Do I Have to Feel This Way? Possible Help for Chronic Sadness
For the audio version of this blog, click here.
I’ve had countless people come to me and tell me about their chronic sadness. My heart would ache with them because I knew I had felt some of the very same things they were describing, because I’ve struggled with chronic sadness during certain seasons of my own life – and the seasons were often too long. So in those moments with people, I felt terribly inadequate to offer them any sort of real help. But they were entrusting me with their heart and their struggle, so I offered them a compassionate, caring ear and listened and asked questions. At the end I would ALWAYS tell the person TRUTH. It’s all I knew to do. I somehow knew truth was the key, but I just wasn’t sure exactly how to use it. I would tell them all the RIGHT answers and would declare truth and hope over them. And it would encourage them TEMPORARILY…but ONLY temporarily. Usually by the very next day, the encouragement had faded and they were back in their sadness. I knew I was missing something in helping them and in helping myself. I just didn’t know what. Over time, through scripture, prayer, and books, I finally realized the problem. I was telling them truth but I wasn’t teaching them to activate truth for themselves when I wasn’t there with them. I’m going to teach you something I learned that has worked for me. And I hope it works for you too. I’m not a certified counselor. I’m just sharing a simple concept that has made a big difference in my own life.
So, what I realized about myself and these people is that we all KNEW truth and could quote truth but we rarely chose to ACTIVATE truth over lies. Our minds were full of both truth AND lies – but we would often choose to entertain lies over truth. Why do so many of us do this? I’m not sure.
Maybe at some point we became unsure of the truth because of some circumstance like failure or disappointment…
Maybe the lies just felt more intense so they felt more real to us….
Maybe we think if we quote lies to ourself, it will help us prepare for the worst in case it ends up being true…
Whatever the case, these people and I all had a habit of activating lies rather than truth in our constant internal monologue.
Think of all the things we KNOW in our minds. To make a visual, think of things you know as individual books. And think of your brain as a massive library. All of our books (or thoughts) are closed and sitting dormant on the shelf until we need them. Once a circumstance arises, we subconsciously run our finger over the spine of all the books we have on that subject. We pull the one that we want to pull and activate it. We read it over and over. We play it like a record to interpret reality or make sense of reality.
Whatever we activate most from the shelves of our mind WILL influence the course of our lives – AND – it WILL affect our emotions and how we FEEL. Let me say it another way. What we think determines how we feel and how we live.
John 8 lets us in on a little secret into the spiritual war going on around us that influences us. Verses 30-59 are talking about being in slavery or bondage to someone or some sin. And Jesus sets the stage for all this with a profound truth. He says, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (8:32). Now, later in the book of John Jesus reveals who the truth is. He says, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). So if we put those two together (You will know the truth and the truth will set you free…and Jesus is the truth and the way), we find our way to freedom. It’s Jesus. And because Jesus is the truth, He’s ALWAYS going to tell you the truth, because the truth can’t be both truth and untruth at the same time.
So in John 8, on one side of the war for freedom we have Jesus who claims to be the truth that can set you free (John 8:32; 14:6), and on the other side of the war we have Satan who is called the one in whom “there is NO TRUTH,” the “Father of lies”, “a murderer,” and “one who does NOT stand on truth” (John 8:44). So this section of Scripture shows us the two sides of the war surrounding every person on earth. One is helpful and wants your freedom and redemption, and the other is harmful and wants your destruction and defeat. The question you’ve got to ask yourself is: Do I want the course of my life and my emotions to be led by truth (and Christ) or by lies (and the Devil)?
It’s a REAL battle between God and Satan - truth and lies. We are seeing it play out in our society even today – the war may be more disguised like when society declares “there is no such thing as truth” – but the same battle is present and fierce. And we HAVE to stand for truth and follow Christ, EVEN in our own minds throughout the day – because it’s often the lies we chronically believe that lead us into depression, anxiety, and all sorts of other problems.
Let me give you a very simple example to show you how our feelings can get misled by wrong thinking: Do you remember ever getting scared in the dark in your bedroom when you were a kid? You might have even screamed for your mom and cried and told her that you were scared because you were absolutely sure there were monsters under your bed. Your heart rate and breathing REALLY increased…your emotions and feelings REALLY did change. Your blood pressure REALLY did go up. There were ACTUAL physical responses because of a lie you were telling yourself (i.e. monsters were under your bed). ALL of these REAL physical responses and REAL feelings happened BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU BELIEVED TO BE TRUE – even though it ACTUALLY WASN’T TRUE.
LIES can cause REAL feelings and REAL physical responses in us when we believe them and entertain them. Lies are NOT harmless. Believing lies AFFECTS us.
What is emotion? A feeling, right? But not just a feeling - it’s a feeling that comes from something your MIND is perceiving or thinking. Strong emotions show us that emotions can actually cause REAL physical responses such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, dry mouth, bowel changes, trembling, changes in breathing, etc.
Our feelings affect us.
