As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to go through a day on partial auto-pilot, not paying much attention to the thoughts that flow in and out of mind as I change diapers, load the dishwasher, read stories and prepare meals. Sometimes it isn’t until mid-day or even the end of the day that I realize I’ve spent more time listening to my “self” than talking to myself. The arrival of COVID-19 takes my thought struggle to a new level.
Whether at home or in a different place of work, any of us can dwell too long on when-we, we-wish, and if-only thoughts. We slip far too easily into comparison and discontentment, and we linger too long on hurts and grievances. We’re plagued by self-doubts and wonder what others think of us. We give in to fear and anxiety. We surrender far too much thought space to false feelings, false guilt, and false idols.
Many times, we don’t travel these streams of consciousness intentionally, but we also don’t aggressively cut them short. What seems harmless at first soon leads to sin and sadness and sometimes deep depression. Especially in this time of great uncertainty surrounding a worldwide pandemic, how do we avoid succumbing to dark thoughts?
We Learn How to Talk to Ourselves
By default, our human minds naturally listen to our “selves,” so we need to learn how to talk to ourselves. Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones offers excellent counsel in his book Spiritual Depression Its Causes and Cure when he writes,
I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!…Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?…You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. (pp. 20-21)
When we feel low or discouraged, but really any time our minds wander in unhelpful directions, we would do well to pause and question ourselves. Dr. Lloyd-Jones uses the example of David in Psalm 42. Like David, we can learn to address ourselves and ask, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5)
We should be asking ourselves questions like, “How did I get here? What thoughts did I follow that brought me to this place? Are they truthful thoughts?” We begin to rouse from our stupor, realizing we don’t have to remain down. We don’t have to live in turmoil. We remember that Jesus’ resurrection rescued us from the grip of sin and darkness.
Then we preach to ourselves, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5). We turn our gaze from ourselves to God, who He is, what He’s done, and the promises He’s made.
We consider Jesus. We invite Him to be first in our affections and thoughts. We ask Him to make the gospel real to us as we confess sin and receive grace for that moment. As we take action, truth displaces our despondency.
We Make a Habit of Talking to Ourselves
Once we learn to talk to ourselves, we make a habit of it. Since we wake up listening to ourselves each morning, we start talking to ourselves right away. Even better, we begin talking to God in prayer. We fill our minds with God’s Word so that His truth dwells in us, equipping us to recognize wayward thoughts and turn before we stray down dangerous mental paths during the day. We ask His Spirit in us to remind us of His truth, to speak to the lies when they come.
And we do this all day long – morning and night, and any time in between that we begin to drift. When we can’t do this in our heads, we pray out loud. We start singing.
If this isn’t enough, we reach out to a Christian friend. We confess our struggle and ask for prayer. Even if we must practice social distancing, we find ways to connect by phone or online with fellow church members. Perhaps now more than ever, we should help one another to remember that life isn’t about us, that it doesn’t end here, but that it’s about God’s glory, and it ends with Him.
We also keep watch over what we see and hear. We turn off temptations on our screens. We choose podcasts and blogs that feed rather than deplete our souls. We turn from what’s unhelpful, and especially anything sinful, in order to fix our gaze more clearly on Jesus:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
These are some of the ways we talk to ourselves instead of listen to ourselves, how we proactively fight our human tendency towards selfishness and self-worship both in days of crisis and in the mundane moments of our everyday thought lives. When we do this, we learn to take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).