"There is a day coming when I will draw my final breath on this earth. In the next instant, I will be standing face-to-face with my Lord. At that moment, things will be very personal between me and God. He won’t be asking my friends and family on earth if they think I should be ‘voted’ into heaven based on any merits of my own. I won’t be graded on a curve for the way I lived my life. All the striving I did during my life to gain love, approval and success will have been for naught."
This is the realization I came to after another attempt to end my life. I finally concluded that suicide was not the condition under which I wanted to meet God. But how could I break the vicious cycle of depression and suicidal ideation that had become my life?
Exhausted by the Struggle and Christian Guilt
Diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 1995, I spent the next several years as part of the revolving door of the psych hospital. Falling once more into the abyss of despair in 2003, I was angry to find myself in the stark confines of the psych hospital yet again. Upon discharge this time, my treatment team would not agree to let me go back to work. Instead, I was relegated to an outpatient program. They may as well have said there was no hope for me. People I met there had been in the program for 10-15 years! I was horrified to think that was my future.
Upon intake, the nurse mused at my reluctance to be admitted to the program and told me she was sure there was a root to my depression. I was exhausted by the struggle to be well – to get back to ‘normal’. Inside my heart, I knew she was right – there had to be a reason I kept feeling like I felt, kept doing what I was doing.
There’s an extra layer of guilt about having depression as a Christian. It’s difficult to reconcile God’s word telling us to ‘rejoice always’ yet feeling like all I wanted to do was die. Beyond that I felt ungrateful. I was blessed with a good life - a great husband, 3 amazing children – good jobs, friends, church, etc. I reasoned that if I was truly a Christian I wouldn’t be depressed. I wanted to be able to sort out my problems by what was spiritual, what was psychological and what was emotional. I thought if I could put the problems in neat categories, I could work things out.
"It had never occurred to me that my thoughts weren’t right. I was in the habit of believing everything I thought!"
During the outpatient program, I was introduced to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It was an interesting concept and new to me – thinking about thinking! I read Dr. David Burns' book, “Feeling Good,” with great interest. I was surprised to read the examples of distorted thinking, recognizing every one as correct descriptions of my own thoughts:
It had never occurred to me that my thoughts weren’t right. I was in the habit of believing everything I thought!
As I was grappling with the realization that my thoughts were feeding my depression, I was given a bookmark entitled, “Who I Am in Christ.” It laid out scriptures about what the Bible had to say about who I was in God’s eyes:
- Accepted by Christ: Forgiven of ALL my sins. Even though I had been a Christian from an early age, I had somehow believed that I was so bad that God could forgive everyone else, but not me.
- Secure in Christ: Free from condemnation. Perhaps for the first time I recognized that my thoughts condemned me constantly, reminding me of what a failure I was, what a disappointment I was to God and everyone else. I had been so sure God rued the day he created me.
- Significant: I was chosen by God; I was his workmanship – masterpiece! Nothing on earth or in heaven could separate me from the love of God! I felt so rejected by everyone, especially God and my mom and dad.
Rethinking a New Prescription of Truth
In God’s Word, I saw a prescription for good mental health and it had everything to do with my thought life!
“Finally, brothers and sisters, 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.” (Philippians 4:8)
There was a collision of facts contradicting tenets I’d believed without question, "Thoughts inform feelings, emotions and behavior and God had positive things to say about me, including that He had created me with purpose and design."
Slowly, I realized I had a choice to make:
Continue thinking and believing how I always had OR choose to believe that what God said about me was true. That may sound straight forward, only it wasn’t such an easy transition.
One day, in an effort to help me make a stand, I literally declared out loud that I was deciding to believe that the Bible was the true, infallible Word of God. By making that choice, I was also making the conscious choice to believe that everything the Bible said was true – even about me.
What followed was probably the hardest part of my mental health recovery – trading the lies for truth. My therapist helped me examine the evidence of seeing my life as a complete failure and much to my surprise, for the first time ever I could see instead that my life had been marked by many successes – so much good all around that I had literally been blind to.
Initially, the change in my thinking was difficult. It felt like God’s true statements were actually lies, all because they contradicted a lifetime of unchallenged, false thinking. Previously, I held to core beliefs of being a bad, unlovable person and every thought that flowed from there only confirmed every negative belief I held about myself. Yet, as I accepted that God loved me fully, the whole cascade of my thought life was transformed.
What about for you? Is it time for you to think about your thinking?
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself as you challenge your thinking to create renewed, healthy thoughts:
- What are you believing that you’ve always thought and never challenged?
- Who told you those things about yourself?
- Are they true? If so, where’s the evidence of their truth?
- Do your thoughts and beliefs line up with the Word of God? Do they agree with what God says is true about you?
If not or you’re not sure, then make an appointment today to meet with a Christian counselor, mentor or trusted pastor and ask them to help you look at the truth about you!
John 8:32 has become the testimony of my journey, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and it is his truth that lifted me out of the miry pit and set my feet on solid ground! Thank you, Jesus!
Kathy Lutes is a passionate advocate for mental health issues in the faith community. Diagnosed with Bipolar II in 1995, she has experienced remarkable recovery and is dedicated to helping others on the journey she's been on. She was instrumental in starting Grace Groups in the state of California, and now she and her husband Tracy have introduced the Grace Groups to Nevada where they facilitate both the Living Grace Group and Family Grace Group at Lifepoint Church in Minden, NV.
*You can find more information regarding this topic of “Healthy Thinking” and "Identity in Christ" in the Grace Alliance Thrive Workbook and the Living Grace Group Workbook. If you found this blog helpful, be sure to subscribe to our email updates to stay informed with other blogs and exciting news.