How Routine Effects Your Well-Being and Mental Health

Quick. What are you doing at 7:00 tomorrow morning?

If you didn’t know within a second or two, you may be missing out on one of the best ways to improve your quality of life. And if you are battling a mental health problem, you may be missing out on a powerful, free weapon in your arsenal.

It’s called: Having a routine.

❯ A Routine Is Good for Anyone

Every mom knows her kids flourish on a consistent routine, while an inconsistent schedule leads to more and more tears, outbursts, and conflict. But a consistent routine doesn’t just benefit kids. Want better sleep and feel more alert? Stick to a routine. Want to be more productive? Have a routine. Want to improve your fitness? Accomplish a goal? Feel more relaxed? Develop your spiritual life? Routine. Routine. Routine.

A routine is every adult’s friend. It helps you feel more like life is working with you, rather than against you. It produces peace of mind. It engenders calm. It reduces stress. It promotes a positive outlook on each day and a sense of well-being. A routine can build health and strength and a feeling of accomplishment. If applied wisely, it can even help strengthen relationships with the most important people in your life.

Sure, living on a consistent routine may run the risk of you being labeled: Boring. And yes, sooner or later, someone’s gonna tell you to let your hair down, to live a little, that you only live once, that you take life too seriously. But that peer-pressure is a small price to pay for the well-oiled hum of a satisfying life routine. People who live according to a routine know that low stress for the long-term is far, far better than short-term thrills or indulgences.

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. A routine can be so rigid that it makes you intolerant of people who interrupt it. But, a good routine is flexible and makes room for people by scheduling them into it—everything from lunch with a friend to planning a Super Bowl party.

 A Routine Is a Mental Health Weapon

If having a consistent life routine is valuable when you feel yourself, just imagine how important it is for the person who feels not yourself right now.

I have observed this in my wife Dawn, who struggles with the cycles of bipolar II: hypomania, then briefly feeling herself, then depression, then repeat. In the 30+ years of our marriage, we continue to see how effective a stable routine is in managing the almost daily assault of tumultuous thoughts.

Let me give you an idea of what living a consistent routine means for Dawn:

  • It’s knowing how much water to drink every day and when.
  • It’s when she goes to bed, and when she gets up.
  • It’s knowing which foods make her feel worse (sugar, caffeine, some spices).
  • It’s avoiding music, TV, and movies that lead to more mental battles.
  • It’s what she does first thing every single morning (drink a bottle of water, a 20-minute breath to relax exercise, time reading her Bible, and writing in her journal)
  • It’s how much exercise she gets, and when, and the right kind, and the right level of intensity
  • It’s tackling a manageable set of tasks every day, not too much, not too little.
  • It’s taking time for friends and serving others, but reserving enough quiet space to be alone.
  • It’s participating in the community, but knowing her limits.
  • It’s even scheduling laundry, dishes, shopping and house cleaning so that our home always feels like a calm, peaceful place to relax.

Dawn has learned and keeps learning what works for her by reading, and talking with others, and by trial-and-error. Like blocking and tackling in football, she knows she has to keep practicing the basics of her routine to manage her challenges. I try to help in small ways too: like calling to pray with her each morning, or asking if she remembered to drink water when she feels out of sorts. I also avoid playing some of my music around her because of how it affects her.

What should your routine be like? How could it help you? How could the people who love you help you practice the basics? Only you can know. But give yourself time to learn. The benefits will be worth it.

A Routine Has These Benefits

You can think of the benefits of your routine a few different ways: as a motivator, as decision-support, as guard rails, and as a peace maker.

Think of your routine as a motivator because it can give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. When you are depressed, it gives you something tangible and positive to do as soon as you are alert. And this can begin to stabilize your mind at the beginning of the day.

Think of your routine as decision-support because it helps you know what to do next. When your mind is foggy or fretful, any decision can seem huge and daunting, with inflated importance. But your routine will remind you of what you can do or should do next. And sometimes, getting through the next few minutes of fog with something positive to focus on is just what you need to build courage for later in the day.

Think of your routine as guard rails that keep a car from the edge of a cliff. If you feel manic or hypomanic symptoms your racing thoughts could lead to some not yourself behavior. They need to be brought smoothly to a slow, safe, sensible pace. Your routine can help you feel grounded so you can focus on one thing at a time. The next thing. And the next. And then, the next. Your routine can help you avoid behaviors or decisions that you may later regret.

And finally, a routine can help make peace within and around you. Just think. Are you more relaxed in a cluttered space or an orderly space? Does a 100 item to-do list for the day help you feel calm and confident? Do you function better when your sleep patterns vary? Are you likely to feel yourself if you skip a proper meal to binge on brownies? It’s pretty clear which habits of life promote that calm, and which destroy it. But it’s practicing your routine that will help make the life habits you need feel easy and desirable.

