Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Strange Bedfellows of Depression and Self-Centeredness

Starting Note

Before I begin this blog on depression as relates to self-centeredness, I want to acknowledge that sadness and grief can result from many real and valid causes: the loss of a loved one or friend, the ending of a relationship, physical and mental abuse, loneliness, addiction to drugs and alcohol, unfulfilled or shattered dreams, physical pain and impairment, and the list goes on.  But for the purposes of this blog, we are addressing how continuous depression, however initiated, and when sustained beyond the "normal" grieving period, can be directly related to self-centeredness and its close relative, self-pity.  I just want to be sure that the reader understands that this blog is not meant to discount the validity of anyone's grief, or to say that a Christian should never experience grief or mourning or sadness, only that continuous unrelenting depression is not from the Lord.  The hope of this blog is to uncover a means of escape from that depression by helping to isolate a reason for its continuation so a remedy may be found.

Now to begin.

These past couple of weeks I've been closely considering my interactions with people who have experienced some form of sustained grief or depression. 

I can recall conversations over the years where the subjects and I talked at length about their lives and the issues that they were struggling with.

While addressing their problems they were very energetic, 100% attentive, 100% there, zealous to tell their story and to hear my viewpoints (sometimes only if they were supportive of theirs). 

But I noticed a pattern after several conversations, that when some resolution or stopping point occurred, if the topic then veered away from themselves, or if, because often these people could be considered friends, I began to discuss happenings in my own life, a shift would occur where they seemed unable to focus on any other subject but themselves.  It was as if a sail once filled by the wind suddenly sagged and dropped, no longer pulled tight by the air of the attention being on them.  

Their eyes would then avert and glaze, followed by unfocused, and more than that, uninterested replies like, "Oh, really?" Meanwhile, they would almost involuntarily become distracted by their phones or computers or some other thought or responsibility.  I began to realize that as much attention as I invested in them and their situation, if the topic wasn't about them, they simply didn't care.  They might have wanted to care.  They may have even faked caring.  But the insincere interest could only be sustained for short period because their hearts were just not in it.

Let me say that I recognize when people are struggling or hurting that it's tough to emote, to empathize for others.  As Christians, we are ministers, and when we are dealing with people who are hurting, we we don't need to get attention back.  Often, we shouldn't even try.  We should give, not expecting anything in return. 

But it also must be recognized that when self-centeredness is a constant pattern in a person, when he or she cannot seem, on any given day, to listen to or care about other people's lives, something is wrong, and this self-centeredness may be at the center of, or at least a symptom of, why this person constantly struggles with their emotions, and especially with depression.  

Our problems only amplify and grow when all we do is think about ourselves at the expense of reaching out to, caring for, and helping others.

This does not mean we should ignore our problems, but if all we do is focus on ourselves, then that self-focus becomes a spiritual issue, a sin really, that serves to reinforce the depression that seems to be caused by our perceived (and sometimes falsely perceived) bad circumstances, but rather is continuing because we can't or won't look outside ourselves and care about others.

But why is there sin in focusing entirely on ourselves?

The answer lies in Jesus' response to this question, "...which is the great commandment in the law" (Matthew 22:36)?

He replied,

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 37-40).

While, yes (as this scripture points out) we are to love ourselves, there's two other recipients of our love that must be attended to: God and others.  If all we do is care about ourselves, we are not honoring the whole of the law, and we are in sin.

This scripture also provides an order in which we are to apply our attention.

The first is to love the Lord they God with all the heart, soul and mind.  God must come first.

Then the second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

So while we must love others as well as ourselves, we must first love God.

But how do we love God?

Jesus answered this question as well when he said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).  

We love God by keeping His commandments (this scripture also indicates that we are NOT loving God when we disobey.)

By keeping His commandments we show this love, and we also love others and ourselves because all of God's commandments center around how we treat all three.  

