As a Man Thinketh…
About the Guest
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David MurrayDavid Murray (PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) is the senior pastor of First Byron Christian Reformed Church. He is also a counselor, a regular speaker at conferences, and the author of Exploring the Bible. David has also taught Old Testament, counseling, and pastoral theology at various seminaries.
David Murray points to King David’s conflicting emotions in the Psalms and shows us the link between our mind and our emotions.
As a Man Thinketh…
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you have a child, who is battling depression or anxiety, it’s a tough battle; but there can be a good outcome. We’ll talk about that today with David Murray. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Anxiety or depression ever been an issue for either of you?
Ann: Not that I’m aware of.
Bob: You’re shaking your head like, “No, that’s…” I mean, you have down days, but not depression at a level that has taken you out for any season; right?
Ann: I don’t think so.
Dave: No, I honestly—I’m one of those guys that has rarely struggled at all. I remember one time, early in the ‘90’s, when we just started our church—that’s back in the day where you would do drama skits/sketches sometimes—
Dave: —I don’t remember what the sermon was that day; but I was sitting with Steve, our co-founder. The drama had something to do with a person who couldn’t get out of bed; they were just really in a dark place. Steve has dealt with this. He turns to me and he goes, “Hey Dave, one time in your life have you ever—one day in your life—not been able to get out of bed?” I go, “Nope; never had a moment like that.” He goes, “Yes; that’s why I’m giving the sermon today and not you.” [Laughter]
Ann: It was about the quagmire—
Ann: —about Scripture.
Dave: It was just that—I was in my early 30s and never experienced that. That’s it—right or wrong.
Dave: I’m in my 60s, and I have experienced it—not to a point I couldn’t get out of bed—but I understand when people say they’re in the pit; it’s real. That’s why we need to talk about this, especially as parents with our teens; this is a real deal.
Ann: Have you struggled, Bob?
Bob: I haven’t.
David Murray is joining us this week to help us with this. David, welcome back.
Ann: We need a counselor. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes; David is a pastor; he has taught counselling—taught at the seminary level—Puritan Seminary. He and his wife are the parents of five kids, live in western Michigan. He’s just written a couple of very helpful books: one for teens called Why Am I Feeling this Way? And another for parents, Why Are My Teenagers Feeling this Way?, to deal with depression and anxiety.
Are some people, David, just temperamentally more inclined/more melancholy and other people are just going to be optimistic and positive; and that’s just how God made them?
David: You would say that the caricature—as melancholy people/as the “Eeyores”—that get depression; right?
David: I call that a caricature because, actually, the majority of people I have helped with depression are more like Dave—[Laughter]—Type A: high-achiever, and high-energetic, optimistic—but what happens is, as they get older, they’re still trying to keep up these labels of expectations and performance; but the body and the brain is saying, “No! I’m not going there; I’m sorry!” Of course, you’re also accumulating more and more responsibility as you get older, usually.
David: Eventually, when these limitations are not recognized—even by the most hyper Type A types—they will crash as well. I like to try and smash the caricature a wee bit so that the Type A’s don’t think, “Eh! Never going to happen to me.” You ought to be cautious.
Bob: Now, with teenagers, who are still in the early stages of development—and that’s where you book is focused—this is not about your body not being able to respond; I mean, you’re kind of at the peak. For them, there’s a lot of environmental pressure; there’s a lot of figuring out who they are; there are spiritual issues they’re wrestling with; there may be biological issues kicking in. We’ve talked about those things this week. Help us think through this in terms of what the Bible has to say.
The verse that comes to mind for me immediately is David in the Psalms, recognizing that his own soul is downcast. He speaks to his soul and kind of corrects himself. I think you can read a passage like that from Psalm—what is that?—Psalm 42; do you know?
David: A lot of them are like that; aren’t they? Yes; 42 for sure.
Bob: Right; he says, “Why so downcast oh my soul? Put your hope in God.” I think a lot of us think, “Well, that’s what you’re supposed to do if your soul is downcast: you just put your hope in God and move on.” It’s not that simple for a lot of people.