If you’re a take life as it comes person, I suggest you carve out some time to start thinking about the routines that will help you make a life instead. Don’t obsess about getting it right. Just start imaging how a routine could benefit you, and then take the next step that seems best to you. And then, the next. And the next.

And as always, remember Whom you are dependent on. Remember the source of your life. Jesus, our Redeemer is a ready help to the needy and contrite.

The Spiritual Health of Pentecostalism — Part 1

Is Pentecostalism spiritually healthy?

Is it a faithful manifestation of the ancient faith revealed by Scripture?

Is pentecostal emotionalism a spiritual blessing, or psychological baggage?

As in most things, the answers aren’t a simple yes or no. Nothing is perfect under the sun, and that includes the way Christians—all Christians (including me)—believe and practice our belief. But, I feel compelled to try to provide a more practical answer for the anonymous reader who posted this comment on my blog about Why I left Pentecostalism:

Hi Lon, I found your blog through a Google search. I am part of a pentecostal church and I have become uncomfortable with their teachings (I am a new Christian of only 6 months – grew up atheist. 31 years old)

My concerns are around how emotional the whole experience is. I realised today that it doesn’t actually feel good to be so up and down.

I still love God and the bible. I have started doing research as you mentioned in your blog about Christianity origins..

I am going to try some new churches. What was your experience in finding a church? I randomly bumped into a Catholic the library yesterday and he was able to tell me about the orthodox bible study guide..

What did you find a helpful place to begin?

Are all the satan/enemy battles normal in all Christianity? It doesn’t feel good to be in battle all the time…

First Anonymous, let me offer God praise for bringing you to repentance and faith in Jesus. The faith you and I share is a gift which comes from hearing the gospel. I don’t know your story, but I’ll assume that God used your pentecostal friends or your pentecostal church to share the gospel with you, and I’ll give God praise for this as well.

Second Anonymous, I want to answer your questions fairly (both those in your comment and those which I think I hear behind your keyboard). But, since you know I left Pentecostalism, to be fair and honest to Pentecostalism I should admit that:

  1. For the last century, God has used the pentecostal movement tremendously to advance His kingdom in many countries around the world.
  2. Many mature, healthy Christians live and grow and serve Christ in pentecostal churches.
  3. Pentecostalism is as varied as can be; it’s not a unified movement. The best pentecostal churches are places where Jesus is exalted, the gospel is preached, the Bible is the sole authority, and orthodox doctrine is taught. On the other hand, there are pentecostal churches that teach unorthodox  (that is, heretical) doctrine and promote unhealthy spiritual practices. In between, bell curve-like, most pentecostal churches are a mix of good and bad evolving from year-to-year, and pastor-to-pastor.
  4. I’m a former Pentecostal who is now happy to be Presbyterian.

For these three reasons, I’ll try to address pentecostal teachings and practices specifically, rather than risk painting an unfair picture of Pentecostalism generally.

You asked about emotionalism, spiritual battles, and my experience finding a church. On emotionalism, you may find this post relevant: Help—Weird Things are Happening in Our Church. On finding a church, I have written several posts that don’t quite meet the spirit of your question, but may still be helpful:

I’d like to address your questions more directly, but I’ll have to do this in a series of posts, rather than one snoringly long post. And, before I can write about “how emotional the whole experience is…” or “the satan/enemy battles…” I need to answer the most important question you asked:

Anonymous, you asked about resources for learning more about the Christian faith.

Of course there are tons, but here are a few that a) I trust, and b) will help you understand the core teachings of Christianity. These provide reliable, faithful summaries of biblical teaching and deep-dives into the most important biblical topics. As you learn the foundations of Christian faith, you’ll become more able to discern errors (great or small) in your church, in books, on the radio, TV, magazines, etc.

Resources for Learning the Christian Faith

1 – The Bible, in a translation that is easy for you to read and understand.

I usually read the English Standard Version (ESV) and I recommend you get the ESV Study Bible which provides wonderful introductory material to the Bible as a whole, as well as each of its 66 books. If you don’t yet feel like you have a handle on the Bible, I’d suggest focusing on these books (not necessarily in this order): Genesis through Deuteronomy, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Matthew through John, Acts, and Romans through Colossians. Some of the resources below will help you get a handle on the Bible. I also wrote Bible Reading Tips for Newbies with some very basic getting started tips.

2 – Any resource or book from Ligonier Ministries, the teaching ministry of R. C. Sproul.

Sproul is a world-class theologian and conservative biblical scholar known for his ability to make complex topics accessible for the newcomer. Click this link for Ligonier’s free teaching resources. You may want to subscribe to their excellent monthly Table Talk devotional magazine. They even have a lecture on Pentecostalism’s place in church history.

3 – The Core Christianity website.

