Posted April 28, 2010
As I said before, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about myself and my past lately. At the same time, I’ve been working to counsel and support various members of our congregation who struggle with this life. In the process I’ve thought a lot about something that has helped me to deal with negative thoughts and emotions. The following is going to sound a lot like modern psychology, much of which I have issues with, but I hope to show you that God encouraged us with these thoughts/practices long before a psychologist worked them out.
In my past, as I said last time, I have had some pretty painful things happen to me. I am not unique in this respect. To live is to experience pain. Last week we thought about growing through pain, which was nice, but might not have been that practical.
I’d like for us to get more practical today.
So how can we best deal with negative thoughts and depression? We are NOT talking about thinking through a problem and coming up with solutions. We are NOT talking about chemical imbalances that cannot be wished away with positive thinking. We ARE talking about harmful negativity and painful self talk that is not productive. When you treat yourself this way, you are only making things worse.
How can we break the cycle of negativity in our lives? Here are a few things that have helped me:
1. You are not alone. If this is a serious problem, I encourage you to seek help. Talk to a wise person that you trust; an elder or church worker might be an excellent place to start. If you want, you can email me and I’ll do what I can. Sometimes just saying things out loud to another person can be a big help. Hopefully, your confidant will encourage you and give you some helpful advice. Also, they can tell you if they feel you need some professional help. There is no shame in this. I have had professional counseling in the past and it was extremely helpful to me.
2. Take control of your mind. God calls us to control ourselves. That certainly goes for our own thoughts. When you have negative thoughts and feelings, stop thinking about them! That sounds ridiculous, but if you do it, it works. Psychologists call this ‘Cognitive therapy’. If it helps you feel like you are doing something fancy, then call it that. This is basically as simple as it sounds. Every time you find yourself dwelling on something negative, train your mind to think about something else. Sing a favorite hymn. Recite a favorite passage of scripture that you have memorized. Say a quick prayer thanking God for three specific blessings. This will work for the moment, but the negative thoughts will return. You didn’t get like this overnight, and it won’t go away in a day. So each time the negative thoughts return, turn your mind towards whatever good thing you are using. Over time you will find that your mind stays focused on what you want it to dwell on, and the feelings of negativity will ease. I committed several passages to memory over the years by doing this!
Does this sound idea sound familiar? God seems to think it’s a good idea….
3. Take control of your actions. Psychologists call this ‘Behavior therapy’. Many of us do destructive things when we are feeling bad. Now you might not punch a wall or scream at people, but maybe you go out and spend money needlessly when you are down. Or maybe you eat sweets, or smoke cigarettes when you feel bad. Like above, it’s all about awareness. When you recognize destructive things that you are doing to yourself or others, stop doing them! Replace them with a more positive response. Whenever you feel down about something that consistently bothers you, write two cards to people you know who are having a tough time, pray to God to help you in that moment, read Revelation 5 (that always makes me feel good!). Doesn’t matter what you do, finish the dishes, play Candy Crush on your iPhone, whatever you need to do to stop hurting yourself.
Again, this will take time, and you will fail. But the more aware you become of how you work, the more you can do to break the cycle.
4. Remember God loves you. I am constantly amazed at how many people hate themselves. Many of us wallow in negativity, because we believe that is what we deserve. So many terrible things come out of this behavior. We become depressed and lethargic about dealing with our life. We become cynical and hateful towards others. This will only grow worse over time, and every failure and every hurt feeling just reinforces what I’ve been telling myself over and over for years. This not healthy, and it is NOT what God wants for His children!
Yes, this life is hard, and other people can be cruel. Yes, you have been treated unfairly at times. But don’t compound all of that by tearing yourself down. God wants to give you LIFE! An eternal life that begins now and never ends! He offers joy and purpose to combat the pain and meaninglessness of this broken world.
Jesus said, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.’ We serve a God who comes to us!! How amazing is that!? Not only that, not only does He run to us like a father does a straying child, but He stays with us! God lives with you. Never forget that.