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Handing in My Self-Degrading Thoughts

One of the most natural habits I acquired through life was that of putting myself down. I didn’t need anyone talking down at or to me because I was already so good at doing it to myself.

I was never berated while growing up. I just always wanted to be the best at everything, so I put unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed no matter what.

In school, if I got a 96 instead of a 100, it was easier to beat myself up for “not being smart enough” than to celebrate the fact that I had passed with a high mark.

Such self-deprecation never actually helped me accomplish or achieve good things. It only fostered a heart prone to endless pain. And it was tiring. The burden of self-degrading thoughts was overwhelming.

Where I erred most, however, was when I never took my heaviness as a sign to stop and surrender. Instead I allowed my mind to further fall into the destructive habit of thinking poorly of myself.

My views of who I was were low. Putting myself down was natural. And my feelings weren’t me just being “modest.” I truly did think very little of myself, to the point where I felt I had no purpose.

I insisted on holding on to my self-made mirror instead of looking at the one Jesus wanted to give me instead.

Throughout the years, I knew the truth in my mind—that my value is far more than I could ever imagine, because Jesus died on the cross for me. Sinful, seemingly insignificant me. He gave me new life and new hope. But that head knowledge couldn’t access my heart for the longest time while I held on to my own beliefs of how insignificant I still thought I was.

Until one night at church when my pastor came over to pray for me. As he prayed, he reminded me that God not only loves me, but He is delighted to call me His daughter. And that is what I am. A daughter of God.

As he said those words, it was as if a switch were flipped in my brain. And in my heart, I suddenly understood the truth about myself.

It left me broken, but also with a newfound joy as I learned to surrender my thoughts.

To my low self esteem, God says . . . He has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)

To my fears of failure, God says . . . Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)

To my physical insecurities, God says . . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To my people-pleasing ways, God says . . . Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

To my feelings of hopelessness, God says . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

To my self-demeaning thoughts, God says . . . See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

In time, I’ve found my prayers going from “Lord, help me as I seek to do things for You today” to “Lord, help me simply ‘be’ for You today.”

At times, it’s still easy to slip into old habits of beating myself up, but I don’t stay stuck in those ruts anymore. God in His great faithfulness meets me where I’m at and beckons my heart to move forward with Him.

When I moved from Mexico to Hong Kong nearly three years ago, I found it so easy to compare myself to other women’s academic achievements and statuses. I constantly imagined what life would be like if I had had their qualifications, and I often berated myself for not being as smart or as accomplished. It was draining, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, all superficial.

Over time I learned that as great as such outward qualities may be, at the end of the day, God is more interested in my heart.

Within the last year I’ve slowly stopped comparing myself to others’ academic achievements or statuses. Berating and thinking poorly of myself has lessened more and more as I’ve allowed the truth of Scripture to really sink into my heart. The verses I mentioned above have been key in my life as I learn to see myself as God does.

I keep learning that “being” for the Lord looks like simply listening to what He has to say about me, enjoying His goodness, and resting in His freedom.

The truth about me and the reality of my identity is this: I am a child of God.

I Stopped Letting Negativity Rule My Thoughts

Written By Riley Sands

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)

It all started with my second rejection for a work placement.

I had applied for two work placements—one with an independent publishing company and the other with the university where I was pursuing my Master’s. Since I had previous work experience at a publishing company, I surmised I’d have an edge over the other candidates for my first placement. However, I was rejected.

In the subsequent weeks, I was reeling with disbelief. But the hopelessness dissipated when I received news that I was shortlisted for an interview for the other (and much-desired) placement. It was a research assistantship with the university, and I wanted it badly. But to my disappointment, I was notified two days after the interview that I wasn’t selected.

After this second rejection, I was back to reeling, desperately trying to make sense of everything. Questions like, “How did it happen?” and “Why didn’t God bless me with this placement?” kept replaying in my mind like a broken record. That night, instead of dwelling on God’s faithful provision in my life over the years (Deuteronomy 2:7), I continued to dwell on my rejections and started to doubt His goodness.