Looking at The Ten Commandments then, the first three are about how we treat God (No other God before Him, make no graven images nor bow before them, take not the Lord's name in vain), the fourth has to do with resting ourselves (honor the Sabbath), and the last six are about how we treat others (honor thy father and mother, no murder, theft, lying, adultery, or coveting).  

So we see here that if we honor God's commandments, we honor and respect Him, ourselves, as well as others. 

This is reaffirmed by 1 John 5:2-3, 

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments..." (1 John 5:2-3).

The pattern is confirmed; to love others we must first love God and keep His commandments.  Otherwise, we live lives of sin and selfishness, not really caring how our actions may effect others, because, again, the law is meant to help us treat God and others the way we ourselves would want to be treated.  

Lack of alignment with the two great commandments (which sum up the whole of the law) can allow what may have been legitimate spiritual sadness/grief to lead to ongoing depression.

Another point to make is that when we don't love God by obeying His Word, we actually form idols (and not just the material ones), but spiritual idols which serve to usurp His position in our lives, creating a sin breach that causes us to hurt God, others and ourselves as we are no longer under the protection of the commandments, being outside of them we do things that hurt all three factions. 

It doesn't matter the sin or the idol, whatever it is we have placed before God through disobedience means that as a consequence we have put ourselves, and our sinful desires, before Him, and since we've done so, as a matter of course we have also put ourselves before others, and everyone (including ourselves in the long run) gets hurt.

By breaking God's commandments we show that we DO NOT love Him or His Son Jesus Christ, or anyone else for that matter.  

Well, I must correct that last part.  When we are selfish we are actually loving someone else.  

We are loving Satan.

There is no void, no vacuum of space for our love when it's not appropriated toward God first, and others second.  We either love and obey God or we love an idol, and idolators are loving Satan because they've come into agreement with him by doing his bidding in disobeying God's commandments.

In that light, the seriousness of self-centeredness becomes more evident.  We don't realize that when we get into long bouts of depression that Satan and his demons have had much to do with cleverly getting our focus off of God and others and onto self, and consequently on them, thereby rendering us useless in the kingdom of God.

Satan has come to rob, kill and destroy (John 10:10), and his focus on the depressed person is to get them so caught up in themselves that they can't obey God's Word.  Then he inflates and exacerbates whatever the problem was to where the sufferer feels he or she has no other choice but to focus on self.  Being depressed, the griever forgets that God has our backs when we focus on Him.  The depressed person begins to think that if he doesn't look after himself, no one else will, including God. Faith in God subsides and disappears, demons driving the person ever deeper into despair, robbing the person of all hope.

This is the enemy's trick, which as always is based on lies: mainly, the lie that God has forsaken the depressed person, when in fact, Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and said he would be with us always, even unto the end of the world (Mathew 28:20).  Once a lie such as this one is believed, it is easy to lose hope, particularly when the enemy is doing his best to paint your life as one that has all sorts of reasons to despair.  The first solution is to get into the Word instead and believe God's truths, His promises, so you can filter out Satan's lies and send him packing (there's a prayer below to help with this).

So, I encourage you today to check yourself, especially if you feel stuck in depression.  

Are you selfish and self-centered?  

In conversations do you and your problems always have to be the subject matter?  

When other people talk are you just waiting to talk about yourself or do you actually listen to and care about what other people have to say about their own lives?

(You might want to ask some of your trusted friends to answer these questions about you as well.  It may be easier for them to see if you are truly self-centered.)

If you answered that you only think and talk about yourself and tune out others when they talk about topics that aren't about you, then something is wrong, and this could be an indicator of a greater problem you have in your relationship with God, and might explain why you are depressed.  

Jesus said, 

"...whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:43-45). 

This means caring about other people, ministering to them, serving them.  The continuous struggles, sadness and depression you experience may be the result of the fact that you haven't put God first, that you don't obey, minister to, care about, and/or help Him, and consequently you don't do so for others as well.

