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God's Common Grace

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Depression and anxiety are real issues. God has given us tools and the grace to overcome these things. Chris and Tim invite Debra Fileta, author of True Love Dates, to discuss the spiritual and physiological aspects of mental illness, the stigmas surrounding antidepressants and other medications, and God's common grace that represents His faithfulness and promises to us.

Speaker 1:    Thank you for joining us for another Art of Relationships podcast. In each episode, we work hard to bring you the latest research in psychology and communication theory to help you develop healthy relationships. We also have a lot of fun in the process. Ready to get started? Let's do it.

Chris Grace:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. I'm Dr. Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And I'm Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:    Hey Tim. We, first of all, get to do this great podcast together. It's really fun, because one, just talking about all things relationships.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yes. And I'm looking at your Dodgers Slurpee cup, Chris Grace. God is good.

Chris Grace:    I know. 2020 is a horrible year except for Lakers and Dodgers man. It's been awesome. Especially the Dodgers.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And 34 years? Yeah. It's been 32 years. And it's been really hard to root for this team over and over every year. Yeah. It's been fun.

Chris Grace:    You're talking to a guy from Detroit, Chris. So I have no patience whatsoever for your-

Tim Muehlhoff:    No, no kidding. It's good to finally get on that call. Well, hey Tim, thinking of all things relationships, one of our favorite guests and authors out there is a mom, an author, a blogger. But she's our guest again today. We've had her in the past. And so Tim, I know that you and I have gotten a chance to visit with Debra over the years and read a number of her books. True Love Dates started off. Yeah, it's amazing. So we have Debra on our podcast. Debra, are you there?

Debra Fileta:    Hey guys, good to be with you again.

Chris Grace:    It's so good to be with you as well. And it's great to hear you. I know you're out in the middle of Pennsylvania right now. How's the weather doing?

Debra Fileta:    It's actually pretty good. A phenomenal 50 degree day.

Chris Grace:    Oh good. That's awesome. Al out in the East coast. That's always good news sometimes. Yeah. Well, Debra, hey, you have been on our podcast before and you do so much work, so thank you too, for your commitment. You're a therapist, you work with clients and you do so much work. I know you're probably, during this season, doing a lot more Zoom meetings and things like that. But I know you write a lot. And we've loved every one of your books that have come out, starting, I believe, with True Love Dates. And now you even have another one coming out soon. And I think. Tim, what do you think? Why don't we just talk about some of those things she has coming out?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah, they're all great projects. And diverse projects. That'd be great just to bounce around and pick your brain, Debra.

Chris Grace:    So what are you most interested in right now, Debra? You got a book coming out in May. Tell us about it.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. This is my first book that's kind of off topic for me. If you look back at my writing history, it's kind of been relationship focused. And I'm a licensed counselor, so I'm always talking about healthy people make healthy relationships. And so, True Love Dates and Choosing Marriage and Love In Every Season were all relationship focused, but this is the first book that's focusing on the healthy people part. We're kind of backing up. And kind of what inspired me to write this book, first of all, is my personal journey with mental health and emotional health. But also as I'm traveling across the country speaking, there seems to be this false idea that just because you're a Christian means you're going to be a healthy person.

    And that's just not the truth. As Christians, we struggle with mental health and emotional health and even physical health and the gamut of struggles. And so this book is called, Are You Really Okay? And what I really wanted to call it is Just Because You're a Christian Doesn't Mean You're Healthy, but I think my publisher thought that was a little aggressive, so we toned it down. We're calling it, Are You Really Okay? And it's really a journey into assessing your health, your emotional health, your mental health. I talk about my personal journey with depression, anxiety, trauma.

Chris Grace:    Debra, talk a little bit about that. And we mentioned it briefly in the past, but it does lead into why you have undertaken this project.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah, it's kind of the primary reason. The Lord took me... I've always been prone to different experiences with depression and anxiety. For me, it's kind of hormone related and different seasons of life, postpartum. And even when I took birth control pills for a season, which a lot of young college girls are on and it's making them crazy and they don't know what's going on, but there's a lot of hormones at play in the body that can really impact you, amongst other things. All kinds of chemicals. And as Christians, sometimes we struggle with over spiritualizing depression and anxiety. Not that there's not a spiritual component. Of course there is. Every diagnosis we got to look at in a holistic way, but a lot of times as Christians, we focus on depression, anxiety in the spiritual lens and not through the biological, physiological lens. And so, I kind of tackle it all. I share my story. I share about trauma. I share about my journey, my ups and downs and how God has got me through it. I talk about holistic healing. And I just hope that this is one step to normalizing this conversation among Christians.

