these expectations, we must constantly strive for the kingdom of God. By making the kingdom a primary calling in our lives, we find that walking towards this end forms a way to focus our lives in a fashion that radiates love like Christ. In order to combat such fears of failure, one has to recognize the necessity of implementing several key virtues. While courage, patience, and hope may not completely pave the way as one embarks on a new calling, these virtues will serve as valuable tools in navigating a new calling.

Scholar William C. Mattison III describes courage as “the ability to suffer hardship well, whether the hardship is bodily or other.” Suffering a trauma can leave one with reservations regarding pursuing a calling, but by implementing courage into the process of enduring trauma, one can recognize that one is honestly doing one’s best to endure such trauma in a noble manner. It takes courage to walk through and out of trauma. Theologian William Cavanaugh explains that vocation is often connected to narrative. He suggests that one must have courage in order to let one’s story continue after suffering or trauma, transitioning slowly into another chapter of life. Living courageously asks a person to recognize that she is worthy of receiving a calling following experiences of trauma. By recognizing one’s inherent dignity, one gains the ability to find the hope necessary to take a next step in life. Courage can aid a person in this next step as she bravely commits to pursuing a calling.

Gregory Boyle asked one of the members of his ministry to accompany him on a trip to the White House. This young man, Alex, had never thought of himself as being worthy to have an opportunity of this magnitude. After the trip to the White House, as the two men flew back to California, Alex engaged in conversation with a flight attendant who noticed his shirt embroidered with Homeboy Industries. The conversation left the flight attendant in tears as Alex returned to his seat alongside Boyle. Boyle then said to Alex, “She saw that you are somebody. She recognized you ... as the shape of God’s heart. Sometimes people cry when they see that.” Alex found firsthand that his courage to let his story continue in a new life characterized by goodness, not only changed his life for the better, but also had a positive impact on the lives of others. Alex likely did not realize that his story was valuable and had the potential to positively influence the lives of other people.

We often think of others as worthy of a calling or vocation but do not recognize our own potential and capability to be called. It takes courage to be able to bravely take a step and more out of one’s suffering and into a new calling. However, when one takes this step, a person will discover her worthiness to experience goodness throughout the rest of her life. Courage can also draw one into a life that brings one into a continued narrative that is highlighted by hope for the future. Finally, the virtue of courage asks one not to simply persevere through and out of an experience of trauma, but to make a commitment to do what is in one’s control to address what has been traumatic. For some people, this may be seeking out the support of trusted friends or professionals who are equipped to help one process such trauma in ways that are best for the survivor. Such a commitment can allow one to courageously move forward into a new calling.

The process of healing can often be rushed, especially when American society expects a person to move forward efficiently by quickly returning to a “normal” lifestyle. Developing patience when discerning what is the next right step for one to pursue is necessary when moving into a new stage of life following an experience of trauma. Patience actually has a close connection with sorrow. Pinches explains “if we are patient, we have the power to go forth even if our heart aches.” This is particularly valuable for survivors of trauma as it recognizes that being patient with oneself is the key to moving courageously through such an experience. The process of developing patience asks one to emphasize a different understanding of time that defies the expectations of Western society. When survivors of trauma are able to cultivate an individualized timeline for their healing, they can defy such expectations for the healing process to occur at an unhealthy speed. Sometimes the wounds which trauma can induce are not visible, as they stem from psychological and emotional trauma. These invisible wounds do not provide a clear timeline for healing. Internal, emotional and spiritual wounds follow a different timeline unique to each person and his or her experiences as he or she enters into a healing process. We in American society often extend patience to others when they are recovering from a physical injury such as a broken leg; however, we are much less likely to reserve any patience for ourselves during our own recovery process, whether recovering from spiritual or emotional trauma. Patience will ask one to answer the call of prioritizing oneself in a person’s own life. The virtue of patience during experiences of healing will allow a person the opportunity to adequately address wounds when the time is right for her.