The negativity eventually morphed into a myriad of voices and my mind quickly filled with harsh condemnation. “You messed up the interview!”, “You have years of work experience and still can’t even get a decent placement!!”, and “People will see what a failure you are.” With tears streaming down my face, I tried to shut out these thoughts, but it was to no avail. Instead, the accusations grew louder and gradually cut deeper, eventually leading to thoughts like, “You are useless” and “You are not worthy of God’s love”.

I knew right away that something wasn’t right. Fear and trepidation rose within me. It occurred to me that if I were to allow those words to sink it, it would be a slippery slope to wallowing in self-pity. I made up my mind that I didn’t want to go there.

The thing about negative thoughts is that they don’t develop overnight. In fact, they are bred over a long period of time.

When I was growing up, I faced various rejections and disappointments in my pursuits. Often, this led me to believe that I’m just not good enough. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that because of these negative experiences, I’m susceptible to letting my mind become consumed with negative thoughts—and that has helped me realize that I must fight the hardest to think godly thoughts in those moments.

Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” I recognized the fleshly, sinful nature of my un-true and self-degrading thoughts, and it brought me to the Lord in repentance. With renewed strength, I spoke against the dark voices in my head and searched Scripture so I could fill my mind with God’s promises instead.

I would turn to promises like, “He does not make us timid but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7), and remind myself that this God-given power gives us the strength to fight against spiritual darkness, including negativity that threatens to consume me.

I found comfort in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where he encouraged them to fill their minds with godly thoughts:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

As I began applying these verses to my thought life, the voices stopped and God’s peace came upon me. By replacing defeating thoughts with constructive biblical ones, I began a journey of committing every thought and making it obedient to God.

Even after this specific episode, I wouldn’t say negative thoughts have stopped polluting my mind entirely. Sometimes, criticism and doubt unknowingly start creeping into my mind, especially when I contemplate my future.

But now I know better how to respond—I take these thoughts captive and remind myself of God’s truth. It’s never easy to do that because it requires a lot of discipline to not let my emotions get the better of me.

However, I remember that as Christians, we are, “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), and even though negative thoughts can nudge us into thinking that God has abandoned us in times of crisis, the truth is that He is always with us in every step (Isaiah 41:10). Turning to His Word daily helps to drown out the noisy thoughts that compete for space in our minds.

Today, I’m still applying for other job opportunities. The process is slower than I’ve expected. But I’ve grown in confidence and choosing to not allow negative thoughts to take root in my mind. Instead, I am learning to take joy in the process, knowing that my God knows exactly what I need for the next phase in my life.

What if I Can’t Accept My Suffering?

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

For years, I had struggled with health issues. Plagued by auto-immune problems, anxiety, and OCD, I had to accept physical limitations and challenges with schoolwork, but I could not make peace with the mental disruption and chaos in my life.

My mind was constantly in overdrive, full of overwhelming anxiety, inappropriate thoughts, and interfering noise. I almost never felt calm. While I managed to act composed in public, my thoughts were always raging.

The strain of combating this unceasing, vicious stream of intrusive thoughts left me unable to deal with other life challenges or interact well with family members. There were good moments, but overall, when I wasn’t sobbing on the floor, I was tense, irritable, and on the verge of exploding.

 

Why, God, why?

I could present nuanced and detailed arguments for why God lets His children suffer. I knew that evil entered the world because of sin, that God ultimately defeated it through the cross, and that He allows suffering in our lives for our growth and His ultimate glory. I also trusted that one day, God would welcome His children into a kingdom with no more tears.

However, as it became increasingly difficult to function each day, this knowledge no longer gave me peace. Captive to my unwanted thoughts and irritable behavior, I grew increasingly resentful.