No wonder you're grief stricken.  No wonder you can't help but wallow in self-pity.  You're so focused on yourself that God can't even bless you with the fruit of the Spirit, that is His love, joy, and peace. Instead, your life is out of alignment with His Word/commandments and your depression and self-centeredness is there telling you so.

Again, I don't want to discount or belittle any horrible things that may have happened to any reader.  But even with those events, when you're living for God and obeying Him, He helps you to forgive and heals you from those wrongs, and you become a new creature, able to not only endure life, but to thrive in His joy and love in spite of your past or present circumstances.

Please know that there is so much hope in Christ.  I've heard quite a few testimonies where people have decided to put the focus on God and others and all of a sudden their problems seemed to resolve and/or vanish.  Why is that?  Because God blesses those who behave like Him, that is, those who put others before themselves, those who forgive others and get passed their issues by seeking to please Him and serve others.  

When we do these things, He's got our backs!  He looks out for us.  He goes before us and makes the crooked path straight and our eyes begin to open to a much greater world than our own little six square feet of space.  We can begin to see what God is trying to do in our lives as well as in the Church and in the world, because we are not so caught up in ourselves.

"And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not;
I will lead them in paths that they have not known:
I will make darkness light before them,
and crooked things straight.
These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them" (Isaiah 42:16).

So make it your mission to draw your attention to God and His word. Learn all of His commandments and seek out and remedy where you are breaking them so you may set yourself right with Him.  Once you do that, your default mode will be to love Him and others before yourself, and you will be rewarded with joy unspeakable and full of glory, in spite of all the circumstances surrounding you. 

If you don't figure out the source of your issues, your self-centeredness and accompanying depression may hound you still, and will only fester and grow more insidious, until you are so self-centered and depressed you won't mind one iota if you hurt yourself or others if only to make yourself feel better. 

Better to figure out how to make things right before it gets that far.

My prayer, in Jesus' name, is that this blog blesses every reader struggling with depression and self-centeredness to break out of their shells and find joy and freedom through serving God first and loving their neighbors as themselves.

If you are struggling with to do so, consider praying a prayer like this one:

"Father, in the name of Jesus I come to you, recognizing my sin, that there's some wedge between us.  I know this because I don't seem to care about anything but myself, nor do I have a space in my heart to really care about others, even You.  And my own problems overwhelm me with sadness, grief, depression and fear.  Please show me what has led me to this place, and in what way I am breaking your commandments.  Help me rid myself of any and all idols.  I wish to serve you and become a person that has empathy and sympathy for others, especially for You.  I want to be a caring person, and I know that with Your help, I can be so.  So, I renounce all sin, and the specific ways I'm not aligned with Your Word.  I forgive each and every person that has wronged me (name them), and ask your forgiveness for not forgiving them prior to now.  Thank you for showing me how to forgive as you have forgiven me and everyone else who has sought your forgiveness. I renounce Satan and his demons, and all their methods to make me turn my back on You.  In the name of Jesus Christ, I bind every demonic spirit related to my sin, and especially the spirits of depression, grief, sadness, mental anguish, agony, self-centeredness, self-pity, unforgiveness, narcissism and pride, and I command these demons to leave me right now in Jesus' mighty name! In the name of Jesus Christ I loose in the place of these spirits, forgiveness, the joy of the Lord, which is my strength, the peace and love of God, humility, meekness, and a caring and loving heart for others, especially for God.  Father, I thank you for freedom from my depression and self-centeredness and I ask that you show me how to serve you and others better so I may reflect your glory and bring you joy.  I ask all these things in Jesus' mighty name.  A-men!"

If you prayed this prayer (or something like it), may you blessed with a newfound joy in the Lord, one that pours living waters out of your belly and helps to water the dry and parched mouths of other people in the Church who need help out of obsession with self.  I pray this for you in Jesus' mighty name.  A-men.