Hope is a valuable virtue as it allows one to consider ways to navigate through the uncertainties of the future. Paul Wadell describes hope as he says that “hope is about struggle and perseverance, about not giving up when we not only feel like we are drowning, but are convinced someone or something is holding us down.” One must also consider the importance of not falling into a pattern of simply focusing on the future and how commitment to a vocation can improve one’s future circumstances. Hope allows us to be realistic about the future as it brings the future into our present. The act of being hopeful allows a person to consider his or her priorities and what steps can be done to achieve future goals of a hopeful life by preparing for a calling. Although hope can lead a person to act upon a calling, if one is not ready to pursue a call in the present moment, that does not mean that one will never be able to pursue that call. Some calls will remain present in the life of an individual and will persist until one is ready to pursue such a vocation. Waiting to act upon a vocation until one is ready to move along can ensure that a person is not simply acting upon a calling for no reason, but that by waiting, she will surely be able to maximize her pursuit of goodness.

The canonical gospels can serve as narratives of hope for anyone and in particular individuals and communities who have endured experiences of trauma. Considering the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can powerfully remind people that they are worthy of an opportunity to walk into a new vocation. Theologian David Carr describes crucifixion as one of the most traumatic and humiliating ways for one to die in the first century. However, the horrific death and apparent dead-end of Jesus on the cross has become a source of hope for people enduring suffering or trauma. Carr says that “the figure of Jesus, the crucified savior, became a picture of divine solidarity that comforted Jesus’ followers facing other kinds of unspeakable pain.” While the trauma that many people undergo may not mirror that of the crucifixion of Jesus in its physical reality, their experiences may resemble the passion of Jesus in the humiliation and deep suffering that can be endured during traumatic times.

Ultimately, the virtues will restore people who have survived experiences of trauma to a place of hope and assist one in the attempt to find closure from an experience or experiences of trauma. While considering the future may have previously been something frightening, leading one into a place of further darkness, isolation, or hopelessness, seeing the future as a process of discerning one’s calling or vocation allows one to face it with a sense of peace in the trust that God is genuinely concerned about each person’s life and has the best interests of each person at heart. God will go with us no matter what calling we choose to act upon when the time is right. God will also always invite us into a calling, whether the time seems right or not, bringing us into a deeper relationship with God. While not every calling is equal in its demands and what it asks of a person, God will never abandon the person who is embarking upon a calling.

The basic call for all human beings is the call to live life and to live it well. In order to live this call out, one must recognize when a community member is suffering or impacted by a traumatic event. Although vocation can seem individualized, each call is communal and relational. If a community member is suffering, the entire community is suffering. Therefore, survivors of traumatic events should not simply be left to embark on their healing process on their own. Extending our vocation or our calling beyond traditional boundaries can bring survivors of trauma a valuable opportunity to redefine their future and find healing following their experiences of trauma.

By considering definitions of trauma and resilience, one can recognize not only that traumatic events are not identical from person to person, but also that people respond to trauma in different ways. Moreover, one must consider traditional meanings of vocation and clearly understand that such traditional elements of vocation may not be applicable to survivors of trauma. Such traditional elements of vocation include the privilege, time, and resources to discern one’s path in leisure. Additionally, as one embarks on a process of healing following an event of trauma, it is important to recognize the role of friends in such a process. Alongside friends, one can implement virtues that bring clarity to one’s life when beginning to discern and embark upon a new calling.

As an individual lives out her daily life, Jesus calls her to live a life demonstrating God’s love for all creation with hope and patience. By living one’s life guided by these virtues, one will be able to connect the present moment to the future. Similarly, the past can be used to inform one’s future. Even when we actively strive to practice the virtues, we will as limited humans sometimes fall off the path and conflict with God. During this time, we as fragile creations, experience disorder and suffering outside of our control. Yet there is something comforting in remembering that God’s will places our best interest as a top priority, particularly as one moves beyond an experience of trauma. For Christians, our best interest is a relationship with God that will bring us to heaven and will draw us into just and loving relationships while living our lives in the present moment.

