Here are some facts about our brains from “Complexity of Our Brain” by Dr. Mario D. Garrett as found in Psychology Today.
- A human brain has 7.146 billion models.
- It has 86 billion neurons that each have 1,000-10,000 synapses, which equals 125 trillion synapses (the equivalent of 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy.)
- A single synapse can control 1,000 molecular control switches meaning that the entire brain contains 125,000 trillion switches.
- In the cortex alone, there are over 100,000 miles of nerve fibers.
- Messages can travel through the nerve fibers at speeds of 268 miles per hour.
The level of complexity involved in the function of the human brain is unparalleled. The brain not only controls the way we interpret outside information, it is actually changed as a result of the information it receives. Whether you are talking about Classical Conditioning and Pavlov’s dogs or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the brain is molded by both experiences and the data it receives.
The brain can be impacted by physical conditions such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, and tumors. Human behavior and the physical health of the body can be impacted by imbalances in the brain. Learning specialists tout cross body movement and “crossing the midline” to help with brain functioning. They talk about the connection between babies that skip the crawling stage and later reading disorders. Want your kid to read better? Experts encourage exercises that cross the midline such as playing patty-cake and/or use both hemispheres of the brain like riding a bike. And we’ve all heard of the placebo effect. If you can trick the brain into thinking you are healing the body, you might actually get better.
The reverse is also true. We know that gut health is directly related to mood. Ever heard that drinking warm milk or eating a tryptophan filled turkey on Thanksgiving will make you fall asleep? There is some truth to the claims (even if they might be exagerated). Many diets promote optimal brain functioning and improved memory among their many health benefits. (Whether or not these diets can scientifically prove their specific claims, we know there is a connection to diet and brain function.) Exercise reduces depression. Sleep improves both our memory and our ability to learn new information. Too much screen time can impact attention and interfere with sleep.
My list of brain body interactions could go on and on for a very long time.
Amazing isn’t it? Yet we read one Bible verse, and somehow we can dismiss all we know in exchange for short platitudes.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …..31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25, 31-34
“But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.” Psalm 68:3
Oh, well, I guess having anxiety must be sin. Depression is a sign of unrighteousness. Mental health issues can always be cured through prayer and the Great Physician.
Um. No! Just, no.
My father drowned. My mother died of pulmonary fibrosis. My son died from diabetes. I prayed for all of them. I prayed for healing. Heck, I prayed for resurrection for my father. I know many people with chronic health problems. I know people who take cholesterol medication, insulin, and other daily medications. And don’t even get me started on the church’s embracing of the healing properties of essential oils (unless you want to know what I’m diffusing in my house this season because it smells amazing).
“Well, that’s different,” you say. “That’s the body. Sometimes God chooses not to heal someone on this side of heaven. We don’t know why, but it’s not a lack of faith.…Well, unless it’s a mental health issue and then it’s totally a lack of faith.”
Maybe we don’t come out and say that, but we act that way every time we tell someone struggling with anxiety to “give all to Jesus” or someone with clinical depression to trust more in Jesus and rub a little lavender oil on their wrists. We might not tell the person diagnosed bi-polar that they are living a life of sin because of their mood disorder, but we make comments about mood stabilizing medication that we would never make about high blood pressure medication or chemotherapy.
As a church body, we need to be more educated and understanding of mental health disorders, medications, and treatment. We need to understand that there is still a lot we don’t know. Faith absolutely plays a vital role in mental health, just like it plays a vital part in physical health, and every other aspect of life and community. Healing might come through the Great Physician or it might come through trained doctors, therapists, and pharmaceutical companies. We need to take away the stigma that if your pancreas isn’t producing insulin it’s fine to take an insulin injection, but if your amazingly complicated computer of a brain is misfiring one or more of it’s 125,000 trillion switches, you need to pray more.
Church, we can do better.