December 17, 2015

Feeling Down Today

I am feeling blue today. I don't know why I feel this way. I am struggling to snap out of this depression. It seems that today is going to be a "blue" day regardless of what I do about it. I am bound and determined, though, to do my best, even if that means taking extreme measures to get myself uprighted again. I feel like I have fallen down, and I cannot get up. You know that commercial where the lady falls and cries out, "Help, I've fallen down, and I can't get up?!" Well, that is just how I feel today, sort of like, I have fallen down and no one is nearby to help me back up. Sigh!

I am not sure when this happened, but I am thinking it was yesterday (perhaps on Tuesday). Yesterday, was a difficult day for me. I struggled from the moment I got up, and the day ended on a rather sour note. In all, it was a day I would prefer to forget. I should have been happy, after all, I got an A in Theology (my hardest class), and I finished my semester at Regent with my 4.0 GPA in tact. I mean, that in and of itself, is a feat.

Still, I felt depressed yesterday, and even the day before. I think it is the season (partly to blame), and it is the fact that I don't have a lot of money to spare. I am feeling the pinch of the holidays and my dwindling bank account reminds me that the next few weeks will be very, very tight.

Furthermore, I am struggling to process what is happening here at home, with my Mom's memory condition, and my Dad's physical limitations. I am having to take on more and more of the daily duties, and the workload, while I don't mind it, is draining me (zapping me of my strength and energy).

Moreover, I am feeling so overwhelmed by my impending exams. I started to prep hard this week, and that process, the process of collecting and sorting all my materials is just too much work. I mean, I am trying to synthesize 8 doctoral courses, relearn key concepts and terms, grasp significant theories, and be prepared to answer an unknown essay question in just 10 weeks. It is all too much for me right now.

Thus, with all this on my plate right now, I guess you could say that I am not happy with my life, my lot (you know), and I guess my feelings of being discontent are taking over my attitude, my mindset, and my emotions. Sigh!
Why do I feel this way? Why am I so discouraged right now?

The words of the wonderful hymn, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" come flooding back to me this morning:

Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is he
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches over me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

When I think about these verses, my mind immediately runs to Scripture, to Deuteronomy 31:8 in particular. This Old Testament verse is a great reminder to us to not to give way to these feelings of discouragement. We are reminded, as in the lovely hymn, to remember that the Lord is always with us, He always goes before us, and that He has promised to never leave us alone.
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Discouragement means "a loss of confidence or enthusiasm; dispiritedness" (Merriam-Webster). When we become discouraged, we lose confidence in the person or thing we once placed our hope. The dictionary says discouragement can also be "an attempt to prevent something by showing disapproval or creating difficulties; deterrent." I think this second point is valid. We often use discouragement in an attempt to keep someone from doing something they shouldn't, to prevent some injustice or crime. For example, we set a high penalty on drinking under the influence in the hope that we (as a city) will discourage people from driving while intoxicated. The same can be said for other forms of discouragement. Normally, we discourage others to prevent them from harming themselves or others. Yet, discouragement can also be used by individuals to discredit a person's worth or valuation or to cast doubt or dispersion on their abilities to perform a job (as an example). This type of discouragement is often a type of spiritual oppression, and the person who engages in it, is generally under the influence of spiritual forces. They may or may not be aware that the words they use are attacking other people.

Siefer (2015) writes, "Satan's strategy is to disable and try to take Christians out of God's plan, to cause them not to want to follow Jesus and do what He has said. Discouragement is one of Satan's greatest tools." It is so easy to allow the enemy to gain a foothold over our thoughts. We often do not think we are doing this when we allow in one negative thought, when we give time to ponder, to think about, to remember past hurts or other emotional pain from the past. Often, the enemy will use other people to remind us of past hurts, to cause us to emotionally dwell in the hurt, and in doing so, the enemy gains a foothold over our thoughts, and in doing so will assault us with more lies in order to pull us away from doing the thing God has called us to do. We may not even be aware that this is happening to us, but if we give in, give the enemy that place in our thought-life, then we are willingly choosing to listen to lies rather than the truth of the Word of God.

It is an interesting thing to stop and think about how often we allow the enemy to control our thoughts. By "control our thoughts," I mean we allow these lies to take root in our mind. We don't reject them at the door, so to speak, and instead, we allow them to come in and sit a spell. The longer we allow these thoughts into our mind, the longer we sit with them, the more they control our actions, our emotions, and our behaviors. The Word of God is very clear that we must take all of our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) so that we can reject the schemes of the devil.

As I think about my depression today, about the fact that I feel so discouraged, I see where this discouragement started, with whom, and of course, I can extrapolate the "why" as in "why did they choose to discourage me." In hindsight, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was discouraged. It happened last week. A student of mine posted something to me that was critical of my abilities as a teacher. She and I had a difficult relationship in class, and she struggled with me personally (as in being able to speak clearly in front of me). She was a good writer, and overall, a good student, but her attitude was poor from the first day of class. I noticed right away that she had an "air of superiority" about her and that she felt that she was somehow better than the other students in class. Her end of the semester remark to me stung me greatly because she said that she learned nothing about English in my class. It was a strange remark because of my 40 or so other students who also responded, not one of them said the same thing to me. In fact, they all said that they loved the class, and that they had learned so much in and through the course. Granted, this is just one student's opinion, and in truth, one voice out of many is not a good indicator of truth. It is just one opinion among many, yet her words of criticism stung me, and I became discouraged by them.