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A Calling to Mental Health
McKenna Kaminski ’19
Professor Wadell Capstone Final Paper
May 6, 2019

In my paper on a calling to mental health, I want to begin by addressing that a calling does not have to be confined to only a job, career, or an individual. There is a richness and plurality to how one can understand and evolve in their vocation. Vocation is a journey, not a destination. The topic of mental health has always been near and dear to my heart due to my own personal experience with anxiety and depression. I have never thought of this topic as becoming a part of my everyday life, but because of my life changing experiences I have found it important to rely on my faith for support and to form a life that includes religion because of how I have felt the power of God work through my life. It has taken me years to really understand my faith and how to allow it work through my life in a way that I can truthfully live a life without the thoughts of anxiety and depression. My senior year of high school I was in an extremely dark place in my life and after three years of tests I was told I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. My heart rate from sitting to standing will jump from a sixty-five to one hundred fifteen. Although a physical issue, because of the fact that I went years without knowing that POTS was affecting my brain because of the fatigue and the anxiety, it worsened my mental health. I have also had several concussions throughout my cheerleading career and during my brain scans they found that because of concussions, I had become depressed. I grew up always having anxiety, but the depression was taking over me, and I attempted suicide during my last month of high school. I am beyond thankful to have had another chance at life, but it was a huge process of stepping away from depression and dealing with the repercussions of the choice that I made. I hurt a lot of people in this process and I found I had a lot of repairing to do in all aspects of my life. I found faith during this time, and without my faith I am not sure in my worst moments of anxiety and depression if I would still be here. I took the time to focus on my faith and throughout my summer after graduation I did a Bible Study every day and although a small aspect of religion it helped me grow in my relationship with God, which was very important for me to do. I also experimented with non- denominational churches and went back to the Catholic church too. I felt it was important for me to see my relationship with God in its strongest and best light. Furthermore, I found it important to do some exploring throughout my spiritual journey, which has now led me back to the Catholic church where I have found a voice in helping others who are seeking help in their mental health journeys. Through the virtues of compassion, self-care, and hope we can find a way to cope and understand what it means to be called to a life of mental health and faith.

Coping with Anxiety and Depression
Throughout anxiety and depression one can find oneself isolated and completely alone. We also cannot solely define mental health based off anxiety and depression, but speaking more broadly we see how overall mental health should be intact for humans to function and flourish in their everyday lives. Taking religion into account, we wonder how we can correlate the two, and the answer is not simple. One has to explore religion and one’s faith to decide whether it can be a factor in helping their mental health. Mental health can be thought and worked through by using coping mechanisms to help deal with anxiety and depression. “No matter how it is defined, coping involves attempts to preserve, maintain or transform the things people care about most deeply’;5 and religion is a process which involves a special kind of search for significance, being special in that it involves ‘the sacred’.6 (Dawson, 46)

Religion sometimes can be the most difficult part of trying to figure out how we can incorporate faith in our lives when we have no one to show us the way. Often when we are alone we do not know how to grasp religion or how to talk about it when we feel like we have no one to talk to. Finding the faith should be done through the works of others and the individual. God will intervene to help bring forth our faith and enhance our beliefs when we let others help get us to try to understand our belief in God.

In mental health we deal with constant questions and battling our brain to try and not feel an overwhelming amount of stress, fear, and contemplation of life. Not only does one feel alone, but they feel trapped in what they cannot understand and they feel isolated in trying to figure out a means to an end that they are not sure if they even want to be a part of. Religion can help to give purpose to one’s life and help them explore their means to an end. When we truly think about religion we know that God is a transcendent being that in a broad sense can be very difficult to try and understand. Our brains have to grasp and merely believe in God for our faith to be enhanced and to let the faith work throughout our everyday lives. Our everyday lives are key to what it means to understand why our mental health is the way that it is in each individual person.

