Originally published Thursday, 17 April 2014.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ... - 2 Corinthians 4-5 (emphasis mine)
When I was struggling with anxiety and depression, I truly thought I was going crazy. Terrible, irrational thoughts seemed to swirl through my mind continually, and I was pretty sure that it would not be a good idea to tell anyone what I was thinking. I thought maybe they'd take my kids away or admit me into some facility for the mentally ill. My thoughts were so far out there that I didn't even know what I was capable of. I didn't trust myself, and I think that's what scared me the most.
Now that I'm on the other side of that terrible season, I can clearly see that I was not going crazy––I was simply letting my thoughts run away with me. For a long time, I had erroneously thought that every thought I had was valid simply because I thought it. But that's not true. Even when our thoughts feel true, they may not be true. When I was first introduced to this concept, it was revolutionary for me, and it helped me to understand that all those crazy thoughts I had were simply lies. I was still a baby Christian at this point, but I knew enough to begin to use scripture to differentiate between truth and lies. God's truth became my measuring stick for truth.
A pastor once told me he believes that people experience depression and anxiety because they believe lies. At the time, I wasn't quite sure if I agreed with him, but now I do. Learning to monitor my thoughts and align my thinking with God's truth was the single most important tool God gave me to combat the fear and darkness I experienced.
Thoughts are powerful. The sooner we understand that, the better. I once attended a class at my church called The Exchanged Life, and I learned that it is our thoughts that determine our emotions which ultimately determine what we do. It's a cycle, of sorts, that begins with our thoughts, which is why we must begin to take a more active role in our thought life. Monitoring thoughts is important for everyone, but I believe it's one of the greatest thing we can do when we're battling anxiety and depression. But regardless of whether or not you're experiencing these symptoms, we all need to take a more active role in accepting or rejecting our thoughts. We need to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. And we need to deliberately evaluate every thought that crosses our mind––accepting it if it lines up with God's word, or rejecting it if it doesn't.
But here's the thing––if I tell you to stop thinking a thought, I'm pretty sure that thought that you're trying not to think is going to be all that you will be able to think about. So instead of simply telling ourselves to stop thinking a thought, we take that thought, recognize it as a lie, and replace it with its opposite truth. For example, if I think, I am not okay. I will never be okay. I will be like this for the rest of my life! The first thing I need to do is recognize that this thought is not true. Then, I go to scripture to determine what is true, believing God's word applies to me. From that, I can begin to replace the lie with God's truth and tell myself, I am okay. God loves me. He is with me. He will never leave me, nor forsake me. He has a plan for my life, and it is a good plan. He is a good God who will faithfully use all this mess for my good and His glory. He is light. The light casts out the darkness. The closer I get to Him, the brighter His darkness shines upon me. Soon, my darkness will fade away, completely. God is for me. I am His.
If I think, I am crazy! I think I might end up in some crazy luny bin! I need to cast that lie out and replace it thought with this: God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and self-control. Jesus came that I may have life and life to the full. This is only a season. I will be okay.
See how that works?
We also must learn to recognize the anxiety and depression without focusing on them. When we think, "I'm depressed. I'm depressed. I'm depressed...." all the time, we're going to be depressed. Remember, our thoughts affect our feelings. Now, I know it's difficult to think about other things when you're in this state––trust me, I've been there––but I also know that I allowed my symptoms to consumed my mind for far too long. But when I began to take my attention off the way I felt (physically and emotionally) and instead put my attention on God, the symptoms slowly began to go away.
When writing to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9). I cannot tell you how desperately I wanted peace, and it was given as I began intentionally thinking about all that is good. Now, just so we're clear, this is not the power of positive thinking I'm referring to. What I'm talking about is centering your mind on TRUTH. Not your truth or any form of truth found in this world, but God's truth. It is God who saves us through centering us on His truth.
So try to replace your bad thoughts with good thoughts. As Paul says, think about all that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, true, and good. Choose to deliberately think about all you have to be thankful for. Write it down and then go back and read what you wrote in your darkest moments. Cultivate a thankful heart. Even if you don't feel thankful yet, write down all your blessing.
Just as Paul wrote, "practice these things." It takes time and practice to take a more active role in your thought life, but I can honestly say that it is well worth all the energy you put toward it. Our thoughts play a vital role in our mental health, so I encourage you to take all the time necessary to learn this tool through discipline and practice, while keeping your focus on God.
Truly, you are not beyond hope. Know that. You will be okay.
Any thoughts? Share in the comments.
Joyce Meyer's Battlefield of the Mind.
Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts