Okay, pop quiz time: If there’s anything religious people like to do it’s (FILL IN THE BLANK). 

But seriously, what would you put in that blank?

Pray? Fast? Talk a lot? Share their beliefs?

Today let’s say, “If there’s anything religious people like to do it’s take scriptures out of context and analyze them.”‘

If this were my mom’s blog, she would probably keep those scriptures firmly entrenched in their context and tell us all the exact historical meaning and significance, in addition to spiritual implications. Unfortunately, my mom doesn’t have a blog nor does she even have a fondness for the computer or Internet (though she does read this—thanks mom!), so you are stuck with me. And… I decided that about once a week, I will study at a scripture, collection of verses, or maybe even a quotation from a General Conference talk, and apply it to mental health, specifically OCD. Cool? Cool. 

I have mentioned Elder Holland’s talk on the blog before and linked to it on the Gospel Resources page. This talk addresses mental health and is entitled “Like a Broken Vessel.” Personally, I was (sarcastically) like, “Oh thanks, I love being referred to as a broken vessel. That makes me feel great.” I love the talk and I love Elder Holland, but the whole being “broken” thing seemed a bit harsh.

So…I thought for our inaugural “Scripture Snapshot” we would look at Psalms 31:9-12, where this “broken vessel” phrase makes its scriptural appearance.

Psalms 31:9-12

9 Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. 

10 For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.

11 I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. 

12 I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. 

Out of Context Analysis

Reading the verses before the “broken vessel” line helped me better appreciate this pick for Elder Holland’s Conference talk. I can actually see and feel how these verses apply to those of us with mental illnesses. Like it says in verse 9, when you are dealing with OCD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. it can really feel like all you see is “grief” and hopelessness. And I have personally witnessed the effects of a mental health problem affecting “my soul and my belly”—sometimes you make yourself feel actually ill with nervousness or stress, leaving yourself to wonder if you are “actually” sick or if it’s just psychosomatic.

The mental exhaustion of dealing with any brain disorder or illness leads to physical exhaustion, as it says in verse 10. Yes, worrying and dealing with feelings of depression and anxiety takes its toll on your body. I remember thinking that maybe I would naturally give up doing my compulsions someday because I would become so tired that I physically couldn’t do them anymore.

Verse 11 lends nicely to a discussion of the stigma of mental illness. People don’t always know what to do with you once they find out you have a mental disorder. They sometimes act towards you like an emetophobe would act towards someone who told them they have the flu.

Because it’s not understood or widely discussed, it has become a taboo subject, one that people discuss with hushed tones and underlying judgment that maybe there is something seriously wrong with that person. Well yes, there is, and it’s a brain problem. It’s not leprosy (see post from earlier this week).

This stigma and lack of discussion and acceptance of mental health disorders can make us feel, as it says in verse 12, “forgotten as a dead man.” People might avoid interacting with us to save themselves any potential awkwardness. They ignore it in order to protect themselves and us. But really it leaves us feeling like “broken vessels”—people who have the potential to be whole and serve a useful purpose but are missing key structural elements that would enable us to function as the maker intended.

Sorry to end on a bit of a downer, but alas. It’s the Psalms. Hopefully a more positive scripture next week?!

What do you think about these verses? Any other insights or points that need to be brought up? Let me know in the comments!

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