“Cognitively, the task of dealing with life events is to make an external event an internal reality.10 Religion involves cognition, since its beliefs, constructs and symbols seek to provide an ultimate foundation or an absolute reality. Its task is to transform and transcend earthly reality. If religious frameworks are available and used, then, they will have an impact on the coping and adjustment to major life events.” (Rawson 47)

The fear that often comes with dealing with anxiety and depression is caused by the thought of not knowing what is coming next in life and being fearful of the unknown. Religion gives a sense of understanding that there is something to live for in this life, so that our life to follow is even better. Not only can religion give us an understanding for our lives but it also can be a healthy coping mechanism for people with mental health issues. “Coping methods may include seeking spiritual guidance or support, doing good deeds, seeking support from clergy and/or the congregation, pleading for direct intervention from God, expressing religious discontent or distracting from the situation using religion.12 (Dawson, 48)

These are just a few of the ways that one with mental health issues can deal with their anxieties and depression through religion. Religion has a positive effect in the fact that one can be fulfilled in their spiritual lives and can use these coping mechanisms to understand and overcome their mental health issues. Although these will not necessarily result in curing mental health issues, it is something to rely on when we feel like there is nothing to hold onto. “Religious coping appears to be one of the mechanisms that mediates the benefits of religion to mental health, such as the provision of social stability and support, protection from loneliness and alienation, commandments that lead to a more disciplined life, and beliefs that are conducive to peace of mind and provide meaning for human existence including death.” (Dawson, 50)

Our lives become more purposeful in a sense, and there is reason to strive to live a life of joy and happiness. Religion can also help lead a structured life that leads to good decisions where one does not feel like they make mistakes. Even when they do make mistakes, they can feel like they are not alone to redeem themselves from sin and move forward into a more constructive way of making future choices, not just condemning themselves or others. Although when we make mistakes we sometimes feel alone and try to isolate ourselves we know that when we have God in our lives, we truthfully will never be alone.

Mental Health and Faith
Mental and emotional suffering is not physical, it is not clear for people to see and that is why people do not pay nearly enough attention to it, which is why there is a stigma to mental health. We have to see this as a downfall to what we believe God would intend for humans. God ultimately understands the suffering and hurt of people as it is his own creation that often suffers. God sees our suffering and gives us others to try to deal with the loneliness and isolation we feel and to have comfort from the people that surround us. Although our relationship with God is transcendent and cannot be easily grasped physically or often times by the mind, we ponder what our relationship is with others but when we have God we always have someone.

The importance of being interactive with other people is crucial for our health. “I hold tightly to the part of me that remains curious about the relationship God has with each of us and the nature of God, which I believe is sometimes most strongly displayed in human interaction.” (Lara, 111) Human interaction is important to our health and the flourishing of who we are as human beings. God intended us to be in relationship with one another and it has been that way since the beginning of time. In Genesis God shows that man cannot be without women, and so he gives Adam Eve so they can continue to create life and so they can be fulfilled since Adam was not.

“So God created humankind[e] in his image, in the image of God he created them;[f] male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 (Bible)

God created humans with the intention of them being in not only a right relationship but a relationship that furthers human connection and helps us discover the happiness that is intended for all of our lives. As humans we flourish best when we are close to people who are able to lift us up in our everyday lives. Loneliness is nothing compared to a good friendship, and sometimes when we feel isolated we do not feel like any person connects with us but once we do connect with someone who understands how our mind can sometimes take over our entire lives, we see that God created many of us who just happen to struggle as we do. Our call to God’s creation goes beyond the physical aspect, it expands to the mind, heart, and soul within each human being.

Throughout our lives, we come to know and love people in our relationships. We also come to find that some relationships and friendships do not always last or we drift away from others, and we find ourselves lonely oftentimes causing anxiety and depression. When we surround ourselves with good friendships, we eventually come to find a light at the end of the tunnel. When we surround ourselves with good friendships, we are more likely to make good judgement. Aristotle said, “friendship is the center of the moral life: it is in the most substantive and lasting relationships of our lives that we acquire the character and grow in the goodness that enables us to flourish as human beings. (Wadell, 61) When we are in strong relationships with others, we have moral obligations to make decisions that not only positively influence ourselves but positively influence others. Another aspect of relationship is that when we have friendships with others, we have a sense and a stronger community that follows. Our community and our friendships are what can help us deal with our anxiety and depression and even more importantly, help raise awareness to them. Not only are we called to relationship with the community, but our relationship with God is strengthened when our relationships with others are at their strongest points.