David: It’s not that simple; and although you can read the Psalm in a minute, I believe these Psalms are often describing a long-term period in a summary form. It’s a battle; it’s rarely that easy. Sure, if you’ve just hit a little knock; yes, push yourself up again with the Word. But often, it’s more than a little knock; often, it’s a series of massive knocks.
When you think of teens as well—although they’re not aging, in a sense, like a 40-year-old is—their body is changing hugely.
Bob: Oh yes.
David: They have identity issues; they have relational issues—mega—much more than we do. Different ages are different challenges; it doesn’t matter what age you are.
You’re right, Bob—the Word of God has got to be a component of our therapy as it were. I often take people to Psalm 77. There you’ve got Asaph, the psalmist, who in the first nine verses, he talks about trouble/terrible trouble he is in—doesn’t name it/doesn’t specify it—which I think helps because we can all fit in. Then he talks about these terrible feelings: he’s cast down; he’s anxious; he’s crying; he’s weeping; he can’t sleep; he can’t eat; and then he talks about his thoughts.
Terrible trouble, fearful feelings, and his thoughts of God are awful. He’s actually putting question marks over God’s character: “Is God real? Is God going to keep His promises? Is God true? Is God faithful?” No wonder he’s in the depths; right? What has happened here is he’s let his feelings control his thoughts. Yes, it’s a terrible event; but his feelings are now dictating his theology.
Halfway through that Psalm he says, “Selah”: “Pause/enough of this. Let’s get our act together,” as it were. Hearing the words, he says, “And I will appeal. I will remember; I will remember. I will ponder; I will meditate.” What’s he doing here? He’s saying, “I’ve got to get my thoughts primary here. I’ve got to get my thoughts in charge. No longer are feelings going to be in the driving seat, but my thoughts are.”
And what is he thinking of?—what is he pointing/what is he meditating on?—it’s God: God’s Word, God’s ways, God’s works. What happens in the rest of the psalm is—he actually doesn’t mention his feelings again—which is interesting—they’ve kind of shrunk. But the whole tone of this psalm communicates feelings of confidence, and hope, and joy.
I think there’s a beautiful therapy here—actually, a lot of people will call it cognitive behavioral therapy in a way—but God invented that long before we invented that. [Laughter] Because here he’s basically saying, “Don’t let your feelings control your thoughts; let your thoughts control your feelings.” The trouble is still there—right?—but his thoughts and, therefore, his feelings are completely different. This is a wonderful pattern for us that God has given us to follow that can help us in multiple situations.
I often speak of emotions as like an elephant. When an elephant moves, he can do a lot of damage. We need to get a rider/we need to get somebody in the saddle of that elephant to keep it under control; that’s what I call biblical reasoning. That’s what the psalmist does here—basically, puts biblical reasoning on the saddle of his elephant-like emotions—it tames them; and it controls them; and it redirects them into a much more positive and hope-filled way.
Dave: It is interesting that you go back to that Psalm. It’s hard, sometimes, to get your thinking—
Dave: —in the right place—and you can see it in his psalm. He starts out saying, “I cried out to God for help. I cried out to God to hear me, and I would not be comforted.” Then down in verse 7—I’m thinking so many of us experienced this—“Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He, in anger, withheld His compassion?”
When you’re in that state of anxiety, or all the way to depression, you can’t answer that: “Yes”; you’re just like, “I’m/I’m hopeless.”
Dave: You get to the point, where your feelings do dominate; and you’re like, “I don’t want them to! I know what’s right. I can’t get my/my brain to override my feelings.” Is that true? How do we get there?
David: Yes; well, I think what’s significant here is that—it’s not in this translation of the Bible—but verse 10 is often translated as, “This is my infirmity,” or “This is my weakness.” I think that’s the first thing to recognize: “Okay; I’m thinking like this, but it’s not the right way to think. This is wrong; this is weakness.”
I think the second thing is “Selah.” [Sighs loudly] A stall, silence, stillness—that’s the challenge—that we want to get to the second part of Psalm 77 without taking the silence/without taking the time out.
