Originally published Tuesday, 15 July 2014.
"It must be hard for you not to analyze everything you hear," a friend commented to me as we sat at a restaurant, waiting for an open table. Crammed up beside all the other people waiting for a table, we couldn't help but overhear the conversations around us. The first one we heard was a couple who had just met for the first time from an online dating service. That's when my friend made the comment.
And it's true. With my background and history in counseling, it's an inevitable result of entering into the stories of other people's lives. But even more so than listening to and evaluating the stories of other's lives, I explained to my friend that my greater tendency is to think, evaluate and analyze my own life's story.
I am a thinker. I ponder, muse, speculate, evaluate, and explore everything. In fact, I over-think. If it were possible, I could think things to death.
I consider things I should have said and should have done. I relive discussions and circumstances I've had. I dwell on mistakes and analyze them in great detail. I've told my husband before that I've had entire arguments in my head with him where I poured out everything I wanted to say, point by point. He said he was glad he wasn't there to hear it!
There's a certain amount of self-evaluation that is good. We should have insight into ourselves, our choices, and our actions. But sometimes it can go too far.
Martin LLoyd Jones talks about how this over-thinking can actually encourage and contribute to spiritual depression. "There is a type of person who tends to be always analyzing himself, analyzing everything he does, and worrying about the possible effects of his actions, always harking back, always full of vain regrets." (Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, pg. 17).
Does that sound like you?
He explains that there is a difference between self-examination which is something we should do and introspection which is when self-examination becomes something we always do. "We are meant to examine ourselves periodically, but if we are always doing it, always, as It were, putting our soul on a plate and dissecting it, that is introspection." (Ibid, p.17). When such introspection begins to pull us down into despair, it's no longer self-examination but what Lloyd Jones calls morbidity. This morbidity makes us focus all our energies on ourselves, making us self-centered, the opposite of what Christ called us to do when he said to put others before ourselves. The Christian is to be self-forgetful, putting our energies into loving and serving others, as our Savior did for us (Philippians 2:3-8).
Martin LLoyd Jones says that because over-thinkers can be prone to spiritual depression, we should know our strengths and weaknesses. If we tend toward over-thinking and too much self-evaluation, we need to be cautious of that tendency and be on the look out for it. It is a great wisdom to know our tendencies, to be mindful of them, and resist them.
What do we do when we catch ourselves over thinking things?
The truth is, we don't have to listen to ourselves. We can talk back to ourselves, speaking the truth of God's word to our hearts. "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 117:17). Lies lose their power in the face of truth. This is why we need to know God's word by heart, so that it is always on the tip of our tongue, ready to be fired at the lies we hear around us and especially at the ones within our own hearts. "Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long" (Psalm 25:5).
As Jerry Bridges says, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily, reminding ourselves of all that we are and have in Christ. We need to rebuke and correct our own hearts and apply the gospel to our lives every day.
It's good to evaluate ourselves. We should have insight into our thoughts and actions. But we've crossed the line when it becomes all that we think about. So dear friend, if you are an over thinker like me, know yourself, know your tendencies, but most of all, know the truth.