At one point while I was in the middle of my PPD season, a friend came to check on me. I was grateful for another adult to interact with and a change to the monotony of my days. Our conversation was mostly geared towards adjusting to mothering two little ones. “I’m not handling it very well,” I confessed. My friend encouraged me to lift my gaze to the Savior and hang on to the hope of His promises. She assured me that the early years of child-rearing were only a season and things wouldn’t be so hard forever. Seeking to encourage me further, she shared the story of some friends who had gone through a really tough struggle and how God had delivered them. However, the story left me more disheartened than inspired.
There were actually many people who shared stories meant to reassure me during this postpartum season. Unfortunately, I found them all difficult to listen to when I was depressed. In this post, I’m going to unpack four of my most common, if not skewed, thoughts I would have in response to shared stories of inspiration, and what I eventually learned from the experiences:
Skewed Thought #1: “My friend is only telling me these inspirational stories because she wants me to see that other people have it worse off and her motive is to convince me that I have nothing to complain about.”
Most of the time when I would think this thought, I’d let the hurt brew within me. Instead of silently assuming they only had negative intentions, I could have asked them what their purpose was in sharing stories about other people. Were they trying to say I shouldn’t complain and/or remind me of how God can work all things for good? And I could’ve let them know that I really appreciated their desire to help me, but what I needed in the current moment was someone who would simply listen.
Skewed Thought #2: “That’s all great and fine for those people who were delivered from their distress, but what about me who is going through the middle of it? What am I supposed to do? Just wait until things are better? What if things don’t get better?”
It’s important to note that I started to put my hope in the trial being over and not in God through the trial. My default in the past has been to just endure and ride out the hardship. Once it was over and my circumstances improved, I’d go back to being joyful and praising the Lord. When I realized how detrimental this outlook was, I read about the apostle Paul’s example:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [a thorn in my side] away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Paul’s thorn was never removed, though he desperately prayed for relief. He was brought low, and learned to be content with weakness the rest of his earthly days for the purpose of God’s glory. Just because God took the hardship away from one person doesn’t mean that He’ll do the same thing every time. My prayers continued to be like Paul’s, and I asked God to take away my depression. But no amount of wishing my circumstances away would change my heart. I had to learn to trust in God’s promises no matter what I was going through.
Skewed Thought #3: “I don’t care about what happened to someone else right now. I am just interested in making it through to the next day.”
That was my thought and thankfully never spoken aloud! It sounds so self-centered and mean when I write it out. Yet, it really was a daily fight to survive. I battled such dark thoughts as wanting to commit suicide so I wasn’t in the place to feel empathy towards people I’d never met. And all of us will be there at some point in our lives. When I was in that place of profound struggle, my pastor reminded me that I was like a wounded soldier who needed her fellow soldiers to carry her back to safety. I had to allow myself to be cared for by others until the day when I had healed enough and was able to serve people again.
Now, with the help of a wise and patient friend, I have a gracious saying that I can memorize and use if this scenario happens again. She suggested that I could say something along the lines of “I believe you mean to help and encourage me, but this story isn’t something I can process or take in right now. I am just trying to stay focused on making it to the next day.” I can also ask for my friend to pray for me right then and there. Jesus always cares about me “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer,” (1 Peter 3:12). If I ever feel unheard by someone, I can turn to Jesus because He hears everything!
Skewed Thought #4: “What if God makes me endure even more hardship on top of what I’m currently going through- like getting cancer, or someone dying, or our savings account being depleted?”
To hear of scenarios that had happened to others fueled the fire of what psychologists call “catastrophic thinking.” This is when a person dwells on the worst-case scenario and becomes convinced that it will happen. When I was in a healthy state of mind, I could acknowledge that hard things might happen, but weren’t happening to me at the moment, and I moved on. That would enable me to function well enough to perform daily tasks. During these “normal” seasons, stories of how God had delivered another person from their awful circumstances would stoke hope in my heart. When I was experiencing PPD, the heart-rending story of a family whose child had died of SIDS led to me expecting the worst-case scenario for my family and obsessing over the sleeping habits of my baby.
To fight this, I had to force myself to look at my present circumstances. I’d say to myself, “the scenario that the person shared with me is NOT what I am currently going through, and even if I ended up experiencing it later in life, it’s not what I have to deal with right now at this moment.” And God may never even call me to go through that trial. So, agonizing over possible scenarios didn’t “add a single hour to [my] span of life…” (Luke 12:51). Similarly, the phrase, “God doesn’t give us grace for our imaginings,” has brought me back to reality many times. What it means is that God will give grace to the works He has planned for us, not for the fear we experience doubting the love and compassion of our Savior. This article on God’s sufficient grace has been super helpful for me in understanding this concept.
To put it another way, if I dwell on possibilities or imaginings, I will actually “drain [my] energy, [my] life, and [my] strength for dealing with today’s issues,” wrote Elizabeth George in her book Loving the Lord with All Your Mind. And I found that to totally be the case! When I froze up about what I heard from another person, I had very little ability to deal with the day’s problems, because I let myself take on the weight of the world. I had to take it moment by moment and remember what Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own,” (Matthew 6:24 NIV).
I hope that if anyone has ever had similar thoughts to mine, it is an encouragement to know that at least another person thinks that way! I also pray that people would turn to Jesus who infuses his grace into hearts and minds because He loves and cares for them. And may all of our words build others up (Ephesians 4:29) as well as be pleasing and acceptable to OUR LORD (Psalm 19:14).