Ann: I think this stuff is huge, because it’s really this battle going on in our mind. In Scripture, it talks about taking our thoughts captive. I remember I was in my 20s the first time—I can’t remember the book I was reading—but it basically asked: “What do you think about yourself in your mind? What is your self-talk?” It was the first time I thought, “Oh, I’ve never thought about that.” When I replayed in my mind what was going on and on—all negative—
Ann: —“You’re ugly,” “You ate too much,” “You’re not doing a good job at this,”—it was all negative. As a Type A, I thought, “Well, that’s motivating”; but what it is—it was destroying me.
When you think about taking a thought captive, I always picture captivity as being a cage. I think of a zoo and animals in the zoo. I thought, “I didn’t have any cage. My thoughts were running wild in my head, and I didn’t take control at all.”
Even to ask that question to our teens, “What are you thinking about yourself in your head? What is your self-talk about yourself?” That question alone can bring a lot of insight into what’s going on in our kids’ heads. Have you asked that question?—have you seen—
David: Oh, yes. Yes; definitely: “What’s your story? What story are you telling yourself?” “What story are you writing? What chapter is in your story today?—you know, if you were to write out your day.”
Ann: Yes; that’s good.
David: I actually used to do that with my wife. I would come home—this was when I was in my more sane/sympathetic mode—[Laughter]—she would be in tears and crying; and “I feel useless,” “I’m a terrible mother.” “Okay; let’s sit down. How many washes did you put on today?” “Well, 25.” “How many diapers did you change today?” “Well, maybe a hundred.” [Laughter] “Did you phone anyone?” “Well, I phoned this widow,” and “I phoned this sick person.”
We’re kind of just bringing—not just truths from God’s Word—but truth from God’s world: objective facts that, eventually, when the evidence mounts up, will change the feelings: “Okay; so maybe I’m not so useless,” “Maybe, I’m not so bad.” We’re trying to really rub out/erase a false story, and rewrite it with truth and facts. We’re not doing self-hypnosis, you know, deluding yourselves; we’re bringing truth from God’s Word and God’s world.
Ann: How do we help counsel our kids’ souls?
David: Yes; our senior daughter comes home from school. She’s crying, and she’s weeping; and something terrible has happened—somebody’s posted something or she’s received something by text—so a terrible event has happened, just like in
What’s the next step?—ask how you’re feeling: “How did that make you feel?” “Did you feel this…“—if they’re not answering, put some words out to latch onto so they can name their feelings. It’s very important to actually—just name the feeling—and get out of themselves and to a more external form. Then, “Okay; you’re feeling that. What did that make you think?” “Well, it made me think I was worthless,” “It made me think nobody likes me,” “Made me think this…”
What we’re doing there, with our kids, is we’re saying, “Okay; terrible things happen all the time, and we’re going to feel terrible,” and “It’s okay.” We mustn’t squash these feelings—we’ve got to let them out/got to let them be expressed. We’ve got to identify how that affects the way we think.
Even in that, you’ve given your kids a really helpful tool of self-understanding: a terrible event; terrible feelings/terrible thoughts. Now, “How do we put that right? Is there something else that we can look at here?—what else happened in the day? Anything good actually can come out of this?” You begin to try to get facts and truths and add some evidence to this life that will help them, again, move their feelings. You’re not denying the event; you’re not denying the feelings; you’re not denying the thoughts; but you’re now using it to say, “Okay; let’s move forward. Let’s change these feelings by changing our thoughts about what happened.”
Bob: Is the Book of Psalms the place for depressed people and anxious people to go and live?
David: Yes, partly; I mean, I love Philippians as well. I think Philippians has got some great truths there: “Whatsoever things are good and pure and lovely, of good report, think on these things and the peace of God which passes all understanding will fill your heart and mind.” But what the Psalms do—is it gives us permission to take the most ugly, horrible feelings and thoughts and put them on the table and say, “That’s me, and this is okay.” In fact, it’s worship as long as we go forward with them.
Bob: What about Matthew 6—is that a place for us to turn?
David: I love Matthew 6! It’s one of my favorite passages. What I love about it is it’s imagery. Now, we know teens—words have some impact; images have massive impact. It’s interesting here that Jesus, when He addresses anxiety, that’s where He goes—He goes to images—images as a problem and images as a solution.
