In public, J.P. Moreland is best known for battling in the arena of Christian apologetics. But privately, he has waged a personal struggle against occasionally debilitating mental illness. The longtime Biola University philosophy professor opens up about this side of his life in Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace. Eric L. Johnson, director of the Gideon Institute of Christian Psychology and Counseling at Houston Baptist University, spoke with Moreland about the spiritual and psychological lessons he’s learned.
Finding Quiet is centered on the story of your journey of recovery from anxiety and depression. Tell us some of that story.
I was born into a family with a genetic predisposition, on my mother’s side, toward an anxiety disorder. I went through life with periods of anxiety, but in 2004, following my most stressful year as a professor, I had a complete nervous breakdown, complete with daily panic attacks and irrational fears. I was afraid when the phone rang, afraid to check my email. This lasted seven months, before therapy, medication, and other measures helped me regain stability. Then, ten years later, the same thing happened. By fall I was unable to teach my classes because I was completely dysfunctional. I couldn’t even let my grandchildren visit because it was too much stimulation.
After recovering once more, I began reading everything I could about dealing with anxiety, along with many books about spiritual formation. From this, I learned that anxiety was largely a habit—though of course not entirely a habit. So I began practicing habit-forming disciplines to help reprogram my brain, heart, and nervous systems, as well as my soul. It changed me radically. Even after I was diagnosed with cancer, I was so peaceful and full of joy that my wife, daughters, and friends were asking what was different. I wrote this book because I wanted desperately to share what I had learned.
How do you define the heart, and why do you consider it such an important factor in the path to recovery from an anxiety or depressive disorder?
For me, the heart refers to all the faculties of the soul—the mind, the will, and the emotions—in their deepest parts and most hidden recesses. It is interesting, and in my opinion not accidental, that the Bible uses Hebrew and Greek words for heart instead of some other organ, because the heart muscle has a substantial role to play in our spiritual transformation.
In the book, I show that the body’s different organs and regions are extremely important in this regard. They are what contain the habituated “grooves” that trigger us to feeling and acting in certain ways, which produces habits. C.S. Lewis talked about individuals who had no chests. In the Middle Ages, the chest represented the area where an individual engaged in moral perception. The soul literally used the chest area as a vehicle for perceiving God’s reality.
Some Christian therapists practice just like secular therapists, whereas others are Bible-only and reject secular therapy entirely. Your book is unique, in that it appropriates a few secular therapy models but also relies strongly on Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the practice of contemplative prayer. What about you and your story made possible this synthesis?
When I first became a Christian, I noticed that there was truth relevant to Christianity and morality outside the Bible. There was, for example, evidence for the Resurrection that came from fields like archeology. As long as something didn’t contradict Scripture, then I could accept it as true based on the evidence. When dealing with anxiety and depression, I want to use everything at my disposal, including all the tremendously helpful insights from psychology, medicine, spiritual formation literature, you name it.
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Source: Christianity Today