Through my suffering, God produced greater compassion, humility, and gospel dependence in my life, and I knew that I should rejoice. But couldn’t God have accomplished the same good through a litany of other—less painful, more acceptable—circumstances? If I had to be sick and crazy just so that I would see my helplessness apart from Christ and worship Him, wasn’t God twisted and terrible?

I couldn’t hate God, so I hated myself, chasing these thoughts in circles with no hope of resolution.

 

Why can’t I stop?

My physical problems were morally neutral, but I equated my wild thoughts with sin and felt incredibly guilty. My anxiety, anger at God, critical thoughts about others, hate-filled emotions, and the stream of inappropriate, unwanted thoughts were unacceptable. But no matter how hard I fought to preempt or discard negative thoughts and feelings, I could never stem the tide.

Over time, I began to understand that neurological issues were the root of my conflict and disorder. This realization comforted me, but even though I did not feel responsible for the thoughts entering my head, I still had to fight them. I engaged in a constant tug-of-war between wanting to pardon myself and wallowing in guilt. Much of my anguish stemmed from the fear that every awful thought I had was documented, and that I would face that record on Judgment Day. As I worried about how God would measure my extenuating circumstances, I lost sight of the fact that my record was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).

As I heard my pastor preach each week, studied Scripture, and engaged in Christian community, God used these ordinary means of grace to deepen my belief in the gospel and expand my understanding of its power. I saw that my sin and brokenness are both dead and that I don’t have to obsess over my guilt or innocence, because I am free from sin and alive in Christ. How can I rail against God for allowing me to suffer when He has saved me from my sin and credited Christ’s righteousness to me? How can I be angry with Him when His Son has taken the crushing weight of sin and death for me?

 

God answers

Over time, my life circumstances improved. I still struggle with my health, but I no longer deal with the type of intrusive thoughts that made my life miserable. I received the resolution that I wanted and have seen my growth through suffering. But for a long time after, I continued feeling that God was unjust. More often than not, my grateful reflection over spiritual growth gave way to yet another internal argument over whether or not there was any justification for what God had required me to endure.

I can neither understand nor explain why God designed my life the way He did, but I know that He is good, that He is powerful, and that He is loving. Because of what I have suffered, I know that my faith is real. God took away what I valued and depended upon most—the self-righteous morality and dignity that I had worked so hard to maintain—and drew me nearer to Him.

My happy ending didn’t arrive when I experienced relief or got an explanation. Rather, resolution came when I grew to love my Savior more than my desire to dictate my own life. Charles Spurgeon, the English preacher, once said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I have used this quote to reframe my perspective, accepting that God calls me to something greater than my ideas of what goodness is: He calls me to Himself. My only boast is Christ, not what good I’ve done or what sin I’ve fought victoriously against. I will accept the goodness and value of whatever leads me to cling to God.

Stop Choosing “Dirty Thoughts”

“Why are you so stu . . . ”

Even though my math tuition teacher failed to finish her sentence, the small class of six pupils knew what she was about to say (stupid) and whom she had aimed it at (me).

She had spent a good half an hour explaining an algebra equation. My fellow classmates had no trouble understanding her, but I still could not make any sense of it. Numbers boggle my mind and I’d rather spend my days writing or reading instead of solving big mathematical problems.

However, math was a compulsory subject, and so my parents had me attend tuition in hopes that it would help me pass my exams. Clearly, it didn’t help: I had tested my teacher’s patience to the limits and eventually, I did take home a dismal math mark despite the extra classes.

My family eventually moved to another country where I had the option of dropping maths if I wanted. But I can still remember the deep humiliation that washed over me that fateful night 16 years ago. Even today, every now and then, the words my former tuition teacher uttered would find their way back into my mind.

“Well, maybe because it’s true. You are stupid,” the little voice would begin. It doesn’t take a lot to trigger that thought—burning my dinner, not being able to drive a car after three lessons, or choosing an arts major when I should have probably done a science major (the fact I have zero interest in either the sciences or math is irrelevant).