“Thomas Aquinas took Aristotle’s account of the centrality of friendship in the moral life, but he radically re envisioned it by suggesting that human beings are made not only for friendship and life with one another but also for friendship and communion with God – what he called charity, or caritas. Our most exquisite happiness, Aquinas insisted, comes from all of us together seeking and enjoying life of intimate friendship with God that unfolds in love and friendship for others.” (Wadell, 63)

Our friendships go beyond just other people, they seek to see God in the people whom we are in relationship with. In our best relationships we should be able to see God, and love as God intended for us to do. When we have good friendships we are completing a calling to good mental health where we are able to thrive and live in good faith and relationship with both God and others.

Virtue of Self-Care
The virtue of self-care is one that is not normally thought of to be a virtue, maybe similarly like how mental health does not seem to be a calling, but we can see that we can expand on the richness of what both of those mean. Self-care is something we often forget when it comes to the virtues because it is not a cardinal virtue, but where we can use this virtue is how we respond to not only ourselves but others. When mental health is an issue at hand we can see that not only do we need coping mechanisms and to stray away from loneliness but we need to focus more on self-care and how we can stay more aware of our needs to better treat ourselves amongst anxiety and depression.

“When people practise self-care, they do not indulge themselves but rather behave in ways that normally enhance their own ultimate well-being and avoid activities that usually bring them ultimate harm. According to the Bible, our primary motivation should be love (Mt 5:44; 22:34-40; 1 Cor 13:1-3; Eph 5:1,2; 1 Jn 4:7-12, 19- 21). Though there is no explicit biblical command for us to love ourselves,9 there is some positive biblical evidence for self-care (Ex 18: 17-18; Lev 19:18; Mk 6:31; 12:30-31; 1 Cor 16:19-20; Eph. 5:29; 1 Tim 5:23; 3 Jn 1:2).

The biblical authors strongly imply that we ought to practise self-care, and there are two good reasons for us to care for ourselves; self-care imitates God’s care for himself and self-care benefits God, others, and ourselves.” (Gates, 6)

When one approaches the thought of self-care in a time of mental health needs, they find that God is at the very essence of that need. God needs and intends for us to take care of ourselves, and we can do that with love and by acknowledging that there are things that we as individuals can do to make ourselves better and stronger. Through self-care we come to love ourselves and when we love ourselves, we can then make the choice to love others. Gates says,

“ ‘...the wellbeing of the self is inextricably tied to the well-being of others, and vice versa, because all are woven into communal life...’45 We can wish for our own happiness while wishing for the happiness of others, just as we can enjoy His benefit of the air and fight of the sun while others enjoy it.” (Gates, 10) We are each called to be in community and in relationship with one another, and when we choose self-care we then are choosing to give care to others, or show them that self-care for them is very much possible.

Although self-care seems like something we can all figure out and learn to inherit overtime, some people with mental illness do not have this luxury. We must be inclusive enough to understand that some mental health cases are much worse than others, and when we do not recognize that, we are failing as a community to the people who need more care than others. This is not to undermine less extreme cases, but it is to say that sometimes choices cannot be made on their own, due to the fact that they may not make the best decisions for themselves. Furthermore, we cannot try to understand the full context of what these victims are going through but we can acknowledge the help they would need to understand how they can better themselves through the virtue of self-care.

“Self-care is not “responsibility for self.” Responsibility is based on a person’s intentions, whether voluntary or involuntary. Moral responsibility is too much for the mentally ill. Further- more, a person is responsible for their character because a person develops their character through their actions.X Responsibility is a process that occurs when acting as a normal agent. The mentally ill are often unable to take complete legal or moral responsibility and are unable to act as a legal or moral agent. Thus, the virtue of responsibility does not fit the need required by this group and is rather unattainable for them.” (Donato)

Oftentimes we forget that mentally ill persons are stigmatized as “crazy” but instead of referring to them as crazy, they should know that they are cared for with tenderness and love. Each person being a part of God’s creation should be taken care of and sometimes some people need to be cared for in a different and deeper way. We cannot always hold more severe mentally ill people accountable for their actions, but we can more so lead them to making the right choices and guiding them in the way God would intend for them to be guided.

