One topic that is fiercely debated in our world today is the legalization of marijuana. The United States Federal Drug Administration has long held that marijuana did not have any medicinal value and that recreational use is addictive and destructive. Proponents of legalization site a variety of benefits ranging from the income produced through taxes, to the release of individuals in prison for “non-violent offences,” to the benefits of medicinal marijuana. In fact, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University, and the chief medical correspondent for CNN, has now embraced the medical benefits of marijuana. Many states have decriminalized the possession of marijuana or legalized its use for medicinal purposes. Colorado and Washington State have legalized it for recreational purposes. In 2013, Gallop took a poll which indicated that 58% of Americans are in favor of legalization, and this is the first time that proponents of legalization were in the majority. Whether or not marijuana has medicinal benefits is a question for scientists to decide. With the trend toward the legalization of marijuana, it is imperative that all individuals understand one very significant fact: Teens are at a very significant risk of harm when they use marijuana.
According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the part of the brain that is responsible for instinctive and aggressive reactions develops early in life. However, the part of the brain that develops reasoning and impulse control does not fully develop until early adulthood. Therefore, during the teen years, an individual has the capacity to react on instinct and respond aggressively, while not having a fully developed capacity to reason or think prior to action. Of course, parents are responsible to teach and train as this part of the brain develops. When marijuana is added into that developing brain, the teen’s ability to make wise decisions is even more impaired. Dr. Madeline Meier, and her team at Duke University, researched the influence of consistent use of Marijuana and its impact on neurological functioning. They followed over 1,000 people from age 13 to age 38. The participants, who were identified as persistent marijuana users during their teen years, averaged an eight point reduction in their overall IQ or intelligence. Additionally, there was significant decline in executive functioning (emotional control, ability to self-start, planning/organization, self-monitoring), memory, brain processing speed, perceptions, and verbal comprehension. Finally, when those individuals stopped using marijuana, their level of functioning and overall IQ or intelligence did not return to its pre-marijuana levels. Therefore, when teens use marijuana persistently, it is literally like taking part of their intelligence, including executive functioning, and simply throwing it in the trash. Regardless of the legislators’ choices concerning the legalization of marijuana, the ultimate choice to use or not use mood altering substances like marijuana is a personal one. The Scriptures admonish us not to be drunk or intoxicated, but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet, we are also to be in the world but not of the world. Individuals, who are not followers of Jesus Christ, do not feel the need to conform to Biblical teaching. Therefore, condemning them for not following a set of rules that they do not accept is counterproductive. Rather, point them toward resources that can help with that issue and also point them to Jesus by example. When someone is using marijuana or other drugs, and desires to stop, the assistance of a medical professional is often needed. Twelve step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous can be tremendously helpful as well. These groups have a long tradition of individuals clearly accepting responsibility for the consequences of their choices. If members of the Church had the openness of their life struggles like members of AA and NA have, then the Church would experience revival. Remember, the Christian life has been described as one person, who used to be hungry, showing another person, who is starving, where the bread is located. Finding ways to help teens understand the dangers and long term implications of marijuana use without being judgmental may be a way to point toward the Bread of Life.
Depression: An Illness, Weakness, or Lack of Faith?