This student in particular chose to use her words to wound me. She chose to say something while clearly her opinion that served to cause me to doubt my abilities as an instructor. I realize that dealing with criticism is never pleasant, but there are times when criticism is warranted and times when it is not. This was the latter, and while I should have simply cast her words off, rejected them as coming from a student with other issues (nonetheless an attitude problem), I didn't. I allowed her words past the door to my thought-life, and I gave the enemy a stronghold over me.

I have been feeling doubtful about my abilities since this time. I have started to second-guess my abilities, and in doing so, I have lost my confidence in what I am doing as well as in the plans God has for my life. You wouldn't think that one critical remark could do that to a person, but criticism, especially when it is comes from the enemy, seeks to devour and destroy all faith, and all confidence in the testimony of the Lord.

In an effort to overcome these feelings of discouragement today, I decided to do as the Word of God instructs, and that means, to take every thought captive and to reject the lies of the devil. I have suffered enough this week, and I am not going to give the enemy any more strongholds in my life, at the least, not in this battleground, and most certainly, not today.
Clearly, this week has been a week of trial for me. I faltered along the way, and in the end, I suffered a number of wounds brought on by the enemy as he sought to pull me from my intended victory. Yes, I have overcome! I have overcome not by my own merits, strength or ability, but by the blood of the Lamb! Selah! I have nothing to boast in but the victory of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Taking Authority and Control

Without spending too much time revisiting this past week and the thought-processes that led up to my feeling so discouraged, I wanted to say that the process, itself, has been invaluable. I have learned that one small spark can set an entire forest aflame. I have also come to realize that I am the one who determines my attitude, my mindset, and my emotional state. I mean, there are some things that will happen to me (like a death of a loved one) that I must accept and deal with regardless of my level of authority. These are the unfortunate life events that often cause great pain and sorrow, yet, they are part of life. I lean on the Lord during these difficult times, and I let Him help me deal with them.

The things I can control often are the things I find most difficult and most unpleasant. These are the things that happen to me, usually words or behaviors that come from relationships (other people) in my life. These things, while difficult, unpleasant, and at times, purposely hurtful, are the things the enemy uses to discourage me. The truth is that, while I cannot control life events such as death, divorce, illness, etc., I can control a lot of the criticism and behavior of others when it is directed toward me. I cannot control these people or their criticism, per se, but I can control how often it comes at me and how it affects me during and after the event or conflict has passed. Let me explain...

Today is a good example of what I mean by taking authority and control over these thought-processes and the behaviors that are often accompanied by them. I woke up this morning feeling depressed and thinking depressing thoughts. I prayed about it and then started to write my blog. I was already thinking about the events that precipitated these feelings, and while I was trying to put everything together (to create a picture, so to speak), I found that the more I thought about these individual events, the more depressed I felt. It was like my thoughts were linked to my emotions, and my emotions were then linked to my actions (behaviors).

In Philosophy, we call the study of action, action theory. Action theory studies the behaviors that are motivated by a particular event. Aristotle was the first to suggest that there was a link, a willful link between what we think and what we do. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle was the first to discuss the idea of ethical behavior or moral behavior in an attempt to understand what was good, noble, and best as far as man could live. There have been many scholars who have studied Aristotle's work and who have elaborated on his ideas of motivation, will, action, agency, etc.

So today, as I thought about my situation, I started to look for an identifying agent (the primary cause) for my feelings of being depressed. Once I identified several contributing causes, I was able to trace them backward to the first cause that started this whole spiral downward. I don't mean to blame my student, but in truth, she was the first cause. As I think about it now, I realize that had I not been so vulnerable in the first place, I would have cast off her doubt as being simply an "opinion," and moved on. This would have, in effect, stopped the progression in its tracks. But since I still doubt my own abilities, still lack full faith and confidence in my teaching skill, I was vulnerable to attack.

In short, had I taken decisive action immediately, I could have prevented a lot of unwanted, unnecessary, and unproductive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Therefore, I gained a fresh perspective on this process. Taking your thoughts captive, as Scripture mandates, is the key to controlling (taking authority) over the ploys of the enemy.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NASB)

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Today is a good day then. Although it started out rough, with feelings of oppression, it is now functioning more optimally. I feel good about where I am, where I am going, and I am convinced that the enemy doesn't want me to be successful in anything God-ordained. Yes, this is true. The enemy wants me to fail at everything God has called me to do. I know that I can only accomplish His will through faith in His abilities, and not anything I might do, think, or feel. I know that I must trust this process, this path, and this journey to Him, and to Him, alone. I have come to terms with this fact: I am on a journey that cannot be completed through my own efforts. Everything I do today, tomorrow, and in my future, is predicated on this knowledge. I am not able to do this work. He is, of course, and I must lay all my efforts at His feet. I must let Him finish this course to His satisfaction and not mine. I must lay all my desires, my needs, my wants at His feet, and in turn, He will perform what He has promised to me. I am not able, thus, when I try to do anything at all, I suffer failure, feelings of overwhelm and dread, and thoughts that remind me that what I am called to do is much higher than I could ever hope, dream, or imagine. Yes, my life is His, and therefore, everything I do must be done His way. I can no longer do anything in my own strength, in my own willpower (no matter how strong), and with my own motivation (mindset). The Lord has made a way for me, and I am called to walk in it.

So today, I pick up my cross, and I walk on. I walk on.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, 
he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; 
but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 16-24-25 NIV

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