The Cycle of Sadness and Despair2:28 PM
Do you ever hide underneath your covers trying to escape the downward whirl of your own emotions? You forgot what set you off in the first place. All you feel is desperation. You grab onto anything, think you're about to break free, then suddenly doubt whether that anything can hold your full spiritual weight. Bam. Sucked right back into the vortex. Suddenly you see a light, suddenly everything goes black. Once in a while you slow down then get whiplash from the force of the next spin. People gawk at your raging feelings. Friends (knowing perfectly well nothing happened worthy of such a despairing response) stand helpless while you figuratively crumple over.
"What's wrong?" they ask. You respond one of two ways: "Nothing's wrong" or "Everything's wrong." Both mean the same thing.
I christened it The Cycle of Sadness and Despair. I would take a good whirl on it all through this year. In fact, I recently stepped off a really wicked ride with the determination to figure out this contraption and how to beat it. It's the biggest booby trap I face while running this Christian race.
You probably recognize the symptoms first -- a disproportionate response to a problem you cannot identify. In short order you start throwing a royal tantrum, however you choose to manifest it that day: a cold remark, a sudden shower of tears, anger, doubt. The cycle starts up. You, keenly aware that your actions, thoughts and feelings are no longer warm and fuzzy, become overwhelmed by your own sin and stupidity over something you cannot identify. Something feels wrong, but for the life of you, you can't figure it out. You heap up shame and stutter sorrys and freak out over how weird and messed up you are. By this time, your soul is churning around and around. You begin to realize how ridiculous and wrong you must look to all the people you want to love you -- your boyfriend, your parents, your sister, your best friend, your mentees for whom you're supposed to be setting a good example. Since you cannot give a legitimate excuse ("Oh, hormones" or "Sorry, someone just sent me hate mail and I'm slightly perturbed"), you wonder if this problem is deep set within you -- if, indeed, this sin is what defines you and that the "good girl" is a mask -- if this clouds up your good qualities and past victories -- if this is perhaps the last straw that drives away all love, the last time you can be wrong, the last time you can receive forgiveness, if you used up your help cards and now must receive condemnation. In other words, you get scared that you will no longer be loved. You want to open up to those people you love (and who used to love you but perhaps they don't anymore?), but that seems selfish to burden them and put their love to work. Of course, you cannot not open up, so you act out: make a snide remark, push people away, start up a fight to get people to notice you're dying inside. This gives you more reason to hate yourself which justifies your idea that you can't receive love. This shuts you down, hardens you, makes you hate people and life and maybe even God just a little bit. You start saying and doing bad things. Repeat cycle over and over and over until you're sick, dizzy, and desperate to the point of no return.
Stopping the Cycle
How do you put your foot out to slow cycle when you're spinning so fast that you can't even think?
Address each part of the cycle. To deal with overwhelming shame at your sin and stupidity, preach the Gospel to yourself. There is zero condemnation for those who believe. Seriously. Christ's sacrifice covers your worst sin -- even if you scream that you don't believe Him and that you hate everything and that you sometimes want to be purposefully bad just so you don't have the pressure to be good all the time. (Been there, done that.) He knows how deeply and how strongly sin reaches. Nothing surprises Him. He chooses to love, anyway. Yes, this truth feels presumptuous and backwards, but that's not because your understanding of the Gospel is selfishly tilted in your favor -- it's because His grace is that infinite and insane and mind-boggling. Resist the devil by repenting, praying for opportunities and strength to tackle this sin, and rejoicing in God's crazy, amazing grace.
To deal with crippling fear that you'll be unloved, remember that your fear is always unfounded. Why? Because ultimately God loves you with a steadfast love (see above truth about His grace if you don't believe me). This love is enough. As if that weren't enough, He's probably given you at least one really patient person who will listen and love you despite your faults if you let go long enough to receive that love and listen to her advice. In short, this fear is a lie from the devil. Distract yourself from these feelings by giving them over to God, accepting love even if you distrust it, and finding someone to pour love into.
Always choose a positive forward direction. You are a child of God. Your reality is grace. Your standing is forgiven. Your verdict is justified. This means your direction is hope. Always. Do not give up and accept defeat no matter how easy it feels. Do not start babbling about how much you hate life, distrust people and doubt God. Don't give people the silent treatment or hide under your covers. In other words, don't do anything that causes you to stand still or degenerate down into despair. Choose any option involving hope, love, grace, forgiveness, repentance, humility and joy. Even if it feels fake.
Find the simplest thing. You overcomplicate everything. Normally, most cycles start from a basic need -- the need to sleep, the need for a hug, the need to repent, the need for five minutes to get something off your chest. Get what you need and don't freak out about whether you're "needy" or "annoying" or on the brink of spiritual failure. Figure out the problem, fix it and move on. When you don't know what's wrong, lay it before Jesus, leave it there, and go away with joy knowing that God is smart enough to solve any problem. (Note: You cannot truly leave a burden with Jesus and come away disgruntled, worried or anxious. It's easier to pretend to "leave it with Jesus" and continue on in despair. Don't. Choose joy.)
Preventing the Cycle
Even when you're being the biggest brat, the lousiest lover or the most faithless follower, God is on your side. By default, your destination is victory. It's just a matter of deciding to go for a spin on the Cycle of Sadness and Despair or actually pressing forward for the prize. Repent quickly, forgive completely, stay in the Word, fill yourself with truth, flee from Satan immediately. Be bold in examining your heart, be intolerant of sin. Express and satisfy needs. Be patient and content if the satisfaction of those needs feels delayed. Let God satisfy your needs first. Above all, keep your eyes on Jesus and focus on others.