Talking to Myself–and Talking Back to Myself!–When Depressed
What follows are snatches of verbal give-and-take I have had with myself in recent years, depicting the inner reality when despondency skews my thoughts and perspectives on life and daily experiences. Often these conversations with myself, representative of many others, are only in my mind, not voiced. Occasionally, when I’m alone, they’re audible.
You may read this and conclude that I’m throwing a colossal pity party. Or that I should be straitjacketed and led away to the funny farm. Or that I need multiple psychotherapy sessions weekly for the rest of my life. Especially since I’m in vocational Christian ministry, you may be offended to see that despair occasionally spawns coarse language when no one else is around (though such words are camouflaged in this post). Admittedly, I’m a mess.
Yet I’ll risk your condescension for the sake of giving a bird’s-eye view of what goes on inside some depressed people. Rest assured: I’m not alone as a Christian, or even as a Christian leader, who says these kind of things to himself.
I ask you to extend grace to me, and to focus more on the rebuttals I give, which show how faith and truth can have the last word.
My spirit is as dry as a bone jutting out of the desert sand. I can’t remember the last time I worshipped God, either alone or corporately, with exhilaration. It’s been quite a while since I felt His presence at all.
Terry, you’ve been through this before. If you look back, you’ll realize that the barrenness doesn’t last forever. You’ll recall how God eventually returned your joy, and a more buoyant spirit later described you.
Learn from your past pilgrimage. These dark episodes come and go.
Remember the time five years ago when a barren time ended in a church worship service? The choir and soloist sang “The Anchor Holds,” with lyrics about God’s sustenance through storms. The Holy Spirit used that song to massage your heart.
You stood and raised your hands, tears streaming down your face. You were 63 years old, but that’s the first time you ever stood alone and raised your arms in praise during a worship service. And you weren’t consciously drawing attention to yourself. You were drawing attention to the One who has often anchored you during the harshest of storms.
Don’t believe the lie that says things will never get better. Cling to promises such as Psalm 30:5: “His anger is but for a moment, His favor for a lifetime. Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
Besides, some of the greatest saints in church history went through periods of spiritual dryness that weren’t the direct result of sin. You’ve read enough biographies to know that many spiritual giants encountered “dark nights of the soul,” when God seemed silent or absent. David Brainerd and Charles Spurgeon are two who come to mind.
Vacillating states of mind and emotions simply show that you’re human. To use James Packer’s words, “Don’t expect on earth what God only promised for heaven.”
If your motive is right, God accepts your prayers and songs no matter how you feel at the moment. His worthiness to be worshipped doesn’t depend on your state of mind. Sincerity of worship and despair aren’t necessarily mutually-exclusive. God may delight in your praise even when you feel like you are just going through the motions.
And remember this: God’s presence with you doesn’t depend on your feelings. His Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable that your fickle feelings. Do you really believe verses such as Isaiah 41:10? “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (emphasis mine).
That promise is either true or false. If it’s false, you might as well shuck your faith, because it’s all a sham, anyway.
I want to die.
It’s a good thing there isn’t a button by my bedside that I can push that would assure I’d die in my sleep. Tonight, I’d be sorely tempted to push it. Death seems preferable to what Charles Spurgeon himself called “this all- beclouding hopelessness.”
It’s one thing to believe cognitively that my life and ministry teem with eternal significance. It’s another thing altogether when I feel so bleak and pessimistic that I don’t want to wake up in the morning.
If I were gone, both my family and I would be better off.
Terry, who owns you?
Last time I checked, Jesus paid a high price for you on the cross: His own blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Paul insisted, “You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
You don’t have the right to destroy God’s property! If you did, you’d still enter His presence, yet you’d short-circuit ways in which He wanted to bless you and to use you. He’s the One who should determine when and how you die.
What effect would your suicide have on your wife, your sons, and your grandson? Do you want to inflict pain on the people who love you most?