Chris Grace:    Debra, there's a lot of our listeners out there that struggle with this very same thing. We have a lot of college students, for example, that tune in. But just out there in the world these rates are high. The number of people suffering from things like depression and anxiety. You mentioned medication and the spiritual side to all of this. I get this question a lot, and I'd love to hear your response. And that is, hey, Dr. Grace, my doctor wants me to take an antidepressant, but I just don't want to get hooked on the medication. Or I'm just really worried, or my family doesn't want me to take anything, or they worry about med, especially psychotropics or any of the medications out there today. How would you respond? And what would you say to a listener out there that maybe finds themselves in a similar place that you've been in your journey and maybe kind of people saying to them, hey, you got to be really careful?

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. Well, I think being careful is not wrong. When it comes to anything, when it comes to diabetes, when it comes to cancer, when it comes to blood pressure, we're careful. We have to be cautious and careful with the decisions that we make. But careful doesn't mean we exclude medication. And I really believe that just as we would quickly give insulin to a diabetic, we need to be just as willing and ready as a believer to say, okay, there's a chemical imbalance going on here, and I am depleted of serotonin and dopamine. And this SSRI, which is the typical medication for depression and anxiety is going to help me with that. I think we just need to decrease the stigma a little bit and just see it as one factor that can help you along the journey of healing.

    I don't think antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the end all be all, meaning you pop this pill and you're good to go. I mean, a lot of times there's roots that we need to dig up. But when your body is depleted of the chemicals that cause it to think properly, you're not even going to be able to engage in proper thinking and proper therapy. When you're depressed, you can barely pick up a spoon, much less meditate on truth. So you've got to take care of the physical component so that you can take care of the emotional and spiritual component as well. And I say if your doctor is recommending it, there's a good chance that it's something that will be worth trying,

Tim Muehlhoff:    Debra, I love the fact that you're normalizing it by coming out and talking about your own personal struggles with it, because Christians need to know that some of the giants of the faith from Martin Luther to Charles Spurgeon to C.S. Lewis to even now, today, JP Moreland came out with a great book called Finding Quiet, and it's his lifelong struggle with depression. So I think the more Christians hear that, that this isn't something that is uncommon. And some of the greats of the faith have walked this journey. Luther used to call it the black dog that would follow him around. And so I think it's great that people like you just say, look, this is it. We live in a fallen world and this is just part and parcel of it, so don't feel like you're less than. I had a weird experience. I get migraines. And so, they wanted to prescribe to me a daily medication, and one was an antidepressant.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. I have a feeling I know which one.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, yeah. And I don't even remember, because I got to be honest with you, I had a really negative reaction to the idea of a depressant. And it was hard to even track that down. Now, today, I don't think I'd have a problem. Doing a podcast with Chris has really opened me to the possibility that that might be...

Debra Fileta:    You probably need it now more than ever.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So I love what you're doing. I love that sensitivity of sharing your journey. I think that takes weapons away from Satan. He doesn't get to use it like he used to maybe in other generations. And so, I just commend you for being open about your journey.

Debra Fileta:    Well, thank you. Honestly, I'm a licensed counselor. I know all of the ways to treat depression and anxiety holistically, and I know all of the cognitive behavioral methods. But there have been seasons in my life where nothing but an antidepressant was able to get me out of the pit. And I'm just so grateful for the miracle of modern medicine. I really am. And I just think as Christians, we need to allow it to be a source of gratitude and saying, thank you, Jesus, that you've provided these things for us, instead of running away from it in shame.

Chris Grace:    It's so important Debra, too, that what you said earlier as well about just going to a doctor and if the doctor prescribes it. I think one of the things I constantly tell people that come and ask questions about taking medication like that is, start with your primary care physician. This doesn't require you to go see some psychiatrist, which is really hard to get into. I mean, you could be months before you can even get an appointment with a psychiatrist. That in fact, your best bet is to start with the primary care. They see this every single day in their office. This is what they deal with. They know the newest medication, and they're really good. And if your primary care person is unable to do that, find another primary care. But that's where you start. And it really can make an amazing difference. It takes a couple of weeks to get going, but once you do, man, it could be really powerful.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. Counseling and medication combined is definitely your best option. See a doctor, get plugged in with a counselor, and kind of tag team this healing journey.

