You crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. — Psalm 65:11 NLT
Tabitha Brown is one of my favorite influencers. She’s a comedian, an actress, and the patron saint of vegan living. I am not a vegan, and I think that’s true of many of the millions of people who follow her on social media. We just can’t get enough of Tabitha’s oh-so-infectious energy. She always brings inspiration no matter what she’s communicating. At the same time, she has been open about the pain in her own life. It’s the authenticity for me. The bright colors she wears, her Southern charm, and her unapologetic love for Jesus make her downright irresistible. An encounter with Tabitha’s content feels like an encounter with pure joy. So when she launched her children’s show, Tab Time, I watched that too (despite my age falling well outside the target demographic). The first episode became an instant favorite for me because Tab (and her buddy Avi the Avocado) taught us about how things grow.1
The episode begins in Ms. Tab’s real-life garden. Then she and Avi whisk us off to a brightly animated fruit orchard where we meet an orange-tree seed named Marmalade. Marmalade tells us that all she needs to start growing is good ground and some water. Ms. Tab tucks Marmalade into the soil and waters her well. Then we all pretend our arms are the arms of a clock; together, we speed up time by making big arm circles. A few seconds later Marmalade reappears, but now she is no longer a seed but a full-grown orange tree bearing her first fruit. Less than seven minutes into the episode, the preschool children for whom the show was created have already learned all they need to know to understand how gardens grow.
The garden within may be a completely different way of thinking about how we were created and what it means to flourish, but when it comes to what you need to know to live this powerful life, you probably learned it in kindergarten or — at the latest — by the end of a middle school science class.
- The Creator made things very simple for us. No wonder Scripture encourages us to come to Jesus with the heart of a child (Mark 10:15). Things are so much easier when we do.
And when it comes to letting the Creator change what we believe about how we feel, the timing couldn’t be better.
It’s Okay Not to Be Okay
When we catch a glimpse of Tabitha’s real-life garden, it is too lush for words! It’s full of bright colors and fruits and vegetables; this garden is useful. I don’t know Tabitha personally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if her garden looks exactly the way she wants her life to feel — a reflection of her goals for her garden within.
If you could design a garden that looked the way you want your life to feel, what would it look like? What would be growing there? Now ask yourself,
- How is my inner garden looking?
Don’t feel bad if the soil needs attention. Don’t be surprised or upset if you notice that some areas are bare, some are growing well, and others are dying. You’re not alone. In fact, a lot of people are not okay right now.
As I write these words, multiple global crises are affecting us all. It started in 2020 and it hasn’t slowed down. I’m not just talking about the coronavirus. I’m talking about the mental health pandemic that it triggered. Covid-19 claimed a staggering number of lives in a very short period of time, leaving a trail of emotional devastation in its wake. With every death, an average of five loved ones are left grieving long-term.2 That means that as of late 2022, more than thirty-three million people were grappling with the trauma attached to grieving someone who died not only unexpectedly but unimaginably, from a disease that seemed to come out of nowhere.3
There were other life-altering losses to grieve as well. So many of us missed attending not only funerals but weddings, baby showers, graduations, and milestone birthdays and anniversaries. These are the ceremonial moments that chart the timeline of our lives, shared memories that entwine us in relationship and in community.
On top of that, the way we understood and organized our lives fundamentally changed. People lost jobs. People lost homes. People lost businesses and dreams. People lost sobriety. People lost their sense of safety, and whether they have admitted it or not, some people lost their faith.
All that to say, a lot of people are not okay right now, and that likely includes you or someone you love very much. During 2020, global cases of major depressive disorder increased by 27.6 percent. That’s an estimated 53.2 million more people than the year prior. Anxiety disorders increased by 25 percent. There was more anxiety to start with, so that increase amounted to around 76.2 million more people.4 Of course, that’s just counting the people we know about. So many others haven’t sought help, so we don’t have reliable confirmation. But like diabetes or heart disease, the diagnosis doesn’t create reality; it just points it out. Maybe you haven’t been formally diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem, but that doesn’t mean what you are struggling with isn’t real.
For the first time during my career, a significant number of mental health professionals have waiting lists. We can barely keep up with the demand. And from college kids to clergy, Christians are by no means exempt. At Christian colleges and universities, the number of students contacting campus counseling centers for issues like stress, depression, addictions, and suicidal thoughts also rose sharply.5 The pastors striving to lead these young people as part of their congregations found themselves struggling too. In an October 2021 Barna study, pastors were asked to rate their well-being across six dimensions. Nearly a quarter of pastors surveyed identified as unhealthy overall, with emotional well-being the dimension most often rated as below average or poor.6
- Hear ye, hear ye! Knowing Jesus guarantees your salvation; it does not guarantee your emotional health.
Reflecting on the lack of emotional awareness in the body of Christ, author Peter Scazzero writes this in his incredibly important book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:
Christian spirituality, without an integration of emotional health, can be deadly — to yourself, your relationship with God, and the people around you... Sad to say, that is the fruit of much of our discipleship in our churches.7
He goes on to say that “a failure to appreciate the biblical place of feelings within our larger Christian lives has done extensive damage, keeping free people in Christ in slavery.”8 As a therapist and as a minister, I see this over and over and over. Christians haven’t had a scriptural model for understanding the critical role of the heart, so our response efforts have been unbalanced. But now you know that
- your emotional well-being influences every other dimension of your life, including your spirit.
Remember, the words of the Kingdom are constantly being sown in the ground of your heart, so nourishing the fertility of that sacred seedbed is Kingdom work. Living a powerful life requires you to embrace how your spirit, mind, and behavior work together seamlessly. That means approaching your own heart as a garden rather than a war zone where you’re constantly battling your emotions. Eden is our model for flourishing. The seeds of the garden of Eden were sown on good ground. That ground is our hearts.
Your heart is the soil of your life.
- Tab Time, season 1, episode 1, “How Things Grow,” produced by Tabitha Brown, published December 1, 2021, YouTube video, 22:34, https://youtu.be /zUTZEk32tc8.
- Erika Krull, “Grief by the Numbers: Facts and Statistics,” The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab, May 26, 2022, https://www.therecoveryvillage.com /mental-health/grief/grief-statistics/.
- “WHO COVID-19 Dashboard,” World Health Organization, accessed April 19, 2023, https://covid19.who.int.
- Damian F. Santomauro et al., “Global Prevalence and Burden of Depressive and Anxiety Disorders in 204 Countries and Territories in 2020 Due to the COVID- 19 Pandemic,” The Lancet 398, no. 10312 (November 2021): 1700–12, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140–6736(21)02143–7.
- Helen Huiskes, “It Takes a Campus: Pandemic Expands Mental Health Resources at Christian Colleges,” Christianity Today, December 17, 2021, https:// www.christianitytoday.com/news/2021/december/christian-college-mental -health-counseling-pandemic-demand.html.
- “38% of U.S. Pastors Have Thought About Quitting Full-Time Ministry in the Past Year,” Barna, November 16, 2021, https://www.barna.com/research/pastors -well-being/.
- Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 9, 44.
- Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 44.
Excerpted with permission from The Garden Within by Dr. Anita Phillips, copyright Dr. Anita L. Phillips.
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How is your inner garden looking? It’s okay not to be okay. Your emotional well-being influences every other dimension of your life, including your spirit. Stop and ask the Lord for His divine help. He wants to help you! ~ Devotionals Daily