Just for a moment, imagine yourself at a local shopping center. A friend of yours walks up to you and has a stressed look on his face. He is sweating even though the temperature in the shopping center is quite cool. You ask him if he is ok. He states “I don’t think so. My chest is tight and hurts; I have a weird pain in my left arm, and I am having trouble catching my breath.” Hopefully, you recognize these as the primary symptoms associated with a heart attack, and would quickly call 911. According to the Center for Disease Control, an estimated one in ten adults suffers from some form of depression. This type of depression is not just a “down” mood. It is an illness that has symptoms just like a heart attack has symptoms. Depression can also be fatal, if it continues without treatment. Some people do not see depression as an illness. In fact, some Christians assert that seeking counseling or taking medications to treat a real depressive disorder is unnecessary, evidence of a lack of faith, or even sinful. The healthiest approach to a depressive disorder involves a balance of faith in God’s presence and guidance, faith-integrated counseling, and medical intervention when necessary. God can heal depression just like God can heal cancer. However, sometimes God uses medical interventions, like faith-integrated counseling and medications, in that process. First, recognize that an individual’s depressed mood may or may not be connected to a difficult experience. Certainly, when an individual has a loss or unexpected negative experience, it is healthy for that person to experience and express emotions associated with that loss or experience. In that situation, the first course of action might be to talk with a trusted friend, a close family member, or a pastor. Even if there is not an easily identifiable loss or experience that one can connect with the “down” mood, talking to one of these persons is still a positive first step. Depression, like heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses, tends to run in families. If those conversations do not create significant relief, it is important to clearly look at a list of symptoms and determine if medical attention is the best course of action. Here is a list of the primary symptoms for a depressive illness: • Depressed mood nearly every day for 2 weeks or more; • Diminished interest in most activities that were previously enjoyed. (note: not a change in interests); • Weight loss or weight gain that represents more than 5% of body weight without dieting or attempting to gain weight for a healthy purpose; • Sleeping very little or sleeping more than 10 hours per day nearly every day; • Observations by others that the impacted person is physically moving slow or shaking; • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day; • Feeling worthless or feeling excessive guilt without clear causal connection; • Diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions nearly every day; and • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Five or more of these symptoms indicates that the depressed mood may have become an illness. The reasons why are beyond the scope of this short article. The important factor is to know when to ask for help. The first step is to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. Most Christians prefer an individual who integrates the faith values of the individual into the conversations. If needed, that professional can refer to a physician who can evaluate for possible medications. Medication is not always needed. Many Christians based their experience of their relationship with God on their feelings of connection with God. All Christians have periods where it feels like their prayers are hitting the ceiling and bouncing back. This is particularly true with individuals who are depressed. Feelings do not indicate God’s faithfulness. One’s understanding of God’s faithfulness should come from God’s Word and not one’s feelings. Likewise, one’s feelings about a particular illness or group of illnesses should not prohibit them from seeking medical treatment when it is needed. Depression, and some other mental illnesses, can be as serious as a heart attack.
The Breath of Life
A very common stress-relieving technique is deep breathing exercises. When an individual purposefully exercises the involuntary act of breathing, it can provide a moment of relaxation in the midst of a real life storm. Ever wondered why? The breath of life, which God gave to Adam (Genesis 2:7), changed a form of dust from the ground into a living being. The letter-for-letter translation of the Hebrew word that the King James Version translates as “being” is nephesh; and that word, in other parts of the Scriptures is most often translated as “soul.” God used the breath of life to create a living soul. Likewise, the letter-for-letter translation of the New Testament Greek word psuche originates from the Greek word that means, “to breathe.” Psuche is the origin of the English word “psych” or “psychology;” and it is most often translated in the New Testament as “soul” as well. Other translations include “life,” “mind,” and “heart.” Mark 8:35–37 is a great example because the word psuche appears four times: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Twice it is translated “life” and twice it is translated “soul.” Therefore, in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, and the Greek language of the New Testament, the essence or “soul” of who we are as creations of God can be traced back to, and renewed by the simple act of breathing. It is interesting that as a human being or a human soul, we have three parts (mind, body, and spirit) that make up our being. Through our understanding of the Trinity, God is One Who also has three parts (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). After all, we are created in God’s image. Caring for the soul does require focus on all three parts. When your body is healthy, your thoughts and emotions are at peace, and your relationship with God is growing; you have a very well balanced life that has the greatest opportunity for loving and healthy relationships with others. Yet, when one or more of the parts of our soul is out of balance, life can be a very difficult struggle. Additionally, the negative actions of others often negatively impact us to exacerbate that struggle. During that struggle, it is easy to want to blame God. Wm. Paul Young wrote a wonderful book in the Christian fiction genre titled The Shack. To highlight his understanding of the Trinity, Young developed three characters that represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When “Papa,” which is Young’s character that represents God the Father, is speaking about the struggles of life she states: “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I needed it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” God does not orchestrate tragedies. Yet, we live in a fallen world, and sometimes the struggles of life are difficult to navigate. During those times, as well as when life is wonderful, our job is to care for each aspect of our soul, thankfully receive God’s grace, give grace to others, develop relationships that are healthy, and seek opportunities to share God’s love. When you need a reminder that God’s presence is real in your life, take a deep breath and remember that God’s breath is the source of life; and by accepting God’s grace from the Cross, God lives in you.