Today over 50 percent of Americans are on some mind/mood altering substance. In any given church, from horse-and-buggy Amish to staunch Baptist or devout Catholic, you will find a high percentage of the ladies and some of the men using anti-depressants just to keep their lives together. Many reading this article popped a pill just this morning.
Over the many years of counseling people we have heard the same excuse stated a thousand ways: "I can't help how I feel.” That puts the counselor at a real disadvantage. You can’t help people who can’t help it. People tell us, "I can't help who I love, it just happened." Or a husband says to us, "It has a grip on me. I know it is hurting my family, but I just can't help it." Then there is Mama as she explains why she acts the way she does: "I am so stressed. I can't take them anymore. Rage just takes over."
We hear it over and over, "I am depressed. I'm sensitive and get so hurt."
"Why did God let that happen? Why didn't he do something? I can't help being disappointed and angry."
"Grief is just there…I can't let go. I know it is making me sick but I just can't help it."
Research scientists can actually see chemicals in the brain flowing over the neurons and synapses. Good thoughts release good chemicals that create good connections, strengthening your mind and emotions. Bad thoughts release toxic chemicals that break down connections, which will, over time, shrink the brain, dumbing us down and, of course, bringing on emotional discord/depression. Anger, bitterness, and blame account for most stinking thinking, thus most depression.
Now science in studying the brain has proven that there is no such thing as “can’t help it.” Mike and I knew all through these 50 years of counseling, but what could we say to someone who came to us for help? Call them a liar? Tell them they could help it if they’d just repent and turn to God? In most cases they were too entrenched behind the wall of inability and victimhood. Oh, the beauty of having a new weapon against this age old self-deception. Now we can say, “Let's go get a scan of your brain. I'm paying.”
Through the means of many different kinds of brain scans, science can now see what we are thinking, loving, and hating, and how we are creating our own brains. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7). If you listen to research scientists lecturing these days, you will hear them explaining the neurons and synapses in great detail, and then they will say with amazement, "You are the master of your own ship; you are the author of your own brain; you choose your own fate and you create your own depression. We are who and what we choose to be." God says, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34–35). “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Our brains are no longer housed in small, mysterious black boxes. It is quite sobering to be studying the newest research in the science of the brain. Our thoughts and intents can be exposed to whomever happens to be looking at our scan. Just a few years ago doctors debated whether alcoholism (or any other ism) was a disease or a lifestyle. It is clearly visible on the screen now: it is a choice, one drink at a time, one lust at a time, one escape to a high until a brain habit is formed. As choices take us where we never thought we would go, choices can also take us where we know we should be. Science says there is no inability, no victims, just opportunity to change the very brain that is the control room of our bodily passions and emotional responses. The human will is an attribute of the soul, not a product of chemicals or neurons. When everything about the body and brain is out of sync, the spirit of man can choose and change his destiny.
There are other things to consider, such as childhood trauma, which is what happened to the author of the article Psalm 107 in this magazine. But, as in her situation, you can let your past or circumstance destroy you or you can overcome it. She has fought the good fight.
There is also the physical body. Damage to the brain from accidents, blows, disease, or parasites can cause some really strange issues, including depression.
The colon is commonly referred to as the “second brain” due to its close ties with mental health. Plenty of evidence addresses healing the gut through diet, exercise, and building a healthy microbiome. Many things destroy the natural flora in the gut, especially antibiotics, but also chlorinated water, many medications, prepared foods, and certainly stress. Whether in the brain or the gut, stress can be the root of the disorder. But stress is no longer in the category of the "I can't help it” philosophy. You can control your reaction to stress. Thanksgiving is key to breaking this stronghold. Even today's lecturing scientists agree that being thankful is the number one healer of the mind. Isn't this beautiful? I love hearing a secular scientist say, “Being thankful is key to good mental health.” We knew it all along.
In our society, being kind is paramount, often to our detriment. Sometimes those who love us best keep us in bondage by trying to cover our emotional weakness with their much sympathy. They are called enablers. Some of the kindest people I have ever known are enablers.
A mother can be an enabler by protecting her child from anyone who might cause emotional stress or by covering for her child’s explosive behavior. If the sensitive or angry child grows up and marries someone who continues the enabling, it can lead to a lifetime of defeat. Enablers think of themselves as more forgiving and loving, but every psychologist on earth agrees: it is never a positive thing to have a sweet, gracious, loving enabler on your team.
If you have a loved one who falls into discouraged sadness or a bitter rage due to something someone said or did, don’t coddle or talk away their pain; worse, don’t blame someone for hurting them. You are setting them up for depression.
So, this is the skinny: chemicals that cause the sensation of emotions are released in response to our thoughts, whether negative or positive. Every negative emotions such as stress, anger, bitterness, spite, blame, and depression wash over our brain neurons and synapses and slowly eat away at them, changing the actual structure of the brain into the image of our darkest thoughts. We are grooving our own destruction. Parts of the brain DIE due to the chemicals released from our negative feelings. People actually have less brain function when they mentally continue to visit accusations and hurt. The opposite is also wonderfully true. Thankfulness, joyfulness, and creativity make beautiful pathways and connections that produce in us our own future inclinations and responses. Thoughts of thanksgiving actually make us smarter, sharper, more intellectual, improving every function of the brain.
God says it best in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
God is good. He is always good. Your joy is his joy. Once you really believe this, miracles will happen.
Finding peace, joy, and thanksgiving comes from seeing who we are in Christ. It is also seeing Christ in others and rejoicing for them. It is choosing to value and focus on what God values. It is acting in obedience to God by singing sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to the LORD of GLORY.
God created us free to groove our destiny. What will you do with yours?
Since God say, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he," we should be thinking lovely thoughts all the time—the more, the better. “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).