Chris Grace:    Good advice.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Debra, I'm literally finishing, I'm on the last chapter of a book on God's common grace, particularly during COVID. It's called, right now, the working title is Giving God Credit. And so I have a chapter on the sciences where just imagine a world without penicillin or trying to fight COVID without N-95 masks or ventilators or antibiotics or even the vaccine that's on its way. So this is God's generous gift to a fallen world as he didn't abandon us. And so certainly within the realm of psychology, God understood what the effects would be. So let me ask this. I was just looking at a statistic that anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students at 41% followed by depression at 36%. So let's say we have a person listening right now, that is just, I mean, hard to know. Certainly within COVID, that might've even made things more complicated. Is this the COVID season? When should a person seriously think about what Chris said, going to see the general practitioner? What would you say are, okay, this is where I think maybe it'd be great to make that appointment?

Debra Fileta:    Well, I would say that even before the appointment to a general practitioner, it would be helpful to get plugged in with a counselor to help you assess your level of anxiety, the severity of anxiety. When it comes to an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication, I think the moderate to severe level of depression and anxiety tends to benefit the most, versus the mild to moderate category. So it's important for you to have an idea of actually how severe is this on the spectrum of anxiety and depression? And you can't really gauge that on your own. I also think a lot of times people get confused between sadness, mild depression, worry, clinical anxiety. It's a broad spectrum.

    And just because you have worries doesn't necessarily mean you have generalized anxiety. So I think what you can do is get plugged in with a licensed professional counselor, because they're going to help you navigate through that. They're going to help you differentiate between is this worry, is this clinical anxiety? Where do you draw the line? What can we do to change your thinking and your behaviors and your relationships to help you with this? Or, are you at the point where you've done everything you can do, and this is moderate to severe, and you just need to take the next step into medication? So I think that's the best next step is to get plugged in with a licensed counselor.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And I think Debra, we should probably address our generational listeners. Honestly, college students today... My students have no problem saying to me, Dr. Muehlhoff, I'm in counseling, or Dr. Muehlhoff, I'm on this medication. It's the older generation. I mean, my father would never go to marital counseling because he would have seen it as an absolute failure that he couldn't fix the marriage on his own. And so I wonder for older listeners, who have grown up reading books like Prozac Nation, things like that. So what would you say to older listeners who are like, yeah, I'm just not ever going to go see a counselor. I'm just not going to do that. And that kind of weird attitude that we have.

Debra Fileta:    Well, there's nothing you can say to really undo that attitude that's been built over generations and years and experiences. But one thing I will say is, when we look at God's call to love him with all our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength, our heart represents our emotions, our soul, our spirituality. Our mind is our mental health, and our strength is our physical health. And I think sometimes, we do God a disservice because we're loving him with one part of our being, but not with the whole. And part of that is because of the obstacle of, I don't want to get help in this area.

    I don't need help to deal with my emotions. I don't need help to deal with my mental health. And if that's the case, you have to ask yourself, are you truly loving the Lord with all of these parts of you, if there's barriers preventing you from getting as healthy as possible. And just allow the Lord to kind of speak to you and ask him. I feel like when we talk to God about these things, he's going to give us a good answer. And sometimes it's a matter of listening to God's voice over the voices of our past.

Chris Grace:    Debra, thanks. I think that's awesome advice. Debra, tying this in a little bit to some of your earlier work and continuing work in relationships, one of the things I think that we find too as Tim was mentioning, when students come to us in this generational thing, a lot of the younger students are dealing with, for example, romantic heartbreak.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah, for sure.

Chris Grace:    And that's why they oftentimes will go to a professional. But they just get to a point where, a relationship that goes bad can oftentimes either be one of the root causes of some of these things, but it also can be just a precursor. And a lot of college students, as Tim was mentioning, some of these stats, feel hopeless or depressed. And then they report feeling overwhelmed. And many of them, it starts with some of these relationship pains and struggles. What do you think about the connection between those?

