A columnist discusses his new book and the relationship between Christian faith and mental health issues

John with a hard copy of his book, Choosing Joy.

On Tuesday this week, my memoir Choosing Joy was published.

It explores the relationship between the Christian faith and the mental health issues I live with (anxiety and depression).

It illustrates both how certain Christian beliefs and the way they have been traditionally taught can be experienced as hurtful and how faith can provide comfort in times of emotional pain.

As a child and teenager, I was impressed that I had to be ‘born again’ if I was to be God’s friend, and was given a unique model of what that would be like. , but prayer didn’t work for me.

There was a deep fear that my parents would be taken away by Christ in the “Rapture”, leaving me alone to face the apocalypse in a world without God.

The expectation that Christians would keep themselves “out of the world” persuaded me that I could not have real mutual relationships with others.

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Later, I was traumatized (although to a lesser degree due to my growing understanding) by the expectation that our spirituality must conform to the pattern given to us (to receive the “baptism in the Spirit” for example) when the experience escaped me.

And there was the belief that as evangelical Christians we had to subscribe to a fixed list of doctrines, which troubled me as I began to doubt the veracity of some of what we had been told and concluded that in fact, in the eyes of God, how you live is far more important than the specifics of your beliefs.

Choosing Joy is published with the belief that I should share my story of “spiritual trauma” both to comfort people with their own stories of trauma and to remind faith leaders how fragile we are, how easily – and permanently – injured.

The cover of John's new book, Choosing Joy.
The cover of John’s new book, Choosing Joy.

I remain a Christian and willingly subscribe to the Christian tradition for two main reasons.

First, it seems to me that something unprecedented and transformative happened that first Sunday of Easter. And second, the most joyful times in my life, the times when I felt most “whole” occurred in the context of faith in Jesus Christ.

“Choosing joy” does not mean pretending that darkness does not exist.

Rather, it is about hanging on and acting on the belief that a basic goodness lies at the heart

of all things, and that darkness will not have the last word.


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About Harold Hartman

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