Reflections on Spiritual Music & Mental Health
How has spiritual music impacted your own mental or emotional health, your state of well-being? I invite you to take a moment to reflect on this question before diving into the beautiful and honest responses that follow, all written by Christadelphian youth.
My dad, Bro. Phil Sweeny, once attended a job-site training which was focused on employee mental and emotional health.¹ “The Free Three,” as discussed in the original training, were three free ways to improve mental and emotional health: nature, humor, and music.2
Afterward, my dad gave an exhortation on the same topic, through a more specifically spiritual lens. In my dad’s exhortation, also titled, “The Free Three,” he shared thoughts on the impact of creation, joy and spiritual music on our mental state of being.
I have often thought back to this exhortation over the years, as it really rang true to me and offered practical help I could turn to. Certainly, noticing the beauty of God’s creation and spending time outdoors can be a huge boost to mental health. I have heard and read many stories of individuals who adamantly believe that daily walks changed their lives for the better.
Joy and laughter can also lift spirits when we are in a place to receive and feel those emotions. Little children, with their humorous antics, can be particularly good at encouraging laughter! As for the impact of spiritual music on mental and emotional health, let’s consider this in a bit more depth.
How has spiritual music impacted your sense of well-being?
It will be the subject of our communally written article this month. When we think of the spiritual music of Biblical times, it makes sense for our minds to turn straight to the Psalms—a large body of documented spiritual songs that we have the privilege of still accessing today.
Depending on what source you are consulting, and how you choose to define a “lament,” anywhere from about one-third to two-thirds of the Psalms are considered songs of lament.3 Typically, these psalms start by expressing an emotion such as despair, confusion, or anguish. By the end of the same compositions, other feelings arise, such as hope in God’s promises, trust in God’s love, praise for God’s righteousness.4
It is a format or a pattern that we can often see in our own life experiences when we take our emotions to God and can freely express them in His presence, a sense of peace often follows. How has spiritual music impacted your own mental or emotional health, your state of well-being? I invite you to take a moment to reflect on this question before diving into the beautiful and honest responses that follow, all written by Christadelphian youth.
The reflections that have been compiled here are from brothers and sisters who have been baptized for various lengths of time. They are in their teens or twenties, come from three different countries, and are individuals in every other way, with a variety of musical preferences and life experiences.
As you read these comments, the common thread you will find is that music with spiritual themes has been a source of light, comfort and strength to each one of these young people.
I pray that their examples might encourage you to identify your own strength-giving songs, renew an interest in meditating on the Psalms, or perhaps even write or compose your own laments and songs of thanksgiving.
Sis. Lauren Brown (Randolph, NJ)
I believe spiritual music is something that tends to find you when you need it most. When my mother was battling stage three cancer and going through chemotherapy treatments, it was very difficult for me to watch her go through it. I prayed constantly for her but noticed my mental state begin to decline.
A song called “Trust in You” by Christian singer, Lauren Daigle was introduced to me by a sister in my ecclesia as this was all going on. This song helped me tremendously to remember to trust God and that He is always in complete control. When our prayers are not answered right away, we must remember that God is working with us and that His plans are greater.
There’s a verse in the chorus of the song that says: “When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through When You don’t give the answers As I cry out to You I will trust in You.”
Those lyrics hit home to me, and I think that they are a great reminder to us all. I praise God that my mother is now healthy and cancer-free for almost five years! My hope is that everyone can experience the peace and comfort spiritual music has to offer.
Bro. Danny Sanchez (L.A. Hispanic, CA)
I came to Idyllwild Bible School in 2019, and [the musical praise] was so warming and touching for me. It felt like God’s presence was there, and it felt for me like the Kingdom, or at least a glimpse of it. Fast forward to 2021, and it still feels like that.
Now that I’ve studied the Bible more, I feel that it has a bigger impact because now I understand the words that are being said [within the songs we sing] and the message behind it. God’s music, to me at least, resonates and tells me how I should be wherever I am, and it’s a constant reminder that God is truly listening and watching.
I love it when we get together, whether it’s at meeting or at a conference. It’s always so heartwarming to hear brothers and sisters and friends praising our one true God. I always cry, and it’s just hard not to since I’m human.
Sometimes I self-reflect and realize I’m not perfect, even though I want to be. It’s just the constant battle that we have inside ourselves. I enjoy [when spiritual music is sung at a gathering] because it’s a time of praise and a time for really letting go of our troubles and asking for God’s help in our lives.
Bro. Daniel Andrews (Ottawa, ON)
For me personally, spiritual music can be defined as any music that simply has a spiritual message. As to the question of whether spiritual music has had an impact on my mental health, I would say absolutely.
Some experiences from my own life that pertains to this in how I have felt some pain in the past from just being surrounded by so much darkness in the world that we live in. Even more so than that, at times I’ve felt angry at myself because I feel like I’m not doing enough for God.
A “spiritual” song that has really helped with this is a song by one of my favorite groups Twenty One Pilots called Hometown, in which the lead singer, Tyler, acknowledges he comes from a dark place but despite this, he asks God to light a fire in his life.
The takeaway from this is that good music can give you something to relate to for the better, and I would highly recommend to someone who has never listened to music in their lower points in life to try it.
Bro. Seth Spry (Brant County, ON)
From a young age, music has been an important part of how I dealt with the anxiety and stress that I was feeling. It became very therapeutic for me, such that I developed an admiration for the incredible blessing of music.
