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Feeling stressed? Find answers under your steeple

Commentary: Spiritual solutions to life’s problems are often overlooked.

July 10, 2024

3 Min Read
A white church with a steeple
RIGHT THERE: A simple but overlooked solution to life’s problems has been right under your steeple this whole time. Ryan Lynch

by Bill Field

My dad would frequently say to newcomers at church, “If you were to lay all the farmers who fell asleep in church each Sunday end to end, they would be more comfortable.” His ridicule of statistical methods is obvious, but in his humor, there was an easy-to-overlook truth. People who attend church regularly, based on a solid body of evidence, are happier, more content and express higher levels of hope than those who stay home.

I remember sitting next to many farmers on Sunday mornings in our little white clapboard church in upstate New York. Some smelled of Old Spice, but you could still tell they had milked before coming to church.

At peace

As some dozed off in the stuffy sanctuary, their faces communicated a sense of peace. They were in a safe place with family and neighbors who cared about them. The tough issues they were facing personally, financially or weatherwise were left outside the tall red double doors. Something larger than themselves began to renew their hearts and put life’s problems into a more manageable perspective.

Mr. Ingalls, who came every Sunday, brought with him the grief of losing a young son to cancer. He would close his eyes and later convince others that he was concentrating on the sermon. Mr. Martin, who survived polio but with a nearly useless arm, would lean his head back against the rear wall while fulfilling the role of usher.

Related:The power of connection

Others would breathe heavily, while occasionally there would be a sharp snort followed by a few partially suppressed giggles. These wonderful, hardworking dairy farmers knew there was something special about this place, a sanctuary — “a place of refuge and protection.” There was a disproportionate amount of grace and hope, and it was contagious.

Take a spiritual approach

I was invited to share at a daylong event on farmer suicide prevention. My focus was on how the stresses of farming contribute to an increased probability of farm-related injuries. What struck me as somewhat strange was that after over four hours of professionals presenting data and farmers sharing experiences, not one reference was made to the spiritual nature of farmers.

Was the group ignorant of the relationship between spiritual and personal well-being, or were we fearful that someone would be offended?

I asked the audience off-script how many attended church regularly, with an estimated 80% raising their hands. Had any considered that they attended because they had a good measure of spiritual hope and wanted to share it?

When people stop attending church, they begin to slip away from other human connections. Like an ember kicked out of the fireplace, they soon grow cold and isolated.

Related:Mental health not only for May

Quite frankly, I believe farmer suicide is primarily a spiritual issue. One of history’s most famous scientists, Blaise Pascal, noted that there is a “God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man.”

That void in a farmer’s life is impossible to fill with more land, more cattle, a new diesel truck, a bigger tractor, greater standing in the community, drugs or a new wife. When folks attempt to fill the hole in their heart with stuff, the outcomes are typically not very pretty.

As we continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on farmer suicide prevention, maybe we should reconsider the evidence. One of the cheapest, most effective solutions was under our steeples this whole time.

Field is the Purdue Extension farm safety specialist.

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Mental Health
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