This website was launched in 2016 by the folks who support Michael Horton’s White Horse Inn teaching ministry. Horton is another exemplary biblical scholar and author. The mission behind this website is to help clarify what the foundational teachings of the Bible really are, and what Christianity really is. This is incredibly necessary in our individualistic, meaning-defined-by-me, truth-as-I-see-it, modern world where the Christian message is morphed by a million individuals.

4 – The White Horse Inn podcast.

It’s always a panel discussion of a topic or an interview of an author. They cover everything from same-sex attraction to cellular design to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the atonement. It’s so valuable to me that it’s the only podcast I regularly make time for. I’ve been listening for years and have found it every bit as relevant/helpful/useful as my seminary education. Their mission says it all: Know what you believe, and why you believe it.

If you love reading, Horton also publishes in depth articles in Modern Reformation Magazine.

5 – The New City Catechism website or iPad app.

This is a brilliant, modern remake of two classic Protestant catechisms (Did you know Protestants invented the catechism?): The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1646 (English, Presbyterian); and The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 (German, Dutch Reformed). It combines the classic Q&A catechism format with short readings and 2-3 minute video clips by a variety of Bible teachers. Here’s my own review.

6 – Basic Christianity book by John Stott.

7 – Knowing God book by J. I. Packer.

8 – Surprised by Joy book by C. S. Lewis, the autobiographical story of Lewis’ own conversion from Atheism.

9 – Life Issues by Randy Pope.

These four, short booklets answer the most fundamental questions people have to answer before they could believe the Christian faith. For example: “How can you trust that the Bible is God’s word?” and “Is Jesus the only way to God?”

What Now?

I know I’ve provided a lot here, at the risk of overwhelming you. But, if you treat this post as a reference you’ll find that blog posts linked here are quick enough to read through. The books will take a few weeks. The catechism should take a year in small weekly questions. And the Bible, well, that’s a lifetime. The best news is that the types of resources I recommend here are so varied in their nature that you can easily integrate several of them into your daily life simultaneously.

For example, today you might read a John 1 and skim the introduction in the ESV Study Bible, read a 5-minute blog post during lunch, listen to a podcast from Ligonier or the White Horse Inn on your commute from work, and spend 15 minutes reading Lewis before bed.

Just keep this post handy as a reference. Spend a few days getting a feel for what resources seem most useful to you. And then, and find a way to integrate them into your life.

Anonymous, thank you for reading Average Us. Thank you for your questions. I will write again more directly about pentecostalism. May God’s grace and face always shine on you.

No Fear Can Rapture My Soul

Hello, Average Us. This is Dawn.

Today, I want to share a poem with you written by my friend Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth worships with Lon and me at Restoration Presbyterian Church and, like me, suffers with depression and anxiety. She wrote this poem to express her trust in Christ through her struggle. She shared it with me, and gave me permission to post it here on Average Us. If you are struggling with any sort of challenge today, I pray this poem gives you hope by pointing you to the One, true and living source of hope. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no fear that can rapture my soul
In Which He can’t see, for which I can’t be made whole
This darkness is impending, the dreaded black hole
And yet, He is here, nothing is beyond His control
What is it that tempts me to fear?
That steals my joy, that takes my cheer
Most times it seems a mystery, there is something there, quite unclear
But oh! It covers my mind, my heart, it is severe
It wrinkles my thinking, crumples my brow
When I am tempted to put my head down, to follow, to allow
This burden becomes heavy, too heavy now
Yet somehow…
There is One, they call him Spirit, faint but still beckons me
That dark place down there, oh, He can see
This ever present Friend & Guide beckons me to reality
That faithful One who can never depart from me
I’m reminded of truth, the truth of His Word
Could it be what is real, in this life so blurred?
My secret hope to be rescued was never unheard
How suddenly He works, my helplessness deferred…
To the cross of Christ, on who I was taught to hope
I no longer must in the darkness hang, cannot grope
Except to my Bible I cling, there it is! Life & hope!
It pulls me back up from which I had gone, that quick steep slope
And in this book of old, the Prophets, the martyrs have told
In these pages I see their darkness, their struggles unfold
In times of doubt & fear, it was You, their constant stronghold
From the pit it pulled them from, Your faithfulness, Your glory to behold
And it is clear now, so clear a theme
When I look through this Word as a whole it would seem
You, my Savior, my Friend, will doubtless, unquestionably redeem
Cast away that Liar, the one who distracts from truth by his great scheme
It is You & me, rejoined on this path of Life
You walk with me & carry me, undeniably love me through all my strife
And when it comes to glory, You are the one who will receive
I will benefit too, it is I who will tell others for I believe
Since now it is TRUTH you have taught me to perceive
I see well now this tapestry in my life that you weave…
It will be to You, and You alone to whom my soul shall cleave.