When our heart’s temperature drops (metaphorically), often it doesn’t matter what the facts are of our current circumstances. All we know is that life has taken a turn for the worse. People on the outside looking in understandably wonder what the heck we’re whining about. And because there doesn’t seem to be real legitimacy to our depression, these same folks might have a difficult time extending any grace.
It’s interesting to me how one of the most debilitating attitudes of the heart can, in actuality, be so predictable. If you can stand on the sidelines of the human drama and watch when a person happens to get sucker-punched by depression, you’d see that, based on the things that led up to that moment, discouragement was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Maybe both sides of this equation need to get some objectivity. That way, there might be kindness towards the person who seems to have no grounds for moping around, and victory for that same person fighting their downhearted feelings.
Let me frame my point by putting you in a physical analogy. For the moment, let’s transport you to some nearby fitness gym. Center stage in our analogy is a stair-step machine. You climb up on it, get in position, and then start picking up a great rhythm. And let’s say you set the world record on the stair-step machine by maintaining a steady up-and-down pace for … 8 hours!!!
You suddenly have a serious problem. A stair-step machine is only designed for a person to go hard on for—at the most—20 to perhaps 25 minutes. By going so far beyond the standard expectation, you’ve placed your body in a state of physical overdraft. We come and remove you from the steps of the machine and your legs immediately lock up. Your neck gets stiff, your back aches, your eyes hurt to move and your hair feels sore. You need to be put into bed, given a handful of Tylenol, and left to sleep for a couple of days.
But, let’s say that just after you’re in bed, your cell phone rings. Who knows how they got your number or chose you for this request, but it turns out that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are visiting your town. And guess what? They want to go for a nice jog around your area and call you to ask if you would like to go jogging with them. Think: Brad Pitt. Think: Angelina Jolie. How often do you get a chance to go jogging with them?
Yet, you’d turn them down regardless of your desires. Even if you agreed, your body wouldn’t cooperate. It’s down for the count and isn’t going to budge until it’s gained back a good portion of what it lost during your overkill session at the gym. Meanwhile everyone on the outside of your life looking in would think you’d lost your mind for not going out running with Brad and Angelina. But your decision has nothing to do with the glamorous opportunity. It has everything to do with the fact that the opportunity has been sabotaged by you trying to set the world record on the stair-step machine earlier that day. Your body is in shock. It has to recover. It’s irrelevant what else is happening. Until your muscles have regained a sense of margin, you’re confined to a miserable time lying in bed wondering about what could have been!
What most people don’t realize is how often they put their feelings on an emotional stair-step machine. The demands placed on their emotional system are more than they are designed to process in a given moment, day, month, or year. Once we get passed the event that was demanding so much emotional attention, it’s not uncommon at all for our emotions to be in a state of shock.
How about some examples:
- A mother spends several months focusing on all of the arrangements for her daughter’s wedding. The father of that daughter spends those same months parting with scads of money he spent decades making. It’s not uncommon for these parents to be depressed for many days after the kids have taken off on their honeymoon.
- Speaking of honeymoons: it’s not uncommon for one or more of the twosome who went off to start their marriage in paradise to feel a lot of anxiety when they finally get home to assume normal living.
- A woman spends 9 months incubating a human being in her womb (with all of the ancillary responsibilities that go with that process). It’s not uncommon for her to experience some postpartum depression.
- The days immediately following a vacation, finals week, a championship season, a huge recognition, or even a time when you watched God do something amazing are often clouded by attitudes that make you feel your life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. **
All of these events have something in common: they’re all emotionally charged events. They don’t offer a manageable pace for our everyday feelings to run their course. And notice that everything I listed is a positive event. Well, maybe not the finals week. But the end of finals week is a positive event! If discouragement or depression happens after emotionally charged good things, it goes without saying that we should expect it even more so when it’s a negative event.
Overworked emotions make us think thoughts that have nothing to do with what is actually going on at that time in our lives. Thoughts like:
- My marriage isn’t that much fun right now.
- Why are my children suddenly so creepy?
- That boy is unusually and unnecessarily loud.
- Man, Lord, you sure seem light years away from me right now.
- With all of my efforts and even all of my accomplishments, it still doesn’t seem like I’m making any difference in the lives of anybody or anything.
Obviously, a protracted period of negative emotional pressure, like being raised in a family that’s falling apart or being raised in a fear-based home can do some long-term damage to your emotion’s abilities to stay up-beat. Circumstances like these may require sophisticated medical and spiritual expertise in order to get through them.
But for your standard run-of-the mill discouragement, there’s good news. You can actually manage these low points in your emotional cycle by simply anticipating them—even scheduling them—and seeing them for what they are instead of what they aren’t. In the process, you can keep your depression from mastering you. Here are some basic ingredients of a strategy that subdue bouts of discouragement:
- Go in to them recognizing that although it feels otherwise, these times of discouragement/depression AREN’T accurate reflections of your actual state of reality.
- Remind yourself that these are times when your feelings simply have a minor (or major) case of emotional flu. Your emotions have gotten sick from over-exposure or over-exertion. A little time of recovery will do them (and you) wonders.
- Recognize that the Forces of Darkness love to take advantage of you during these times when they know you aren’t thinking straight. When this happens, follow the instructions of 2 Corinthians 10:5 … “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.”
- Do your best to avoid making any major decisions during this time of emotional recovery.
- Realize that those who otherwise love you haven’t suddenly turned on you. Your emotions have turned on you. Ask God to give you an almost irrational kindness towards them until that time when you can have your rational kindness restored with emotional vitality.
- Take your medicine! The Rx for recovering from these kinds of emotional slumps are: physical rest, emotional rest, time reflecting in God’s Word, prayer, and encouragement from people who love you.
Everyday discouragement is part of life. But for most people, the brief encounters with discouragement or feelings of depression are simply part of the recovery cycle from overworked emotions. Don’t panic. Anticipate them. If you have the facts, truth, logic and common sense in place before you face these downtimes, most of the time you get through them without them getting a chance to define you or to ruin the bigger picture of your life.
**This might explain why the children of Israel whined so quickly about their plight in the wilderness after the emotionally charged events of the first Passover, the exodus from Egypt, being chased by Pharaoh’s army, crossing the Red Sea on dry land, and watching Pharaoh’s army drown—all very emotionally charged events. It doesn’t justify what they did, but it does give it some context.
© Dr. Tim Kimmel 2012 All Rights Reserved