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An Unexpected Way to Improve Your Mental Health

When we visit my parents there are two priority destinations.  First is to the M&M jar, always stocked with season-specific colors.  (Coming soon is red white and blue.)

Second is to the utility room where there will be thirty books -big picture ones for my little nieces and stacks of hand-picked novels for everyone else.  Mom’s a librarian, and she’s good.  She knows the specific tastes of every reader in the family.  Matt always immediately grabs a thick hardback and makes for the hottest seat in the house –in front of the fireplace in the winter and on the sunny front porch in the summer.

We know the value of a good story in our family.

So I was intrigued by John Piper’s observation, in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God.  He says,

“Almost no child or adult being told a riveting story is thinking about himself at the moment.  He’s drawn out of himself and into the story.  It’s good mental health.”

Piper goes on to say their church is two blocks from a mental health institution, and all the people there have one thing in common.

“They’re all wrapped up in themselves.  All mentally ill people are consumed with themselves.”

This gives new meaning to Paul’s instructions, when he says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  (Philippians 2:4  NIV)

We are to put a bookmark in our own story as a matter of habit, to invest in someone else’s adventure.

mental health

How to get into a new story:

  • Read someone else’s story.  I have made a habit of reading biographies and autobiographies of faithful Christians.  These have expanded my own faith, increased my knowledge of God, and compelled me toward obedience to God.
  • Give money or serve in some way to make someone else’s story less tragic.
  • Ask someone, So what’s your story?  Clue the person with your body language that you really, really want to know the whole thing.  (Make sure you have a reputation for keeping stories confidential.)  Very few people think anyone cares about their story.
  • Read the Bible until you know God’s story by heart.  Jesus says (and I paraphrase), “Whoever wants to be my disciple must be willing to put down his own story and find his role in mine.”  (Matthew 16:24  NIV)

We should evaluate our mental health.

If we find we are self-absorbed with our own problems, perhaps the most beneficial, self-profiting action we can take is to jump into the challenging, new plot of someone else’s life story.


  1. I think you really don’t get mental ilnesses. No offense but f you have a serious chemical imbalance making you depressed or bipolar a book will not help. Just like a book will not cure cancer or a broken leg.

    1. You know, since writing that post I have become more sensitive to the need to qualify my statement. You’re right, there is long-term mental illness that requires treatment. But there is also a mental health we all have, wouldn’t you say? And just like exercise improves the health of the body, there are exercises we can take to improve our daily mental health. The Bible is filled with instruction about how we are to manage our mind.

  2. What a great thought. It is true ….sometimes the way to “escape” (that has connotations of the bad I know) our own troubles is to get involved in learning about other’s troubles and helping with a solution to the needs of others. And it can start with picking up a book. Thanks….I’m sharing this in my “school” today.

  3. Stacey McGough says:

    Beautifully said!

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