I had driven to the campus one morning but turned around and drove home without even going to class. I blew off my parents’ concerned questions and headed for my room. They followed and found me lying with my face buried in my pillow. After more of their questions were angrily deflected, my mother recognized the dilemma and wisely said, “You know, David, the greatest temptation we face is the temptation to give up.”
Looking back on that day I now call it depression. Depression is no fun. It hurts. It saps one’s productivity. It can even be scary. I’m not an expert. I am not trained as a counselor, but I know something because of my life-long awareness of this negative companion. I’ve also learned some coping skills. If you can use my experience to help a friend, I will be very grateful.
Three different misperceptions usually trigger my depression. They are triggers found in:
Comparing has many negative side effects. Thoughts of “being less than” can take over. Someone else seems more capable, more successful, or more esteemed. These thoughts give way to feelings of sadness. Envy and covetousness are often lurking beneath the surface.
Insecurity sneaks up and catches me when I am least aware. It is rooted in a need for approval. I need others to like me, to think well of me, to say that I’m doing a good job.
If I fear criticism for not completing a project well enough, I get defensive. Defensiveness comes out in milder forms as excuses. It gets expressed more harshly as aggression. When it does, I am not a very nice person to be around. When I fear that others don’t have positive opinions of me, I feel insecure and become depressed.
Disapproval comes in many forms: being passed over; not making the team; rejection; being ignored. It possesses a greater power over me than do the first two triggers. Comparisons and insecurity arise in my own thinking, but disapproval comes from the outside. Someone has done something “to me.” I interpret the action to mean that I am devalued. The experience, coupled with my misinterpretation, makes disapproval especially powerful and results in my deepest feelings of depression.
In the sixth decade of my life God graciously began to set me free from the power of these depressive feelings. I have been learning to recognize the incorrect thinking which leads to the feelings and to live in the power of truth.
Two resources have been especially helpful. A Christian counselor taught me the basics of cognitive therapy—that our thoughts determine our feelings and not the reverse. If I am feeling bad, then most likely I have been thinking something that is not true.
Through another resource I have learned that much of my negative thinking has a sinful side. Notice, I did not say that depressive feelings are sinful, but for me the thinking that leads to them is.
Consider the self-centeredness inherent in comparing. Comparing myself with others results in me believing that I am less than others. But that belief would not even be possible if I didn’t have a desire to be better than others or at least be held in high regard by others.
Insecurity can look like humility, but for me it is a fig-leaf attempt to cover my innate sense of shame. At the core of my being I want to be significant. I experience the insecurity as anxiety and depression, but the thinking that precedes it focuses on my desire for self-importance.
And my response to disapproval? Instead of resting in God’s value of me, I easily allow someone’s disapproval to determine my value as a person. I readily give in to the message that disapproval brings.
The truth is that I need to repent of the pride in comparing. Instead of trying to establish my own worth, I can accept the worth God has given me as his child. My heavenly Father has created me, and his Son has redeemed me.
The truth is that I need to repent of my insecurity instead of always trying to justify myself through the approval of others. When I feel insecure, I can stop and reflect on the only source of approval that matters: God approves of me in Christ Jesus.
The truth is that I need to repent of letting the actions of others determine my value. Even if someone openly rejects me, my heavenly Father ultimately determines my value. I can rest in the immeasurable value God has given to me in giving his Son. He was rejected for me.
Living in the Truth
I don’t mean to suggest that these lessons are easy to learn. They are not easy to learn, nor are they easy to apply. Often, I need to journal about my feelings to discover the error in my thinking. It seems I need to first acknowledge my feelings of sadness or insecurity. Then the Holy Spirit reveals the misbelief that led to the feeling. Vigilance in hearing God speak truth through his Word has also been an absolute necessity for me.
These lessons are not easy to learn or apply, but they are not complex. God’s Word is the Truth I need. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth who convicts me of the pride and self-focus at the core of that thinking. He speaks words of forgiveness. He helps me to replace misbeliefs with the truth.
The Truth Sets Me Free
My mother spoke the truth that bleak morning when I felt like quitting everything. You may be able to help your depressed friend by asking them, “What is true?” The truth is that you have infinite value to God and he loves you more than you could ever know.