Updated: Mar 3
I am the type of person who tries to find a lesson in all of life's experiences. I genuinely believe that each experience, good or bad, has something to teach us and is used by God to conform us (Romans 8:28). So, what can be learned from such a negative experience as depression? While there is much to be learned, here are three things that I've learned while wrestling with depression.
Negative thoughts are frequent visitors. Negative thoughts may pass through all of our minds from time to time. However, I've learned that in my life and through counseling others, negative thoughts will show up as many times as you invite them. The more I entertain negative thoughts, the more likely they will show up in my thinking. Practically speaking, when I have a negative thought and spend time meditating on it, the more often I will have that negative thought. The thoughts become "thought habits" or patterns of thought that I retreat to when faced with difficult situations or difficult people.
Negative thoughts are very influential. Have you ever noticed that negative thoughts tend to shape how you think about other things? For example, take the lie that "no one loves me." This is a thought that has the tendency to permeate our thinking and change the way we view other peoples' actions and motives - even longstanding friends. Don't believe me? I've seen (and have personally experienced in myself) people receive an abundance of support and encouragement, only to again utter the words, "No one loves me." When pressed about the issue, we discover that the feeling unloved causes the person to rationalize how others can support them without loving them. It may sound something like, "Oh, they are only doing that because they pity me." Or "It's just part of their job." Negative thoughts are "bully thoughts." They are hostile to any peaceful thought and don't get along with any thought that contradicts.
Negative thoughts will not settle to influence just your thought life. I want to be as clear as I can with this point; when we struggle with negative thinking, we often intentionally or unintentionally create the circumstances that reinforce the negative thought. For example, when we feel alone, we tend to isolate ourselves. The ironic part about this is we then look around and say, "You see! Look, I'm alone," as though we proved ourselves correct. Unhealthy thoughts lead to unhealthy practices.
So, how do we overcome the habit of negative thinking? First, stop entertaining negative thoughts when they come to visit. I can not afford to entertain negative thoughts; they are too expensive for a guest. I've discovered that they cost me too much in motivation, hope, and my ability to dream in Christ or in building community. When negative thoughts come across my mind, I've discovered that I have to immediately AND intentionally find something true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, anything excellent or praiseworthy, and think on these things (Philippians 4:8). Taking thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) means, in part, identifying un-christlike thoughts and not allowing them to run rampant in my mind. I've found freedom in being intentional about my thought-life, AND YOU CAN TOO.
If you're wrestling with depression, you don't need to do it alone. Let's talk. Schedule a free, confidential meeting by clicking here.
Ryan A. Sturgis, M.A.
Pastor of Counseling
Capital Baptist Church in Annandale Va.