Men especially have difficulty paying attention to their emotions. Some men would admit to having only two primary emotions: Anger and Hunger. But when I pay attention to my heart attitudes and emotions, I realize that the Holy Spirit and my brain are sending SIGNALS to my consciousness that there’s something going on deep inside of me. Emotions, like those red warning lights on the dashboard of our cars, are often the means that the Lord uses to bring about change and repentance. So I am learning to pay attention when I feel anger or anxiety. I’m learning to notice when I feel too confident or arrogant. And I’m starting to wake up to myself when I’m tempted to lose self-control or when I feel depressed and hopeless.
Here’s what our emotions could be telling us about our lives:
- Anger = often reveals an inordinate and yet unattained goal that your heart feels worthless without.
- Anxiety = often reveals an exaggerated need for security.
- Arrogance – reveals an inordinate confidence in a human attribute that in your heart makes you feel superior.
- Tempted to lose self-control – reveals an excessive appetite that your heart needs satisfied to be happy.
- Despair – reveals a false reliance on something that you once possessed but now you’ve lost and your heart thinks there’s no hope for you.
So when we find these emotions present in ourselves, it is a signal that I need to spend some time with God, His Word and His People. We need to talk about these things to someone (God and/or a trusted, wise Friend, or counselor) who can understand and empathize with our situation. Paying attention to the emotions and seeking to understand their source is a big part of keeping short accounts with God, confessing our sins and living a life of repentance.
Many of us are effective at ignoring the warning signs of our emotions and attitudes when we should be paying attention to these God-given alerts that something is amiss deep down. Often, if we will look with God’s help, we will see something connected to the emotion or attitude that needs to be confessed, repented of and healed. Today I want to write about the emotion and attitude of depression while not getting into a clinical diagnosis. If someone is clinically depressed he needs to seek an appointment with a healthcare professional. Some people experience post-traumatic depression after a military engagement, going through a traumatic event or after the death of a loved one. These feelings are completely understandable and the loss or trauma needs to be grieved by the individual and supported by loved ones. Personally, during my year in Sweden, I battled seasonal depression, when I endured a long, dark winter. But we all feel depressed sometimes and our depression is neither clinical, post-traumatic nor seasonal.
Often, we feel depressed because we had something that made us feel great and for some reason we don’t have it anymore so we sink into a despondency or discouragement over the loss. This depression is the result of the loss of something or someone whom we cognitively and emotionally inflated to divine levels in our hearts. When we are depressed like this, deep down our hearts are saying, “God, I had that thing and it was life to me but now it’s gone and nothing else can help me.” You know that you are involved in some worship-oriented depression when you have lost something that was too important to you and now you feel that your life is over and you can’t move on. We get depressed when we have elevated some finite value to the centerpiece of our lives, bestowed upon it an ultimate source of meaning and then we lose it. Augustine defined this heart attitude of depression revealed by loss as idolatry. He said, “Idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshipped.” We know that our hearts have created an idol when we can’t imagine a happy or meaningful life without it. The idol, which is usually a good thing that our hearts have inflated inordinately, becomes so important to us that when circumstances threaten to rob us of it, we would consider turning our backs on God for He is negotiable but this thing is not.
Pray: O Heavenly King, I confess that my depression comes from the fact that I have magnified some earthly thing to be more wonderful and powerful than it really is and now it’s gone. Thank you that your providential removal of this idol from my life is your loving attempt to console my heart with a deeper, richer satisfaction in you. Thank you that I am no longer under the influence of that false functional savior who controlled my emotions and often disappointed and even devastated me. Satisfy the deepest longings, hungers and thirsts of my soul through your tender compassion and extravagant generosity. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.