Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Psalm 42:5a
Do you ever find yourself in a place like the Psalmist describes above where you feel down and out of sorts, where life can feel so overwhelming and the circumstances around you can seem like they are more than you can bear? At times, you can feel almost helpless and without hope. If you have been there, you are not alone. The Psalms are filled with people and their stories of experience with depression and hopelessness. And yet…..
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:5b
The good news is we have hope! Twice in Psalm 42 the psalmist reminds himself that there is hope in God and he remembers His past faithfulness to him.
You may be saying, that sounds easy to say, but its much harder to experience in the middle of your circumstances. That is very true. So how can we move from a place of depression and hopeless to peace and hopefulness?
Several years ago, Siang-Yang Tan and John Ortberg wrote a book called “Coping with Depression” where they help describe the ABC’s of understanding depression. The ABCs stand for three dimensions in a person’s life; A – Affect(feelings), B – Behavior, and C – Cognition(thoughts).
The authors describe the ABC’s in this way: “When you are depressed, you feel depressed (that’s A), you behave in depressed ways (B; for instance, you stay in bed or watch TV most of the day), and you think in negative ways (C).”
I think these three points can really help us to understand where we are and how we can begin to step out of depression to a place of peace and joy. Lets take a look at each of the components and see how we can learn about depression and the pathway to freedom in Christ.
A – Affect (Feelings)
Take inventory of your feelings. Our feelings can be an indicator of some deeper pain and wounding that we have been suppressing or not paying attention to. Sometimes as we begin to unpack our feelings we are able to bring out the pain we have been experiencing. It can be helpful to review a list of feeling words to help us be more descriptive of our feelings. Below is a list of feeling words. Which ones would you say describe where you are right now?
Sad, angry, hurt, happy, irritable, hopeless, isolated, furious, tired, resentful, bitter, sluggish, depressed, thrilled, helpless, exhausted, moody, guilty, ashamed, peaceful, worthless, inadequate, lonely, frustrated, confused, worn-out, defeated, energetic, useless, strong, bored, enthusiastic, weak, unimportant, agitated, nervous, fearful, anxious, contented, satisfied
Once you identify your feelings, you can process them before God, like the Psalmist did, or with a trusted friend or counselor. In this way you are taking these feelings out of the darkness and bringing them into the light of Christ.
B – Behavior
“I just don’t feel like doing anything.” Have you ever said this? When we are depressed, our tendency is to do not do anything and yet our inaction tends to just deepen our depression. Our feelings of depression can override our desire toward behaviors that would actually help with our depression. Take a look at your current behavior. What are you doing or not doing now while you are feeling depressed? You might do a review of your day or days and look to see where your time and energy have been spent. As you look at this list, what is missing that you know if you did these more you would feel better? Or what are things you see in your current schedule that need to be reduced or eliminated? A few healthy behaviors you can include in your day can be exercise, eating right, reducing time on media, prayer, Bible Study, connecting with others. Isolation and inactivity are two hallmarks of a depressed mood. Choosing behavior that pulls us out of isolation and gets us moving can lift our spirits and give us hope.
C – Cognition (thoughts)
When we are depressed, we are flooded in our minds with negative thoughts. Psychologists have a term for this; ANTS (Automatic negative thoughts). Think of those pesky fire ants you have come across in your life. When you first step on an ant mound, you may not realize it at first but after a few moments, you find your feet feel like they are on fire! Negative thoughts are like those pesky fire ants. They just keep coming until you can become overwhelmed by their message. What are the automatic negative thoughts you tend to have? Get out a sheet of paper and try to list out every thought you have had in the last day. One of the things I’ve noticed is it is easier to spot negative thinking in others than myself. Those ANTS of mine feel like the truth because they have been there for so long.
Once you list out and identify your various thoughts, ask the Lord to show you the truth. Make a list of the truths of Scripture. A great resource is a list of scripture about your identity in Christ that we call Truth Treasures. Don’t let the ANTS set your soul on fire, stop them and fill your mind with the truth of God’s love and provision for you.
When we are depressed our affects(feelings), behaviors, and cognitions (thoughts) are caught in the stronghold cycle. Life events impact how we feel, think, and act. In our pain we make choices of false fulfillment to cope with the pain. As we look at the ABC’s, we see freedom when we reorient our feelings and thoughts according to the truth of God’s love and choose behaviors that seek true fulfillment in Jesus.
I wish getting rid of depression is as easy as ABC. However, we live in a broken world and enemy will always be prowling looking for our destruction. But the good news is we can experience freedom in Christ as we move from the ABC’s of the stronghold cycle to the ABC’s that birth freedom.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13