Debra Fileta:    Well, there's definitely a connection. I think I would lean more towards saying that how we deal with relationships is what exposes our level of personal health. So when I go through a breakup, how it impacts me, to the level it impacts me is really an indicator of my personal level of health. Not saying there's not going to be grief and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But does this derail my entire life? Does this send me down a pit of depression and hopelessness and suicidal thoughts? That is more an indicator of your personal health than it is an indicator of what you had in the relationship. And I think we can apply that to most stressors in life. Most hardships, most losses that we go through, they kind of crack us open. And they reveal more about what's going on inside than we would have been able to see had those things not cracked us open.

    And you're right. A lot of times I'm seeing clients coming into counseling for the first time because of relationships. And to be honest, that's one of the reasons I felt like the Lord wanted me to begin this subject with relationships. It's because it's so much easier to come in and talk about my relationship struggles than it is to talk about my own personal struggles. But one always has to lead us to the other if we're really pursuing true health and healing. And so, they're really intertwined. And I think whether you're struggling with just a relationship issue or not, moving in the direction of healing is never going to be in vain. If you're going to counseling because you feel depressed or you're going to counseling because you think this relationship has made you depressed, whatever it is, you're moving in the direction of healing and that's commendable. That's something to be very excited and proud about that you're moving in the right direction.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Debra, as we're wrapping up this segment, can we talk a little bit about technology and depression? The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 actually identified what they call Facebook Depression. And they said it was depression that develops when pre-teens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites such as Facebook and then begin to exhibit signs of depression. So, two things, one, my publisher made me get Facebook. They said, you need to be on Facebook to promote your book. So I did. And I was exposed a little bit to the greatest hits of everybody's lives as you just go to different Facebooks. And then, I had a flip phone forever and was perfectly content, but Chris Grace mocked me for 10 years. And now I have a Galaxy S9, and Debra, I love it more than my children. God forbid, I love. I've gone to the dark side and it is wonderful. But it makes me think, and I've always heard this, about Facebook and even over technology. So what's your take on that?

Debra Fileta:    Or Instagram or all these other apps out there. I think like with anything in life, when we immerse ourself in negative triggers, we're going to be triggered more than we would had we not immersed ourselves. If I'm sitting in front of somebody who's constantly criticizing me, there's a good chance at the end of that day, I'm going to feel worse than if I had not been in that person's presence. And I think social media can work the same way in the sense that, the more time you spend on it, the more it can trigger you to feel lonely, to feel like you're missing out, to feel like you're not good enough, not pretty enough, not this, not that.

    And so, I think it's fine in small doses, and I think it can be such a blessing. I mean, through social media, the Lord has allowed my ministry at to reach millions and millions of people. And I really believe that's as a result of social media. So I'm grateful for it. But at the same time, there's got to be boundaries and limits, because there's just so many triggers and things that it can bring out in you that otherwise you wouldn't have felt if you were doing something else. So I think it's important for us to just make sure that we're setting boundaries around it.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, it becomes this tool, instrument, this amazing opportunity to stay connected with other people from so many different places and family members that we don't have. And you're right. When it begins to dominate your life and it begins to dominate that which you do and the first thing you want to do is to get on and look. And I think also, Debra, you mentioned every time you're in the presence of somebody that criticizes you, eventually you're going to feel horrible and not want to be in their presence again. It's the same too with social media. It could even be you're in the presence of somebody who's constantly ignoring you because they're doing nothing but being on the phone.

    And I think one of the things that we're finding as well, that people, a lot of college students, up to 20 some percent say, at some point during that day, they have felt snubbed or fubbed, phone snubbed, by another person. And it made them feel like they weren't consequential or important in this person's life, because whoever was on that phone and whoever they were following seemed to be more important than that relationship right there face to face. And so, man, it can really start to take over and cause some issues if you're not careful.

Debra Fileta:    So true. I always say that oftentimes, the inanimate takes place of the intimate. You've got real people right in front of you. I don't know if you guys know this, but there was a recent stat that came out from divorce lawyers who said that 30% of the most recent divorce filings have the word Facebook in them.

Chris Grace:    No way.

