Seven mental ruts where unhappiness runs: Offramps from the Bible

There are things we think and do that everyone knows lead to anxiety and depression. Even though they are somewhat obvious, we still need to list them periodically so we can retrain our rutted brains. If you feel stuck in self-destructive behaviors, unhealthy relationship patterns, behaviors dictated by fear, or you feel like changing your life is a hopeless cause, then one place to start is meditating on changing your mind. If you are a cell leader or a people helper, sympathizing with what is making you feel uncomfortable around someone rather than reacting to it might help them find an alternative way of life.

Our minds can be just as rutted

Here are seven things we might say from the depths of a mind rut for which we need an off ramp. Following each statement are some of those basic things the Bible writers teach as good for making our ways straighter and smoother.

  1. “Life is too hard.”

Some people default to being the victim in most situations, while everyone else is responsible for what is going wrong — and some people think things are going wrong most of the time with little hope for anything else to happen.

“For everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Most difficulties inside and out are moving through a season. Hard emotions pass through, difficult circumstance usually have an end point — and, of course, we are connected to the joy and comfort of God now and forever, even if the season is long. Regardless of what is happening, goodness is also opening up before us.

  1. “People cannot be trusted.”

Some people end up isolated because they have been burned too many times. They have trouble relating, trouble asking for help and don’t have enough empathy to end up intimate with someone.

We may need to stop holding on to a few people, true. But from the mutual trust we share with God, we can build trust with others. We can discern which people are good for us and who is not. Try out The God Shaped Brain by Tim Jennings for some basic ideas about how God helps us make decisions about what is good and healthy and what is not (Romans 2:29).

  1. “There is nothing right about this situation.”

Some people try to eat the holes in the Swiss cheese and miss the cheese available in every situation. They are pessimists who are paralyzed by problems and unlikely to recognize solutions they can work on. They probably think you are a problem too.

We can set our mind on what is good (Colossians 3:2). We can learn the habit of gratitude by which we focus on what has value and even see beauty in small things, even behind ugly things.

  1. “Compared to how others are doing, I’m in trouble.”

Some people focus on who is better than them or in a better circumstance and end up resentful and jealous. They might even undermine you to feel better, and probably won’t be happy when you succeed. Their odious comparisons make their life feel contemptible.

We can think beyond ourselves and empathize with others in good times and in distress. God’s grace for us retrains our hearts to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

  1. “No one will help me so I’d better get things under control.”

Some people are paralyzed by fear and spend an excessive amount of energy trying to control their circumstances. When something adverse happens they either get frantic and demanding or melt down and disappear.

We can become humble enough to accept our rightful place in the world. We can become empty enough for God to fill us. We need to recognize that we are welcomed into the Lord’s great plan for us, which is present to us now like the tip of a grace iceberg. Our great invitation is to, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

  1. “I don’t even want to think about the future.”

Some people are avoiding their fear of what might happen so much they can’t stop worrying about it. They can’t move forward with confidence and they can’t live comfortably in the present.  Change happens but not with their permission.

We can hang on to hope. What God promises is as good as ours already. The realization of what we hope may be deferred for a while, but our truest longing will be fulfilled. Because God has come for us in Jesus, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

  1. “I don’t mind telling you how awful it is, and how awful they are too.”

Some people salt their speech with gossip and complaining so much that they begin to believe the negative pictures they paint. Sometimes they have to let people know how right they are and how wrong others are. They are in so much conflict as a result of how they interact, every situation is drained of pleasure. They create distance by what they say, so they feel alone.

We can use all our faculties to mentalize the biggest picture we can see about what is going on, inside and out. Don’t stoop to being petty and don’t reduce others to less than the image of God. Put away “childish” things and be a confident child of God with the freedom to act like Jesus. “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).

When I heard the presenter present something like this last Saturday, I thought it might be a bit simplistic for my usual readers: CBT problems and principle solutions. My friends are often quite thoughtful and like to dig into deep things. But then I thought, “It was not too basic for me!” I am lured into one or more of these ruts all the time. I need to meditate on the way out so I can recognize it before I speed by in my rut. I also need to have empathy for others who are stuck in ruts they would love to leave if they thought an offramp were available to them. I know the way of Jesus and it is very useful to people who don’t see another way other than the one to which they are accustomed.

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