The Church’s Call to Mental Health
The church has a specific calling to how they handle, react, and further benefit people with mental illness. The call to the community within the church is where anxiety and depression can be helpful but we should also take into account the way it can be harmful. Religion should be enlightening and enriching in one's life, and sometimes religion can put forth more negative energy whether that be in the moral concerns of the individual or the rights and wrongs of the community. Sometimes there seems to be pressure to be put on the individual to be a certain way and to live a certain way. We ultimately need to be aware of the way we approach people with mental illness, because a lot of the time the congregation and the clergy do not necessarily understand where the person is coming from when they are struggling with mental health issues. The church should be able to understand and address these in a matter that reflects the teachings of Jesus and what he contributed to the world in his time on earth. The church has an obligation to the people of the community to be supportive and to be an agent in nurturing people with mental illness.

“A nation-wide survey reported by the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health in 1960 shows that persons with emotional problems most often turn to the clergy for help.5 Forty-two percent come to clergymen, 29 percent to physicians, 18 percent to psychiatrists and psychologists, 12 percent to social workers, and 6 percent to marriage counselors. Actually the challenge of mental health is to everyone in the whole community, in which the churches may give needed leadership.” (Johnson, 34)

When we think of mental health we think of a separation from the church when in fact we should be focused on the fact that the church and the mentally ill have a correlation and a responsibility to one another. “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1Corinthians 12-13, NRSV) As a church we are called to be one member and one body. Each of us is responsible for the other in the community, and when one of our community members suffers then we all suffer. It is the calling of each and every one of us to play an active role in trying to better people within the church. Not only do we build stronger individuals but we build a stronger community. The more we reassure the people in the community that do suffer from mental illness that we are there to support them through the church community, they will become stronger and more inclined to better their lives through their faith. “People who depreciate themselves and deny their own worth do not honour God. Just as failing to accept a gift is a rejection of the giver, so rejecting the self is rejecting God who made the self.41 ‘To value ourselves... is to become receptive to what God has given us and to what He wants to make of us.’42” (Gates, 10) God wants us and has intended for us to be people who care not only for other people but for ourselves, and sometimes that is where we have to start. The importance of taking care of oneself is the only way we can healthily and safely give back to other people who are in need in different ways than we are. Without the model of self-care, we will have difficulty caring for others.49 Love of others is intimately related to self-care because loving others fulfills the tendency to love beings like ourselves and it is in loving others that people care for themselves.” (Gates, 11) Similarly, we need to love ourselves before we can love others, and without that love we can not flourish as individuals. As a community we are called to help those individuals that struggle on their own and when we do this we are more inclined to form a stronger and better community where the individuals feel like the community is a strong place to turn to in times of need.

The next aspect that the church should heavily follow is the scripture brought to us by Biblical writers who have told the story of Jesus’ healings, where Jesus healed people not only of physical ailments but he healed them of mental suffering as well. The Bible says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm, 147:3) Jesus does both of these things, and heals us each of our ailments, wounds, heartache, and sadness when we allow him to. Scripture also says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (James, 3:3-5) God puts it simply, that Jesus was not only able to heal individuals of physical ailments, but that he wanted to heal people of mental health trauma as well. Jesus being fully human and fully divine understood the power of his healing and was able to use it for the good.

The Virtue of Compassion
The virtue of compassion can be thought of as something Jesus alone was inherently good at because he was God. Compassion is a virtue that does not come easy for everyone, and as humans we could see how Jesus alone could be a man that lacked the virtuous ways of being a compassionate person. Jesus was crucified on the cross, embarrassed, and humiliated for the love of God and the love God has for us. Never was Jesus angry, he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NRSV) God asked them for forgiveness after he was ridiculed, beaten, and his flesh was nailed to the cross. Jesus had shown forgiveness and compassion for the people whom most people would show hatred for. Wadell says, “Compassion expands the horizons of our world by reminding us that any genuine understanding of happiness has to take into account the pain and suffering of others. This is especially true in the Christian life because Christians believe the whole of humanity constitutes a body, and as members of this body each person’s happiness is inseparably connected to the happiness of every other person.” (Wadell, 106) As Christians we are continuously called to serve others in more ways than one. Sometimes service seems to be the main way to serve God, but we can explore beyond that with the call to compassion for others around us. As humans, when we try to understand the hurt of others, we truly can come to know happiness. We can also cater to the needs of those who are suffering and who need our attention through their mental trauma. Along with compassion comes the importance of forgiveness. Mental health can oftentimes be a struggle in the sense that one lacks to forgive themselves and others, holding onto negative energy that festers in their mind, body, heart, and soul. God is a forgiving God and he chooses to forgive us for our sins when we ask for redemption.