I would try to shake off the thoughts, but they have an annoying habit of lingering longer than they should. These negative thoughts also have a bad habit of dropping in without any notice.

The good thing is, I have since learned that I have the power to choose my thoughts. These days, I am getting better at identifying if a particular thought is biblical or not.

If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation where unwanted thoughts drop in without your permission, these few pointers may help you.

1) Think Positive Thoughts

In the 2003 animated movie, Finding Nemo, Gill (the black-and-white striped fish that was trapped in an aquarium with the rest of his fish pals and was planning an escape) ordered the school of fish to “be as gross as possible. Think dirty thoughts. We’re gonna make this tank so filthy the dentist will have to clean it.”

In a cartoon setting, it’s easy to see how “dirty thoughts” can actually pollute a fish tank. But Gill’s words work in reality too—our “dirty thoughts” can affect our lives. If we entertain negative thoughts such as, “I can’t do this”, “I’m too dumb”, or “No one likes me”, we will eventually believe those thoughts to be true and it can be disastrous.

For example, if I were to beat myself up every time I burned my dinner and think I’m “stupid” for failing to serve up a decent meal, I’ll eventually give up learning how to do a proper dish and probably miss out on the joy that can come from creating delicious food.

The good news is that the Bible says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), and I believe this means we have been equipped to act and think like Him. Instead of sitting around entertaining our “dirty thoughts”, we are called to re-focus our thoughts on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable (Philippians 4:8). For example, in the midst of suffering, trials, and tribulations, we can swap thoughts such as “I can’t do this” with God’s truth, such as “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

It’s only when we start filling our minds with God’s truths that we’ll be able to break away from the chains of negative thoughts.

2) Bring Every Thought Into Obedience

“You know, I sometimes feel like the village idiot. That one person who, you know, means well and tries to help everyone, but is just a little . . . simple,” I told my sister one evening. She looked at me in surprise and asked what made me entertain such a thought.

I explained that the thought had popped into my head when I was showering after swim practice. It was a particularly long Friday. I had a very busy day at work and I felt like I hadn’t done my best at swim practice. I had to ask my coach to repeat the sets to me twice and I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do after I had set off.

To top it off, a group of eight-year-olds were actually a lot faster than me. That’s when those words from my math tuition teacher crept into my mind, and I started believing that was the reason the kids had beaten me. I was too stupid to even swim properly.

I was held bondage to the lies that I was “stupid” and was therefore incompetent when it came to completing tasks set before me. To overcome the lies said to me, I had to first fight against any negative thoughts which came free-falling into my head.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5-7, we are told to “refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God: and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One)”.

I sometimes picture my negative thoughts as a wild beast running through my head, like a bull in a china shop, shattering my self-confidence and everything in between. Then I imagine myself rushing toward the bull like an animal officer would, with a tranquilizer in hand, in a bid to calm the bull and have it dragged to God because it’s not welcomed.

3) Spend Time with God

The Bible says we are not fighting against “flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

This means we can’t fight these thoughts with our own strength. We need to spend time in prayer, asking God to equip us for battle. We need to put on the “full armour of God” which consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17).

When we gird ourselves with His armour, we can stand against the fiery arrows of negative thoughts fired at us by the devil.

Admittedly, I don’t spend as much time praying and being in fellowship with Him as much as I want to. And I only run to Him in times of trouble. But as we spend time with Him, we begin to discern His voice and learn if the thoughts that come floating into our heads are of His or mere rubbish. Just as Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Would God call me stupid, useless, good for nothing? No, He wouldn’t. God tells us He loves us because we are “precious and honoured in His sight” (Isaiah 43:4) and He has purchased us with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).

So therefore, the next time the sentence, “You’re pretty useless” or any form of negative thought comes drifting into your mind, you can tell it, “No, you’re not of God”.

Ultimately, we have the choice to choose our thoughts and the little thoughts we process and accept will affect our future. As a famous quote goes, “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny”.