I called my mind a ‘mindfield’ while suffering from depression, since so many unwanted, appalling thoughts would pop without warning into my mind and ‘BOOM’ - the thought, its implications, and my ensuing reaction would tear me apart, just as if I had stepped upon a landmine. These appalling thoughts, which often triggered panic attacks, came to terrorise me to the extent that I tried to ‘tip-toe’ around in my mind, sometimes scared to think anything at all.
From my diary, 1/4/93 –
I think of my mind as a never ending minefield
I walk along inside my mind, forgetting not to yield
to those fearful thoughts and doubts that cling like dust.
I take a mental step and plant my foot right on a mine,
There blows another one.
At first I look at the mine and ponder,
Before I realise that it's just another doubt
and send it yonder.
"Just let it go," I tell myself.
"Don't give in to the fear, don't let it influence you."
And I remove it with a mental shear.
It is such a struggle at times.
Most have to watch where they walk,
But I have to watch where I think.
Here is an example of an alarming/appalling thought, also known as an obsessive fearful thought.
A strong Christian told me recently that a thought popped into her mind while she was praying, saying, “Satan is lord.” Her response was to freak out. Where did the thought come from? Did it come from her? If it did come from her, did that mean she really believed it? And if that was the case, there must be something seriously wrong with her!
Although such a thought could pop into anyone’s mind, a person with a healthy mind would dismiss the thought as utter nonsense, and pay it no heed. However, for someone with a sensitive mind or a mind that is over sensitized or exhausted by depression, such a thought can cause a shock the first time it occurs.
When similar alarming/appalling thoughts began to afflict me in my early twenties, (I had already suffered one mild depressive episode,) I reacted in the same way. I was greatly alarmed to find such thoughts flying through my mind and feared some part of me actually believed them. On each occasion I began a fearful, introspective examination of my heart and mind, digging deeper and deeper. “But what if I do believe this thought, what does it mean about me?” The more I examined the thought, the more I feared that I actually believed it or was guilty of what it was accusing. After these frantic sessions of fearful soul searching came repentance as I desperately asked God to forgive me for having the thought or attitude in the first place.
Not only did I fear these alarming/appalling thoughts; I lived in fear that more might come. And of course, more did come. Fearing them made me more sensitive to them, which of course made them occur more frequently. Panic attacks became more and more commonplace as well.
Now let us pop back to the discussion I had with the young woman who encountered one of these thoughts during her prayer time. Understandably, she was bewildered, afraid, feared where the thought came from, and scared that perhaps she did believe part of it.
I said to her, “All sorts of thoughts fly through our minds every day - some of these are whispered into our mind by Satan, while others are simply things we are afraid of. It does not matter where these fearful thoughts come from. All we need to know is that they are not from us and they are not what we believe - they are simply something we are afraid of. Now, answer me this, what do you believe about Satan?”
She answered that she believed he was a fallen angel, the devil, and that Jesus had defeated him through His work on the cross.
I said, “Now compare what you have just told me, which is not only what you believe, but what you know you believe, with the first fearful thought that popped into your mind.”
Her face lit up with comprehension and relief.
The result was black and white. The first thought, “Satan is lord,” was suddenly shown up for what it was - a lie, a deception. It was not something this young woman believed, it was only something she feared she might believe.
Suddenly, the fearful thought had no power as the truth of God’s word revealed it to be a lie. I encouraged her not to fear such thoughts, and if they happened again, to do as below:
1. Do not be afraid if an alarming/appalling thought pops into our mind.
2. Do not worry where the thought came from, whether from the enemy, or something we fear, it is not significant.
3. STOP, and ask our self, what do we believe or know about that topic? (Base our answer upon God’s Word if possible.)
4. COMPARE the original alarming/appalling thought with what we know we believe, and then keep the liberating truth in mind.
5. Then move on and let time pass, leaving the episode behind. (Do not be concerned if the fear lingers for a while, remember the truth of what we believe, and the thought will soon fade away.)
The young woman was no longer worried but comforted and relieved. She also knew how to deal with any such thoughts that came at her in the future. I assured her, “Soon you will be able to dismiss such thoughts by simply thinking at them, ‘Oh, you’re one of those thoughts are you? Bye-bye!’ And eventually, you won’t even need to do that.”
The truth is that these thoughts are not actually something we are afraid we might do or believe - because we would never do or believe such things. The truth is that we are afraid of the thoughts themselves.
I remember the release I received upon learning I had been tricked into being afraid of my own (or the enemy's) thoughts. It was so comforting to know that I no longer needed to dig feverishly through my heart and mind searching for attitudes or beliefs that were not even there in the first place. I am indebted to the Lord for setting me free from that trap.
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
So let us rely upon the truths of God’s word to set us free from fearful thoughts as we remind ourselves of what we know we believe.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
(A small postscript, due to very severe depression or mental illness, there are situations where people not only have bad thoughts but actually desire or attempt to carry them out. In these cases, they need to seek professional help immediately, such as from a doctor or Christian therapist.)
Download a pdf booklet of this blog's articles
All verses from the NIV.