Through all the divisive issues of 2020, Americans have shared at least one common trait: skyrocketing stress. The American Psychological Association calls it a “national mental health crisis” with potentially “serious health and social consequences for years to come.” Columbia University professor of clinical psychiatry Michael Liebowitz said the pandemic is "a huge added stress factor." This makes the spike in anti-anxiety medications understandable. Prescriptions rose by 34 percent in a matter of months when the pandemic broke out.
People have attempted to decrease their stress through entertainment, alcohol, and prescription or recreational drugs. In Oregon, its citizens just voted to make virtually all drugs legal even those which have often proved lethal.
But people of faith in America appear to have a better solution: weekly church attendance.
Measuring by gender, ethnicity, income level, age or political affiliation, a Gallup survey shows that Americans all reported a decrease in their mental health in 2020. That is to say, Americans in every category except for one. Regular churchgoers comprised the only group that actually improved in their mental health during this turbulent year.
Few churches in 2020 were even open during most of the pandemic. Most have resorted to an online worship format and many continue to be shuttered as the pandemic persists. And yet, in the national survey, church members who managed to attend weekly rated themselves as having increased their mental health in 2020 over 2019.
Why did regular churchgoers score themselves so high? Perhaps the lack of busyness, with fewer places to go, have allowed Christians to enjoy more solace from God. Consider that in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
These words from Jesus’ time were not spoken to people who were having a nice day. They were spoken to people under foreign occupation by an invading army. The ruling Roman empire was filled with political intrigue at the top and barbaric brutality in the ranks. Nothing spelled “peace” for people living in Israel then. But suddenly came the Prince of Peace. He spoke gentle words of kindness and wisdom like no one had ever spoken before. He healed people, cared for people, made himself available to people.
You might say that Jesus arrived as a breath of fresh air amidst history’s trauma and stress. He still does this at Christmas, and every week his followers come for a visit.
Pastors and their churches still form the punchline of jokes in late night TV and banter around the water cooler, sure. “Smiles plastered on their faces,” the cynic says, “those pastors are so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good.”
But could it be possible that some church goers have smiles plastered on their faces because they can’t stop smiling? Could it be that Jesus is that same breath of fresh air today? Could people today have the exact same experience that people did during Jesus’ earthly life? After more than fifty years preaching week-in-and-out, I would say “yes” to all.
Granted, there are many solutions to added stress. One is to turn off the news. Or you might log off of social media for a little while. You could love your neighbor, or lend a helping hand to those who’ve fallen on harder times than yourself.
You might do a little of all of it, but — whatever you do — don’t miss church on Sunday.
Dr. David Jeremiah is among the best known Christian leaders in the world. He serves as senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California and is the founder and host of Turning Point. Turning Point‘s 30-minute radio program is heard on more than 2,200 radio stations daily. A New York Times bestselling author and Gold Medallion winner, he has written more than fifty books.