Debra Fileta:    It just goes to show you this isn't just affecting dating relationships. I mean, boundaries get crossed with marriages, and things happen. So all that to say, just like so many things in life can be used as a tool for good or a tool for evil. And we just have to really protect ourselves and be cautious.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. And we would be remiss not to at least mention the spiritual battle component of this. I don't think Satan created Facebook, but he certainly can use whatever raw material to work on our self-esteem, what we believe about ourselves, what we believe about God. You had me on your podcast talking about spiritual battle. I greatly appreciated that. And so that's part of the equation as well is that when you start to have these thoughts that won't go away and it's just spiraling out of control, is part of that spiritual battle? I'd say, yeah. I bet you that early New Testament writers would have said yeah. I think that's part of the equation and we better, when we put on the full armor of God, not just speak biblical truth to ourselves, but also speak biblical truth to adversaries.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. Like you said, the enemy will use anything for ammo. And this is definitely an area where that happens.

Chris Grace:    Well, Debra, your book coming out again. You said it's coming out later in the spring. Is Everything Really Okay. Is that right?

Debra Fileta:    Are You Really Okay?

Chris Grace:    Are You Really Okay? Yeah. Sorry. It's not out yet.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. It's not out here. You haven't even seen the cover yet, so.

Chris Grace:    And Debra, in your work with this, I would imagine you've uncovered some great things for people out there. What's one of the most exciting things you're ready to share with them and you're looking forward to having them read?

Debra Fileta:    It's funny, because this is a selfish question in the sense of, I'm thinking, I don't know if this is going to help others, but it really helped me. I will say this. When I was doing a deep dive study into the emotions component, emotional health is the first section of the book. Like I said, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. So I tackle each of these in a section. And in the emotion section, I did a deep dive study on the emotions of Jesus. And oh my goodness. It's so powerful.

Chris Grace:    It's one of the most amazing studies you can do, isn't it? Because you see all the emotions that he's had.

Debra Fileta:    All the emotions. And not just the emotions, but my favorite part, as a person who struggles with panic attacks and anxiety in my past, watching Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, bleeding blood and tears and sweat and just what we call the fight or flight response that was happening in that moment, where his body was saying, you better run. When the Bible talks about him, droplets of blood coming out as sweat, he was sweating blood. It's a rare condition, but a lot of people believe it's a fight or flight response. And so to think that he was dealing with this response, but he still chose to stay, because of me and you.

And just the thought that when I go through that experience, when my anxiety tells me to run, that I can listen to my God more than I can listen to my body, just like Jesus did. He sets this beautiful example for us that God's reality is more real than our reality. And it was just such a powerful experience for me just to see myself and to see Christ going through things that I have been through. So I just really hope that throughout this whole book, that people will just see all of these subjects in a brand new way, and that it will just take down the stigma and help us all to really come to terms with how we're actually doing.

Chris Grace:    It's so good. And it's so helpful. I love the deep dive into Jesus' emotions. The idea of anger and joy and disgust and sadness. Some people debate whether or not Jesus really did experience fear. And that's a high level of anxiety, but it's just that he's human. But we do know he did not experience what we would call the self-conscious emotions. Guilt and shame and embarrassment and pride. And those things, he experienced on the cross, but it takes a sinful nature to experience guilt or shame, embarrassment. But those are such good topics, Debra. I'm really glad you dove into that. And our listeners have time. It'd be awesome to spend a whole podcast talking about Jesus and emotions.

Debra Fileta:    I know. That would be fun.

Chris Grace:    Hey, Debra, it's been great to have you on the program, and it's just always a joy to visit with you. And we look forward to all of these. How about it? Let's do this. When your book finally does come out, why don't we just get you back on here and we'll talk about it even more. And we'll even get the title right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    We do our research here. We leave no stone unturned.

Debra Fileta:    Yeah. That sounds great.

Chris Grace:    Yeah. Well, Debra, blessings to you in this season and all of your work. And what a great topic to help. And we'll just keep plugging away on these things, and just thank you for your faithful work to this ministry of relationships and therapy and counseling and just working with people. We appreciate it.

Debra Fileta:    Well, you too, and thank you so much for having me.

Chris Grace:    You bet, Debra take care.

Speaker 1:    Have you ever been asked to mentor a young married couple, but were afraid to say yes? Thankfully the Center for Marriage and Relationships is here to help. The CMR's marriage mentoring curriculum covers important topics like communication, forgiveness, and the ever important sexual intimacy. It even provides tips on when and how to refer a couple for depression. Sound interesting? Check out the resources page on our website at