“Interpersonal forgiveness between Christians is therefore fundamentally rooted in the character of God. For this reason, we argue that the improved health outcomes experienced by perpetrators of offense who receive forgiveness from others are corporeal changes that symbolize the ultimate transformation of salvation in which believers will be restored to community with one another.” (Lavelock, Worthington, 253)

As a community we become better because we have worked to forgive others. This alone can create a more positive and healthy way of living without feeling trapped by our anger in choosing not to forgive. If we truly are to follow in God’s footsteps then we ought to be forgiving, and although that does not mean we necessarily have to forget the situation at hand, we will come to be more intimately connected in our relationship with God if we choose to forgive those who are his children. If we choose not to forgive, we are ultimately failing God in what he expects us to learn from him.

Not only is it important to forgive others, but it is important for us to forgive ourselves. Throughout life we often are harder on ourselves because of the challenges we face and the obstacles we must overcome. When we fail, or we feel like what we do is no longer good enough, we tend to create a negative atmosphere within our own minds. God does not want us to harp on things that we have done in the past, better yet, he wants us to learn and move forward from them the best way we can. “Forgiving oneself prompts health benefits that reveal God’s redemptive work among his people. Yet, self-forgiveness should not come without restraint. One must heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition: our sin has been crucified with Christ, so that we may live a resurrected life free from sin (Rom. 6:1).” (Lavelock, Worthington, 254) Without forgiveness, we cannot move forward into a life that is free from anger and guilt. When our minds are strained from anger and guilt, our mental health tends to diminish. We have to learn to forgive ourselves as a part of our lifestyle, because we may mess up once a day and that can be hard on the way we think of ourselves. Lavelock and Worthington said, “One benefit that is associated with practicing responsible self-forgiveness is the amélioration of debilitating health outcomes that result from chronic negative emotions such as regret, anger, shame, and self-condemnation. For this reason, scholars regard self-forgiveness as closely related to health (Hall & Fincham, 2008; W orthington, Witvliet, Pietrini, & Miller, 2007).” (Lavelock, Worthington, 254) When our mind set is in such a negative place that we choose to bring ourselves down and harp on the hatred of ourselves, we create a self-loathing and often that can lead our mental health to suffer the more we go on without choosing to forgive ourselves. Jesus forgave others, and we can do the same with the belief that God has a plan for what we need to be given for or rather he give us the strength to forgive ourselves. “Christ charged his followers to live according to the principles of love and forgiveness so that all people might recognize the eschatological Kingdom of God by how Christians treat one another (Mt. 5:43-48; Jn 13:34-35). (Lavelock, Worthington, 256) God created human beings to love one another, and loving others comes with being able to forgive others. If we cannot forgive others, we are not doing the work of God. If we choose not to forgive ourselves, then we cannot forgive others. In the book of Matthew, Jesus says this,

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a] 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” (Matthew, 18:21-23, NRSV)

Jesus wants us to forgive people, even when they have utterly wronged us, there is nothing that could be more powerful or show God how much we love him and his word then when we forgive someone. Although not easy, it does make the world seem less harmful and creates a positive atmosphere for us to live and thrive in. Forgiveness is a way to enter into relationship with God and see that we are able to be more like Jesus.