There’s a fascinating book called, Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian. In this book, Backus says people often tell him in counseling things like, “My husband makes me so mad!” But he corrects them and says, “no no no, what you BELIEVE about your husband is what makes you mad.” Your husband doesn’t actually walk over to you, twist your arm and say, “Be mad at me!” He doesn’t force you to be mad at him. It’s what you BELIEVE about your husband and why you THINK he did a certain action that makes you mad at him. Now your belief about his intent may be true or false in reality, but the point is, it’s your beliefs that influence your emotions.
I would dare to say, though, that some of the most harmful lies are the ones we believe about ourselves. Do you realize that you’re saying things to yourself in your mind all-the-time, whether your fully conscious of it or not. For me, some of the strongest emotions I have felt in my life are tied to the lies I have believed about myself. And then when circumstances APPEAR to support a lie I have been entertaining, I would spiral deeper into depression.
But this is what has made a difference in my life:
Now, when I experience a strong emotion, I start asking myself, 1) what belief is this strong emotion tied to? Another way of asking this is: What am I thinking that’s making me feel this way? 2) Is this belief true or false? 3) Would God approve of or be pleased with this belief?
Let me play this out for you with a real life thought pattern:
I start feeling deep sadness, so I ask myself what I’m believing that’s bringing on this sadness. It may be the thought that “no one loves me” or “I’ll never amount to anything” – ok so I’ve identified it.
Then I ask if this thought is truth or a lie. Well even though it doesn’t feel false in this moment, I DO know it’s false because it doesn’t align with what Scripture tells me about myself. Scripture tells me I’m loveable and He wouldn’t have created me if He didn’t have a purpose for me. I know I’ve got to stop believing this lie because the more I entertain lies, the more true and familiar it feels….and pretty soon I’ll unintentionally make it true because when I believe a lie that says I’m unloveable, I’ll start to seclude myself and push people away so they won’t have a chance not to love me. And I will stop trying things because I believe I’ll never amount to anything. Lies can sometimes be like self-fulfilling prophecy we speak over ourselves. We don’t want that, because we can make them come true when they weren’t true in the first place.
I ask, “Would God approve of or be pleased with this belief?” The answer is no. He would hate that I was believing such a thing about one he intentionally created for a very purposed reason.
Now this all sounds very simple, but if you’ve been used to activating lies rather than truths, it’s hard to put away the books of lies and open the books of truths our minds. Most of us now so naturally pull the books of lies off of the shelves of our mind that we do it without even realizing it. This is where counseling or a good friend can be very good for you. These people can help you recognize when you're living with lies activated without knowing it and call your attention to it.
So many Christians struggle with this and don’t even realize it. I am one of them. I’m a recovering lie activator, I guess you could say! I knew countless scriptures. I had a decent Christian worldview that I tried to live out of, but when it came to matters of myself, I left the scriptures on the shelf and activated lies almost every time. Doing this led me down the path to depression and social anxiety because I believed things about myself that God would not be proud of. He made us, you know? So saying some of the terrible things we say to ourselves is really like telling God He did a bad job and obviously didn’t know what he was doing. It’s an offense, even though it’s an indirect offense.
William Backus aand Marie Chapian say that when we activate lies, we are actually brainwashing ourselves. And you and I both know that a brain washed person will act in ways that don’t make sense to a person who is not brain washed.
Backus and CHapian have found through experimentation, that there are three standard misbeliefs in depression, and they all have a common theme: to devalue (to take away the value of). Do you know what three areas depressed people commonly devalue?:
And the future
They devalue self by saying things like: I’m no good. I’m a failure. I can’t do it. I can’t accomplish anything. There’s something wrong with me that makes me screw everything up. I’m not interesting, etc etc
They devalue daily life by saying things like: nothing in my life is good anymore. Life is not worth living.
They devalue the future by saying things like: my future is hopeless. I don’t think I’m ever going to get better.
But this psychologist notes that of all mental health issues, depression is the one to have because it can always get better. It’s very treatable.
He explained if we are activating lies like these, we are usually doing it A LOT of the time. If this is your internal monologue nagging you throughout your day, what do you expect to feel? You’re going to feel terrible. Backus says, “You collaborate with the devil in making yourself feel just the way he wants you to feel.”
So we can’t just take away the misbeliefs - We have to replace the misbeliefs with the truth:
So what does the Bible say about my worth? You are of infinite worth…so much so that he would send his son to die for you
What does that Bible say about my daily life? its given to us out of the hand of God.
What does the Bible say about our future? He has it under control, He won’t give up on you, and He has ordained your purpose.
But don’t JUST go to the Bible, go to God in prayer and tell Him your feelings and confess any misbeliefs your feelings might be tied to. I think you’ll find that (in some way I can’t explain) He will SING truth over you as you pray, and then you’ll know the Truth and the truth will set you free.
 William Backus and Marie Chapian, Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy (Bethany House, 2015), Abridged Audiobook, approximate location 43:25.  Ibid., 50:25. Ibid., 51:25.