However, I rarely used spiritual music when I felt spiritually low. But this changed around three years ago. I was at a low point in my spiritual life. My joy or passion for the truth was at a low. I felt like when I was praying, it was to myself. There was a feeling of being disconnected and alienated. It was a difficult time in my life, and I wondered whether I still believed in God. I felt helpless, deep down I knew God was there, but I felt so much doubt in my heart.
This changed for me one night when I was walking back from one of my classes at university and I decided to listen to a Christian playlist. A song came on called Help me Believe by the artist Strahan. The song is about his struggle with belief in God, it talks about how he knows God and he grew up knowing God but was doubting his belief.
Similar to the words of the man in Mark 9:24, who believed yet struggled, a part of the lyrics read: “Lord, I believe Could you help me believe?” The song summarized everything that I was feeling at that moment. The desperation, the feeling that deep down I knew God existed, but I needed help. I needed to be reminded that I’m not alone, that God knows when I’m struggling.
Of course, we know this principle is found all throughout the Bible but for some reason, it didn’t stick out to me until that moment and in that song. It spoke to me differently than any words that I had read up to that point. I can’t fully explain why it struck me then, rather than any other time. But looking back, I feel like God was working in my life such that I listened to that song in a new light.
The song spoke to me differently than any words that I had read up to that point.
From that moment on, I started to use music more in my spiritual life. Anytime I felt spiritually or mentally low, I used it to communicate with God and express what I was feeling. I can honestly say that music has helped to save me numerous times and has helped to restore my relationship with God again.
My encouragement to you is to use spiritual music every day outside of our weekly services. Find music that can help you, create a playlist or CD that can really speak to you and build that relationship with God. Music speaks and sounds different to everyone so find spiritual music that fills you not only with joy but also sadness.
Spiritual songs are unique in their combination of both words and music; they work equally together to create such a beautiful and meaningful way that we can express ourselves to God. So, use music, let it show God our appreciation, our sadness, our struggles, and the love that we have for him.
Bro. Michael Ash (Kings Heath, Birmingham, UK)
Music is very much a part of me, and over the years I’ve developed a deep and intense spiritual connection with God and Jesus through it. It comes with me everywhere—whether that’s as a tune stuck in my head, a beat drummed on a desk, or just belting out my favorite songs on a long drive!
It’s a form of expression that allows me to really feel my feelings, understand my thoughts and express my faith and my doubts. For me, my mental health is intrinsically linked to the music I listen to and write. Weaving my feelings into melodies helps me to visualize my worries and abate derealization (a dissociative mental health condition where you feel like you’re living in a dream, and nothing feels real!).
[It helps me] to stay in the present and focus on how I can live my life and enjoy it, while making life more comfortable for others. I write about what’s going on in my head, my life experiences as a teenager, crippling doubt and fear, and incomprehensible love!
Some say my music is relatable and helps them address their own feelings, something which I will forever be grateful for. I’d encourage you to really feel your feelings the next time you listen to music—whether it’s spiritual or not, instrumental, lyrical, or simply nature’s melodies in birdsong.
See what you can feel, what questions you can ask yourself and God, and let your emotions breathe. Spiritual music might not resonate with everyone, but it always gives you something to think about and provides a safe space for you to connect with yourself and God.
To listen to the songs Michael references writing, find it on Spotify or visit: www.route66movement.co.uk.
Simi Hills, CA
Since publishing the article “Reflections on Treasured Hymns,” which can be found in the June 2021 issue of the magazine, we continue to receive beautiful thoughts from our community about the special impact of hymns. Here is one more such reflection. All hymn numbers refer to the 2002 Christadelphian “Green” Hymn Book:
We have been married for 61 years. Together we have more than 128 years of living in the Lord. This remarkable experience has humbled us to the extent that now we have allowed Him to fill our lives with the wonderful faith of the coming of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.
The Hope of the resurrection has and still sustains us. Our lives have not always been easy. We have had many life and death health challenges. Happily, we can thank and praise God for His lovingkindness and cures. Nancy is now a four-time cancer SURVIVOR, and we are so thankful.
Recently I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and we are confident of heavenly care. Hymn 374 seems to sum up our thankfulness. “Behold th’amazing gift of love the Father hath bestowed!”
The wonderful pleading in Hymn 3, “Lead me Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness, make Thy way plain before my face. For it is Thou, Lord, Thou Lord only that makest me dwell in safety.”
This is another one of our favorites. Psalm 23 is expressed in words beyond human understanding in Hymn 9. These words are all-encompassing and a guide to a wonderful way of life that leads to the Kingdom. All hymns are a guide and comfort to us.
Bob and Nancy Davis
1 Bro. Phil Sweeny attends the Atlanta North Christadelphian Ecclesia in Georgia.
2 Therapy, counseling, and medication, generally speaking, come at a financial cost and therefore aren’t included in this list focused on “free” resources. The original presenters and I would like to emphasize that this statement is not meant to detract from the fact that these approaches are important and at times, imperative. There should be no implication here—or anywhere in this article—that spiritual music should be expected to cure diagnosed mental illnesses; for example, that a severe case of anxiety should be expected to go away after a person spends time listening to spiritual music daily.
3 Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Zondervan, 2017.
4 Psalms 61, 69, and 102 are examples of Psalms that follow this pattern.