The Importance of a “Both/And” Approach

I’ve gotten behind in my interactions with readers.  Here is a question that was raised 10 days ago that raises many important questions.  Let me share a reader’s question and the context she provided.

“I work with the public, and I of course try to engage with them. Sometimes I get more than what I bargained for, and I like to think of myself as a good sounding board. Sometimes when this happens, I carry perfect strangers sorrows on my shoulders and I dwell on what they have told me. One such person has been on my mind for 24 hours- maybe not her, but her poor daughter.”

“While sharing small talk with a customer, she let out that her 14 year old daughter had had her first day of school. It did NOT go well, and she had been crying ever since. I of course, living in the area almost all of my life, and raising four kids here; inquired about the school. It was a brand-new charter school I had never heard of.”

“The Mom continued on saying that all of the girls friends whom she had gone to school with for many years are attending public schools, and she is alone. She goes onto tell me (this is the alarming part) that she (the Mom) had fasted for 3 days and her whole congregation (a very large church I know of ) had been praying for her daughters acceptance. That is fine— as humans we all have to accept change, no matter how drastic— there are always bumps In the road of life. She goes onto tell me how her daughter is so depressed that she had to re-tell her about Jesus’ acts for her life, holds her in the palm of his hands, died for her, and that He loves her that much.”

“Is there something wrong with me that I feel sorry for this young girl to have a Mother like this? I worry for her— the young girl. Not because she has to go to a new school— she will have to adapt and make new friends. I worry because her Mother had fasted for three days, and prayed to God to get her child in this school, and then I felt like she guilted her child into not accepting the way she was feeling, but making her feel even more downtrodden because now Jesus has somehow taken it personal that this girl was sad or upset.”

“It has been on my mind since, more than 24 hours. Do you have a take?”

Thanks for sharing the situation with us.  I’ll take a moment and share a few thoughts the situation raises for me.  Then, I’ll invite others to share their perspectives as well.

One of the greatest challenges I face is living in a world that would have us believe the solutions to all our problems are “either/or”.  To put it in context of this situation, the world would have us believe that the solutions to the girl’s problems are either purely secular (i.e., get her on medications or into a therapist’s office) or purely sacred (i.e., pray and fast for her).  As a Progressive person of faith, I believe that the best solutions to such challenges are “both/and” – meaning there are elements of the solution that include BOTH secular and sacred aspects.

From what you shared, it sounds like a big piece of the young girl’s challenges right now are situational.  She is depressed because she has changed schools and left her friends behind.  This leads me to believe that it might be good to start by having her see a counselor or mental health professional to help her process her feelings and assess if there are deeper challenges (i.e., chemical issues) that might need medication.  This is what many would call the “secular” aspect of the problem.

While some might stop there, I would not.  As a person of faith, there are wonderful ways in which one’s faith could help support the girl in this time of transition.  As a Progressive person of faith, I would articulate those things in ways that are different from this girl’s mother and congregation approach.  Instead of assuming that WE know God’s will (i.e., God wants her to attend this new charter school), I would embrace the spirit of The Lord’s Prayer – especially the “THY will be done” portion – and ask for guidance to understand what is truly best for the young woman.

I would also pray for the humility to accept that my perception of the solution might be misguided – and that God’s desires would be for her to be in a different setting (i.e., return to the public school her friends are attending).  To figure this out, I would use spiritual disciplines ranging from discernment groups, prayer groups, and conversations with trusted spiritual guides that could help the young woman  discover the best – not necessarily the easiest – path for her.

In terms of her mother’s approach, I have one primary concern.  Sometimes people who embrace a particular form of Christianity take an approach to mental health issues that I would summarize as a “pray the problem away”.  They believe that prayer alone can “fix” the problem or crisis.  What they fail to appreciate, is that prayer is only one part of the equation.  Prayer leads us to the second half of the equation: action.  That action can take many forms including things like seeking out a good licensed therapist or counselor, seeking the advice of trained medical professionals versed in mental health issues, and a willingness to revisit one’s earlier decisions (i.e. changing her school enrollment).

While I believe the mother’s intentions for her daughter are good, her “either/or” approach to resolving the issue (i.e., emphasizing only a “sacred” approach to the challenge and ignoring “secular” solutions) might be putting her daughter at risk for a mental health crisis.

So what perspectives would you share with our reader about her concerns?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 55-year-old who currently lives in Los Angeles, CA but will soon be moving to New Jersey. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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