Dr. Tonya D. Armstrong



Leveraging Hope to Launch Resilient Leaders

On Sunday, I had the privilege of speaking on this very topic for Mental Health Sunday at Grace Bible Fellowship in Cary, NC.  (Many thanks to Pastor Norm Peart for his courage and generosity in opening his pulpit for this very important topic during Minority Mental Health Month.  Shouts-out to those who were able to lend their support through physical presence: my family, high school friend Tiffany Walker Edwards and her husband Ted Edwards; fellow Union Baptist Associates in Ministry Rev. Dr. Sonya Laws and Rev. Dr. Daphne Wiggins; and Dr. Lorraine Graves, coordinator of the program.) Members and friends of this vibrant, spiritual church graciously received the message, and many shared following service about their or their family member’s personal journeys with mental illness.  This experience confirmed how important it is for us not to overlook the presence and impact of mental illness among Christians.

I chose this topic because I have witnessed daily in my clinical practice how often and significantly mental illness can impact our connection with our purpose.  God creates each and every one of us with purpose, and once we know our purpose, nothing can stop us from reaching our destinies!  King David describes God’s knowledge of us through creation:

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me. (Psalm 139: 1-5, New International Version)

Purpose is something that is God-given well before we are born.  Psalm 139:16b declares that God ordained all of our days before one of them came to be.  Thus, our life purpose is not so much something to be found as to be discovered.  We discover purpose as we steadfastly pursue a thriving relationship with God, for God holds our purpose, and has a plan for getting us there.  God knows all about our wants and our needs, assets and our liabilities, our strengths and our weaknesses, our traumas and failures, our personalities, our family histories, our hopes and dreams.  Purpose lines up with our natural talents, our spiritual gifts, our knowledge of the world, and our lived experiences.  When you are living “on purpose,” you find joy and passion in your everyday existence, even when bogged down in the mundane.  You will confront obstacles along the way, but because you have tenaciously traversed your journey thus far, you remained undeterred.  Everyone can always use a little extra encouragement and support, but even if these courtesies are absent, you have sufficient internal motivation and the Holy Spirit’s encouragement to keep moving forward.

Psychological theory teaches us that children rarely enter the world with a proclivity to doing the things that are good for them, such as eating their vegetables, doing their homework, or practicing their musical instrument.  However, with sufficient guidance, repetition, and oversight from loving adults, external motivation such as verbal praise, pats on the back, stickers, and other rewards will ultimately be transformed into internal motivation.  Once your internal motivation begins to grow, as a child of God, you have the benefit of the communion of your spirit continually being fed by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit intercedes for you on your behalf, especially when you do not know what to pray about, or what to pray for.  So as you grow closer to God, not only do you know more and more of your purpose, but you are given a daily boost of inspired power to accomplish it!

One word about detractors, better known as haters.Sometimes, the closer you get to your purpose, the more likely others, who are not focused on their purpose, are to question you.  They might express doubts or disbelief about your destiny (e.g., “Now you know no black woman has ever done that before!”), about the magnitude of your dream, about your strategies for reaching your destiny, or about the faith walk that enables your success.  So when they pass you the cup of “haterade,” you just remember, in the words of our sister Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”  We must be careful in how we expend our energy toward negative, versus positive, endeavors.  I often find great encouragement to remain focused in the Scripture recorded in Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us                      throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us                run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the                    pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,                    scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Especially in times of challenge and strain, we focus our attention on Jesus, the One who attended to the joy that was ahead rather than the pain of the immediate moment.  We also focus on Jesus because Jesus intercedes for us and reminds us that we are empowered to do even greater works than Jesus had been doing during this earthly ministry (John 14:12).  The psychological theories of social modeling and the power of focus reinforce the idea that our altitude depends on where we place our attention and concentration. Purposefully pursue God’s plans in *your* right mind, for we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

À Votre Santé (“To Your Health”),

“Dr. T”

Tonya Armstrong