Relationship with God
The relationship between God and an individual is the strongest bond we as humans are able to attain. We are able to truly understand who we are as people through our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is merely having faith in what God is and how our relationship with God is able to strengthen over time. As God’s creation, we are inclined to do good, but sometimes the things in the world can lead us to do things that affect how we think, feel, or trust in what our relationship with God consists of. As someone who has used their faith to overcome their struggles and try to make sense of how to cope with their mental health problems, we can see how a relationship with God can help us understand why we go through what we do. We also can understand how to move forward in all of life’s challenges when we are able to understand the best way to deal with anxiety and depression. Also realizing that God recognizes our struggles and wants us to reflect back to him our troubles so he can take them on himself. 1 Peter 5:5-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5-7) God takes on our burdens so we do not have to feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. When we cast our anxieties on him, we can feel a major relief from the stressors in our lives. God is a transcendent being, which makes it difficult for us to grasp the relationship with him, but we can fully understand that he is not the reason for our suffering. God loves and forgives just as he wants us to do.

Virtue of Hope
The virtue of hope is a virtue that we all are looking for in our search for help throughout our mental health journeys. As individuals who feel like their lives have so little meaning, or for individuals who cannot understand why their lives have encountered such hardship, hope seems like a distant dream. Hope is hoping for hope, and when does the train ever stop? How do we define hope in terms of finally having and sustaining hope. Well, hope is what sustains us as individuals, and hope is more so a vision of what is possible. Without hope, we long for nothing which makes our meaning and purpose in life, seem so small. Being hopeless is where most people start to doubt their reason for living, and it makes it difficult to keep going. Wadell says,

“My students are hardly alone. We all know people and maybe are among them – whose hearts feel little warmth of hope but instead the creeping chill of despair. We encounter these people in the workplace. We find them in our churches. We may live in them. The hunger for reasons to hope, reasons to believe that despite all the challenges, struggles, difficulties, and disappointments that may come our way, life is nonetheless good, blessed and promising.” (Wadell, 20)

Wadell stresses the importance of the fact that people who are lacking hope are the people that are right next to us, friends, family, community members, students, and more. Hope seems like a far reach when other people seem to have it so easily. The easiest way to attain hope is through our relationship with God. God, although a transcendent being, is a pivotal aspect of solidifying what it means to be hopeful. Hope sometimes makes us reach for more, and our relationship with God becomes more than transcendent, it becomes real. “Like any friend, God loves us and wants our good. Like any friend, God desires our happiness and seeks what is best for us. But the good that God wants for us is the richest and most fulfilling of all, namely, everlasting life with God and the saints.” (Wadell, 25) God is more than what we sometimes think, God is understanding and compassionate to each of us because God is our father and our creator. Our relationship should always be at the forefront of all things and with God we know that hope is not something far off in the distance, it is something within our very reach.

Hope is realizing that even in the darkest of moments, that we are not going at it alone. When mental health and anxiety take over our lives and we know that we want to feel a certain way, hope starts to slip. We wonder when hope will be easy, but the truth is that it will never be simple, but it is always available through and with God. Wadell says, “Christian hope begins and ends in a gift because this is the gift of God’s very life, goodness, and love within us that enables us to hope for a joy, peace, and fulfillment that utterly transcend anything we could ever give ourselves. This is exactly what Paul meant when he declared that “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ (Rom 5:5)”

Hope can be seen as a calling, and we can be called to hope in a way that allows us to move forward in our lives in an extremely positive way. Hope was intended by God as a virtue to have so we can hold onto something that sometimes may seem like it would be impossible, but when we do, we are creating and strengthening our relationship with God that allows our faith to grow as we grow in our mental health trials and tribulations.

As someone who has struggled with the concept of hope and how to be a hopeful person when all hope seems lost, I have come to know that hope is sustainable when you have the support of God and the people around you. Faith is a reason to live, faith is hope, and God is enduring love. Our callings go far beyond a job, they bring us to relationships and abundant life. Mental health is a calling we should be showing self care for, showing compassion, and reaching for hope not only amongst ourselves but others.

“BibleGateway.” Genesis 1: 27-29 NRSV - - Bible Gateway “BibleGateway.” Luke 23:34 NRSV - - Bible Gateway “BibleGateway.” Matthew 18:21-23 NRSV - - Bible Gateway “BibleGateway.” 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13 NRSV - - Bible Gateway “BibleGateway.” 1 Peter 5:5-7 NRSV - - Bible Gateway “BibleGateway.” Psalm 147:3 NRSV - - Bible Gateway

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March 17, 2020