Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues.
Seeing their kids more eager to pray than play video games, most parents would shout, “Hallelujah” or whatever their expression of joy. And they should. Research shows that religion can be a positive force in the lives of children, just as can be for adults. “Religion,” says Bill Hathaway, a clinical psychologist of religion and Dean of the School of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University, “is related to the child having a higher sense of self esteem, better academic adjustment and lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent or criminal behavior.”
So if your child is immersed in scripture after school and prays regularly throughout the day, you may breathe a sigh of relief. She’s such a good girl. My boy is okay.
Or maybe not. Your child’s devotion may be a great thing, but there are some kids whose religious observances require a deeper look. For these children, an overzealous practice of their family faith — or even another faith — may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue or a coping mechanism for dealing with unaddressed trauma or stress.
Therapists in private practice report that they are seeing children and teens across a range of faiths whose religious practice can be problematic. The amount of time they spend praying, or in other acts of spiritual practice, is not as important, they say, as the quality of this devotion, and whether it helps the children or instead isolates them and undermines their schoolwork and relationships. Children with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for example, may rigidly repeat holy verses, say Hail Mary’s or focus on other rituals less out of a deeper sense of faith but more as an expression of their disorder. “It looks positive but could be negative,” says Stephanie Mihalas, a UCLA professor and licensed clinical psychologist.
Such ritualistic behavior, she says, may also reflect a child’s way of coping with anxiety, and in reality could be no more spiritual than fanatical hand washing or dreading to walk on cracks. “These kids fear that if they don’t obey their religious rules perfectly,” explains Carole Lierberman, MD, a psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, “God will punish them.”
Some children suffer from scrupulosity, a form of OCD that involves a feeling of guilt and shame. Sufferers obsessively worry that they have committed blasphemy, been impure or otherwise sinned. They tend to focus on certain rules or rituals rather than the whole of their faith. They worry that God will never forgive them. And this can signal the onset of depression or anxiety, says John Duffy, a Chicago area clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents. “Kids who have made ‘mistakes’ with sex or drug use,” he says, “may have trouble forgiving themselves.”
Such fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful, but extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations may be a sign of serious mental illness. Seeing and hearing things that are not there can be symptoms of manic-depressive, bipolar disorder, or early onset schizophrenia. But parents may be less attuned to such unhealthy behavior when it occurs under the guise of faith.
It’s not unusual that children in families where marital discord, harsh discipline, abuse, or addiction are present, perform rituals for protection. If they know their parents approve of religion, says Lieberman, “they try to be good little children and stay below the radar of the family chaos or parents’ rage.” Or, as Mihalas has seen, some children push their already observant parents to be even stricter, fearing that catastrophe will strike otherwise.
When does religiosity raise these red flags? The crucial test focuses on how the kids are functioning in the rest of their lives. Are they doing well at school, playing sports or music, socializing with friends? If so, then their faith is probably a source of strength and resilience. If, however, the religious practices and rituals seem to be overtaking their daily lives, and displacing their normal activities, experts suggest taking steps to understand what’s triggering the focus on faith. To guide the discussion, here’s what they recommend:
Model a healthy balance between religion and life
Show them in your own behavior, suggests Mihalas, how religion can co-exist with enjoying life.
If your child switches to a different style of religion, be tolerant
If your children are doing well in other areas of their life, don’t panic, says Hathaway. Unless you feel strongly that they are morally wrong, take this shift in stride.
Be alert to a sudden and pervasive shift in religious practice
Talk to your child about it. Ask her what her religion means to her. Ask him what he is getting out of it, how it makes him feel.
If you feel your child needs help, find a therapist comfortable with religion
Before engaging a therapist, ask about his or her comfort level with devout religious practice.
Religious families need not worry that therapy will draw their child away from their faith, Hathaway says. He recalls one girl struggling with anorexia who felt that she could never be “good enough” to satisfy the harsh, judgmental God of her imagination. After psychological treatment that included a spiritual element, she not only recovered from her anorexia, she developed a more positive view of God, of other people and herself. Instead of being weighed down by guilt and anxiety, her spiritual life became a comfort and joy. And that’s the role that religion should have for people of faith.
Courtesy of Francine Russo and written for for Time
Psalm 20:5 – “We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.”
Song of Songs 2:4 – “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”
Song of Songs 6:4 – “You are beautiful, my darling as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners.
Exodus 17:15 – “Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.
1 Corinthians 1:27 – But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty KJV
Psalms 149:3 – Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. KJV
Psalms 150:4 – Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. KJV
Psalms 60:4 – Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah. KJV
Song of Solomon 2:4 – He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. KJV
THE WEAPON OF PRAISE: Psalm 150
“Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. LET EVERYTHING THAT HAS BREATHE PRAISE THE LORD. Praise the Lord.
When we give praise to the Lord, we are in a spiritual battle. We may be totally unaware of it, but the battle is there! This is my favorite army position. As we are giving praise and worship to the Lord, we become so delighted in his presence and his greatness, that we usually are unaware of the spiritual battle going on. Don’t be fooled. This isn’t just a pretty scene of colorful, fun looking flags. This is a battle. While we exalt Jesus, we tear down the enemy’s camp at the same time. However our focus should always be on the Lord our God while we worship!
When a shout was given out from the army of Joshua the walls of Jericho fell. David killed Golitith with a mere stone! Samspson had supernatural strength with his uncut hair. Though there was no power in the yell, stone or hair itself, they became mighty weapons. A stone on it’s own has no power, but add faith with it and it becomes a massive destructive weapon. Dangerous enough to kill the enemy! That is like worship flags and accessories. There is no power in the flags themselves, however the power comes in what we proclaim with them as we use them. Then they become destructive weapons, which disable the enemy!
Flag Color Symbols
It has been my experience that each colour has a specific meaning. May I suggest that you be sensitive to the Holy Spirits leading, as you prepare to worship through flagging. He will guide you as to what colour to use, depending on what the Holy Spirit chooses to communicate through you and the flags. So please prayerfully consider your colour choice. Below, I have listed several colours and their meaning.
Gold – Glory, Deity, Godhead, Divine Light
Silver – Word of God, Righteousness, Wisdom
Royal Blue – Priesthood, Holy Spirit, Truth
Red – Blood of Jesus, Cleansing, Atonement, War, Life
Green – Praise, Mercy, Prosperity, New Beginning, Healing
God is honored when we “set our minds on things above” and seek to worship and appreciate Him. A key to avoiding sin and listless worldliness in our lives is to focus our thoughts on what God has revealed of Himself to us of His nature and attributes. We are very, very, very, very limited in our knowledge and understanding of God. Thank God for what He has revealed of Himself to us through the Scriptures and nature!
In Concise Theology – A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois – 1993) Reformed Theologian J. I. Packer discusses God’s Omniscience (p. 31-32):
“Omniscient is a word that means “knowing everything.” Scripture declares that God’s eyes run everywhere (Job 24:23; Psalms 33:13-15, 139:13-16; Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 16:17; Hebrews 4:13). He searches all hearts and observes everyone’s ways (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; 1 Chronicles 28:9…