Both your sons had bouts of depression as young adults. Since the propensity for depression often runs in families, there’s a better-than-average chance they, as well as your grandson, could experience future episodes of despondency.
When they face a painful setback, or an unexplainable bout with depression, do you want, by your example, to increase the likelihood they’ll take their own life? Do you want one of them to rationalize suicide because that’s what you did? Do you want one of them to think, “This is how dad (or Papaw) escaped his pain. Maybe that’s the best way out for me, too”?
Terry, this life isn’t about you. It’s about God and His plan for your life, and about other people in your sphere of influence.
Living is the hard thing. Dying is a lot easier.
Do the hard thing and give God the chance to receive more glory because of the way He uses you and sustains you, not in spite of the depression, but because of it (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
(When I’m in a downward spiral emotionally, the following words may pass through my lips over a small thing like the inability to find a document in my filing cabinet, or in reaction to an edgy conversation with my son, weak sales report for a book I wrote, or yielding to a temptation that I should have mastered by now.)
It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters! Life sucks, and I’m damn tired of the fact that I’m not handling it well.
I’m nothing but a pile of s*#@, anyway. I’m 68 and a so-called Christian leader. What right do I have to preach, to train students for ministry, to write a blog on depression and faith!? What a joke! I’m a son of a b#*@h!
Why in the h@#l should I keep serving when I can’t control my language (even if no one else hears me)!? Who am I to teach others about Christian living and ministry when I can’t make any progress myself?
Terry, unless you are living in a pattern of willful sin, in rebellion from God–and that isn’t the case right now–recognize these harsh words to yourself for what they are: irrational, malicious jabs from Satan that do not reflect the truth at all.
This kind of thinking is patently not from God. These words represent the enemy’s attempt to get you to throw in the towel when it comes to obedience and ministry. Satan is the ultimate liar, and he wants you believe erroneous things about life and about yourself.
No matter what you think or feel, Terry, life indeed matters. It’s a gift from God. You exist for His sake; He doesn’t exist for your sake (Isa. 43:7).
When you think that nothing matters, remember moments of pleasure that have more than cancelled out the moments of despair:
*Your dachshund greeting you daily at the door, tail thumping against the wall, because he’s so glad to see you.
*Better yet, recall all the times your grandson, Tate, has leapt for joy when he first saw you walk into his house for a visit.
*Recall how God directly answered your prayer for a wife while in college, using a friend to introduce you to Dolly. After you met her 48 years ago, you never asked anyone else for a date.
Terry, did that answer to prayer matter?
*Do you remember the eye-popping beauty of the sunsets you saw when you taught in Zimbabwe?
*The fulfillment of observing a Ukrainian student teach Bible effectively, whom you personally trained for that role?
*Remember the couple who graduated a decade ago who came by your office last week to thank you for equipping them to teach Bible, now their primary ministry?
Terry, does your equipping ministry matter?
And one for whom Christ died is not a pile of s*#@, nor a son of a b#*@h!
Yes, you need to confess your coarse language, and other sins that cause self-loathing or a poor representation of a majestic God. But realize that He paid for your sins so you wouldn’t have to. If He no longer condemns you since you’ve put your faith in His Son (Romans 8:1), why should you condemn yourself? That’s like trying to add to Jesus’ sacrifice, as if His death for your sin wasn’t sufficient.
Revel in His forgiveness, and beg Him to use you, a frail instrument, to demonstrate what He can and will do through needy people—so He gets the credit instead of you (1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2 Cor. 4:7).
Offer your weaknesses to God daily. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you daily, to help you curb the false beliefs stemming from, and sinful reactions to, your depressed mood.
Believe that life matters because the gospel of Jesus Christ matters.
Which conversation resonates most with you? Why?
What common element do you see in each of the rebuttals I gave myself?
Other than despondency, in what areas of life is it helpful to employ God’s Word to “preach to yourself”?
Can you think of an example of “preaching to yourself”—of telling yourself the truth—in response to a false belief not connected to depression?