I would like to share with you about two of the darkest years of my life. Following the birth of our second child I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Those unpredictable hormones have a lot to answer for, but in some cases I think we give them way too much credit for our suffering.
Sometimes God uses our vulnerabilities and life's circumstances to bring about change. In my case I came to believe that my Heavenly Father was allowing and even encouraging wrong attitudes and hurts to come to the surface, those emotions that had been buried so deep, they now were an integral part of who I had become. Those roots of the past needed to be uprooted and removed. As a child I had allowed circumstances to influence me and my way of coping was to push those negative feelings into the depths of my memories, and hopefully forget they existed.
We lived in a community where hormone influenced maladies were somewhat ignored, so it was often a case of taking the remedy into one's own hands. This was the time when caring friends became a lifeline. I had - and still have – a close friend who would telephone me every day, and I mean every day, and invite me over for “a coffee and a quiet nervous break-down”. That may sound callous but where I came from that was a way of injecting humor into an otherwise difficult circumstance.
My memory of those times has faded somewhat now, but those daily phone calls and mornings spent with my girlfriend continued for many months, and possibly through the duration of my “dark days”.
During that time I remember some very sad events. As both of us sought to cope with our own separate heartaches - hers was the birth of her fourth son while her third suffered from life threatening asthma. We found ourselves together in Intensive Care struggling to cope with an acutely sick child.
Another dear friend of ours, who we both spent much time with had a son die in crib death. It was only the previous day, Jenny and I had our baby sons lying side by side on the floor, doing the milestone comparison routine. The following day her son, Billy never woke from his morning sleep. Yet, another friend, so struggling with depression made another and this time fatal attempt to end her life. It was a year of much pain. Perhaps these traumas helped in my own recovery. I don't know because the months were a blur of just coping.
I do know that my circle of committed friends gathered together in support and prayer. For many weeks I spent time with my husband and another couple praying together in the area of “healing of memories”. During these occasions I would recall past events that had impacted my life, and caused me to react a certain way. Those responses were often harmful and led to patterns of thinking that were unhealthy. The saying “We are what we think” may sound trite, but in it's triteness is a great deal of truth. There's a proverb in the bible “for as he thinks within himself, so he is;” Prov 23:7a I don't think God was intending to be trite either.
During those 'dark days' when there was no light at the end of the tunnel I often woke in the morning with a damp pillow, obviously crying while I slept. My husband probably found the overload of emotion somewhat confusing and frustrating, specially when he felt unable to “fix” the problem. He was loving and supportive during this time, perhaps not understanding the cause or the cure but committed to our relationship and the belief that these unhappy days would come to pass.
I clearly remember a quite cataclysmic event on a Sunday morning. Perhaps it was only shocking to me, because it was so unexpected and accurate. During this particular worship service, the Pastor who was quite new to the church and certainly didn't know me, or my circumstances stopped abruptly in his message and asked me to stand up. When one is seated in a congregation of over a thousand people being directed to rise to one's feet is somewhat unnerving. I stood up, barely. He said,“my life was like a pedestrian crossing – black on white, but in the days ahead there would be more white on black. The black would diminish and the white would become more pronounced”. I sat down!
I have reflected on that prophetic word over the years. I don't think he was referring entirely to my depression at that particular time. It was definitely a light at the end of a dark tunnel, even if it was only a glimmer, but as the years passed I found truth in those words.
My life changed. Through the passage of time the frequency and depth of my depressed times reduced. The pattern of the preceding years, which were also scarred from similar battles with depression, came with less frequency and intensity. I've heard it said, that one cannot appreciate the mountain tops without experiencing the valleys. I think living on the plains would be just perfect, but God doesn't seem to call us to the restful plains very often. If one has a heart to pursue God then the valleys are inevitable, but He does promise to stand with us during these times, even carry us if necessary. We won't be alone. Hebrews 13:5 God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”.
There are undoubtedly clinical causes for depression and should one suffer from repeated or prolonged depression it is prudent to seek competent medical advice. Certain hormones at too high or too low a level and the balance between them can be the cause of significant suffering.
There are volumes written about this subject, our intent here is to look at some areas that are often overlooked or ignored.
How we think and what we think about are so critical!
We could refer to this as “mental hygiene”. We have learned a lot in the last 100 years about physical hygiene, how to avoid the spread of disease and harmful bacteria. We have largely ignored however, the thought processes that occur seemingly at random in our heads and the influence and effect these can and do have on our emotional and physical well-being.
Few of us are taught or take the time to learn how to think and process our emotions in accordance with the owner's manual – the Bible. We also often believe the lie that our thoughts just occur and we are at their mercy.
1By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away! 2I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. 3For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:1~5
Firstly, we are told not to live like the world does; we are called to think, and thus act, according to the principles of the Kingdom of God. Secondly, the way we talk is to be different than the way the world talks. Our thoughts lead to words that have power; for good or for bad – we get to choose. Thirdly, our thinking involves disciplining our minds by taking every thought captive so we can represent His Kingdom as He wants it to be.
We are promised to be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit who will reveal Jesus to us as THE TRUTH. As we walk in the spirit, it is truth we need to pursue in our thinking. No delusions or wishful thinking. Shun the negative or anything not substantiated by the truth revealed through His word and witnessed by His Spirit. Make sure our priorities align with God's plan for our lives.
For most of us, when a certain stimulus occurs, particular thoughts will begin and if left alone, one thought will lead to another in a remarkably consistent pattern. We need to develop the discipline in our thinking to recognize those patterns that lead to negative emotions and possibly to negative actions. These thought patterns can be as challenging to deal with as any addiction or habit.
How we respond and deal with the events that life presents to us is our personal responsibility. There are many biographies that show how people have responded to very difficult and traumatic events. It is fascinating to me to see how there can be so many different outcomes to the same or similar events or traumas. What makes the difference? - I believe it has everything to do with how we think and respond, how we choose to react and process the situation.
There is a common reaction among many of avoiding dealing with difficult or unpleasant things in the hope that they will all just go away. If I ignore it, it cannot be happening; is an illusion that has consequences. We know that our perspective is usually subjective and thus likely to be unbalanced. We can ask the Holy Spirit to show us how Jesus sees things, what is His perspective? Working through past traumas with the power and help of the Holy Spirit has helped many re-process and re-orient their thinking and responses and helped them to move forward in wholeness rather than as someone walking wounded.
We are encouraged to be active in our thinking and positive, not passive or emptying our minds and just allowing anything that happens by to take its place.
If we choose to rejoice, praise, pray with thanksgiving, guard our hearts and minds and think on excellent and praiseworthy things we are promised the peace of God that passes all understanding.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philipians 4:4~9
Does this come easy? No. What I can say is, that the more I am proactive and deliberate about what I allow my mind to think and dwell upon in line with the above verses, the better I am able to love and serve those God has placed around me.
Be careful what you listen to, particularly music, as the message being conveyed by the musician will impact your mind without your conscious thought either recognizing, filtering or necessarily even agreeing with the message. Remember, satan was the chief maestro in all of heaven, he knows how this stuff works much better than you can imagine and uses music to influence and impact millions of people.
Lord Jesus, please reveal your truth to me, particularly in my thoughts. Help me to develop an attitude of praise and thankfulness for who you are and all you continue to do in me. I give you Holy Spirit, permission to work in me and develop the activity and thinking that bring glory to you and help me to become all you have created me to be.