Posted on October 17, 2023 by Rev. Jonathan Conner
We’re having a conversation on mental health, but what we’re going to talk about isn’t just for people who struggle with mental health; it’s for all of us. We have a simple point, which we’ll expand upon in a moment. Here’s our simple point: (and I would give credit to the person who coined this phrase, but I can’t remember where I read it, so just know it wasn’t me; I’m not this smart):
Okay, let me expand on this just a bit and then we’ll give some examples. What you think, what you believe to be true, what you believe is real, what you believe about reality, affects how you feel, and how you feel influences what you do, the way you choose to act or react.
Let’s consider some examples of the things we sometimes choose to believe.
At some point all of us have entertained these thoughts or believed them. How do these make us feel? Terrible! We feel depressed. We feel defeated. We feel dejected. We feel like a black hole has just opened up in our chest and we want it to suck us in. So what we think affects how we feel.
And then what do we do? Comfort eating, stress eating, binge watch TV, drink too much alcohol, turn to pornography, post something inappropriate on social media, say hateful things to people, sink into a black hole of self-pity, turn sullen toward the world, become bitter and biting. We turn to some destructive behavior, because we reason, “What’s the point of trying? I’m stupid. I’m incapable. I’m a loser. Everybody hates me anyway.”
And not a shred of that is true. Now, it may be true that we lack certain skills or abilities – there are tons of things I’m no good at! It may be true that some people don’t like us or aren’t kind to us – I can’t testify to that! It may be true that we screwed something up or hurt somebody or damaged a relationship – been there, done that, got the T-shirt! Those things may be true.
But they are not the full truth. There’s more to this story that we need to hear, and I’ll get to that in just a minute. But I want you to notice what kind of statements we have allowed to take residence in our minds. These are identity statements. I’m stupid. I’m incapable. I’m a loser. Everybody hates me. These are I am statements. This is who I am.
But that’s not true. That’s not who you are. You are not defined by your failures. And you are not limited by your successes. Your identity is bigger than that. I want to get to that in just a minute, but I want you to see how your foundational beliefs are derailing your life. You are believing something to be true that isn’t. You are building your feelings on falsehoods and then justifying your behaviors on them. But it all comes back to your foundational beliefs about reality.
I want you to understand how critical this is because this is where lies are believed. They’re often below the surface. They’re not usually articulated or well formed. They’re certainly not said out loud. And this is how Satan defeats us. The lie is planted and believed and the feelings and actions follow, which destroy our lives and the lives of people around us.
This is why we need to say our beliefs out loud. The lies need to be exposed. We need to bring our beliefs out into the light, to say them out loud so we can hear them. It may be helpful to say them out loud to a mature Christian friend, pastor, or LFS counselor. When they’re in the light, we can evaluate them. We can discuss whether they’re true. We’ll have to talk more about this in the future, but this is where we often stop short because we never get beneath the feelings.
But often, just forcing ourselves to say our beliefs out loud is enough for us to realize how silly they sound when we bring them out in the open. Everybody hates me. Really? Everybody? I’m incapable. I’m stupid. I’m a loser. Really? It just sounds silly out loud, doesn’t it? But that’s the stuff swirling around in our minds that we are choosing to believe – and we’re basing our feelings and actions on them!
Here’s the thing we’re probably going to have to talk more about, but if your feelings are built on lies, your feelings are wrong. Yes, feelings can be wrong because it’s impossible to have a feeling that isn’t based on some belief about reality. And if the belief is wrong, the feeling is wrong.
I know you’re thinking, “But what if my feelings are built on truth?” We’ll have the conversation soon. What do we do if the truth is hard? For now, I want us to understand that our feelings are built on beliefs, and we need to press beyond the feelings to get to the core beliefs. It’s there that we’ll discover the truth or falsehood of our beliefs.
This is why I so often emphasize why it’s important to hear the truth, to speak the truth out loud. It’s why the Church is so important – because we gather specifically to speak truth out loud. This is why I have encouraged us to say the Apostles’ Creed out loud every day. We need to hear the truth out loud every day. This is war. We have to fight back against Satan. We have to fight back against the untrue, destructive thoughts that derail us over and over again.
Here’s the truth: Christ died for your sins. Period. Christ rose for your life. Period. He must think pretty highly of you to do that. And you are baptized in Christ. You are a child of the living God. Jesus is your Lord. Jesus is your Savior. These are the identity statements you need to hear over and over and over again. You are loved by God. You are forgiven by Christ. You are not defined by your failures or limited by your successes. You are defined by your baptism into Christ. This is who you are.
When you start here, it changes everything. No, it doesn’t make you good at everything or competent in everything and it certainly won’t make everybody like you, but it will build your life on truth. It will found your feelings on truth. And it will affect the way you live in some pretty significant ways. – Pastor Conner
Father of mercies, look with kindness upon us Your broken people. We are prone to believe lies. We are prone to give them access to our minds, even prone to let them move in and claim a permanent room. And these lies affect how we feel and these feelings affect what we do. Help us to speak our beliefs out loud, to say out loud what we are thinking, what we are believing about what is real. Help us to bring these beliefs out into the light so that we can evaluate them against Your Word. And help us to hear Your Word out loud, both with the Church – the community of Word hearers that You have established – and help us to hear the Word individually. Help us practice saying Your Word out loud so that we can hear it, so that we can hear truth, so that we can base our feelings and our actions on truth. Finally, Father, thank You for connecting us to You through our baptisms into Christ. Help us rise each day with this reality in our minds, with this identity in our hearts, that we may live joy-filled, truth guided lives. We are bold to pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
 During the first week in September 2020, I (Pastor Conner) addressed the question of mental health in our morning prayer sessions. This article (and its two companion pieces) are a lightly edited text from those sessions. You can view the video sessions on Zion’s Facebook page by searching for the teachings/prayers from September 1 – 3 or by going to Zion’s website (zionmanning.com) and clicking on “Worship/Study/Pray” and selecting “Morning Prayers.” During those sessions, I recommended William Backus’ book Telling Yourself the Truth. I continue to recommend it as an excellent source for learning to stop listening to yourself (specifically, the negative and destructive thoughts that try to take up residence in your mind) and to begin speaking the truth to yourself (specifically what God says about you).
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