What are the image problems? Well, He says, “Don’t be anxious about your life; what you’ll eat; what you’ll drink; your body, what you’ll put on.” He’s really saying, “What’s the movie?—what are the images going on in your mind?” Now, today, it’s not food, drink and clothing as a matter of survival, as it was in these days; it’s food, drink and clothing as a matter of approval—
David: —it’s about performance. It’s a kind of difference, but it’s the same end result—anxiety. This is like going on in our kids’ minds: “What is Instagram?”—but—“What shall I eat?” “What shall I drink?” “What shall I put on?”
What does He do? He doesn’t just say, “Stop that!”—you can’t stop a film without replacing it—so what does He do? Well, He first of all gives us natural images/images from nature. He says, “Look at the birds.” The word, “look,” is: “study, examine, linger.” Then He says, “Now look at the flowers of the field.” He’s not limiting us to birds and flowers; He’s saying, “Get outside!”—[Laughter]—you know? “Take in My beauty through your eyes, through your ears, through your nose, through touch. Just let new images come in and, like these natural images, lead you to supernatural images”; because He goes from these natural images to images of God as Father and as King, two beautiful images/very graphic.
We want to take really bad images out of our mind/out of our kids’ minds. God’s beauty is incredible therapeutic: it brings you to worship; it brings you to trust; and makes you think, “If God is looking after these animals and these landscapes in the midst of so many challenges, is He not going to look after me, His child?”
Ann: I’d love for you to talk to the parent, who’s been struggling for years with their child/with their teen—they’re on years now. I’d love for you to talk to them/to encourage them; and then I’d love for you to pray for these parents, who are really struggling.
David: Sure, Ann. I think the first thing I would say to the parents is: “Have hope.” There are 18 little stories in my book of teens—all of whom, to one degree or another, are either managing their anxiety and depression better or being healed from it—they are using the means God has provided.
Ann: So there is hope.
David: There is hope! Don’t rule out anything: read the book; see all the remedies; don’t limit yourself. Get your teen to read it to give them hope, because this is one of the great challenges; isn’t it? Depression, especially, is a disease that disintegrates hope; so if we can give hope again, that’s a huge step forward. We use the means—99.9 percent of the time—God will bring us to a level of healing. I’m not saying full healing—that may not be God’s plan—but certainly a degree of healing that will allow functioning, and living, and loving again.
I would also say to them, “Have hope that this won’t just heal your child; it will make your child better than he would have been/she would have been apart from this.”
David: I’ve seen—just again, and again, and again—I’ve seen/I would say, in every case, teens maturing beyond their years—ultimately, becoming the most useful, members of God’s kingdom and of human society because they’ve been given a dimension of self-understanding, and of sympathy with others, and of God’s Word that few people have. This creates deep people, who can help people with deep problems.
Bob: Pray for parents, will you?
Great God of hope/great God of joy, we know that, when we look to You, we look to the God who can give joy and can give peace.
You know, Lord, the listeners, who are listening to this today, who have little joy and little peace, or whose loved ones are in the darkness. We pray that You would encourage them, that You would lift them up, that You would help them to find that hope in You and Your provision—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, relationally—You have provided abundantly.
Help, Lord. Bring resources, bring people, bring professionals, bring Christians into this situation. Put together a healing team that will address this problem in a holistic way and, ultimately, bring the child and the parents through this—not just back to where they were—but gold. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Bob: David, you’ve given a lot of parents a lot of fresh hope by pointing us to the God of hope. Thank you for the books; thanks for being here and for the conversation.
David: Thanks Bob, Dave and Ann. Thank you so much.
Dave: Thank you.
Bob: The books David has written—one for teenagers called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teens Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression—and then a book for parents called Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This?: A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety and Depression. Both books are available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order them from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, for either or both of David Murray’s books on anxiety and depression, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to place an order or call us at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to gather together, in one form or another, with your local church this weekend for worship. And I hope you can be with us on Monday when we’re going to talk about how families can proactively encourage and equip one another in our faith: “How can we disciple one another?” “What kinds of patterns and rhythms can we have in our families that would be effective to promote spiritual growth?” Adam Griffin is going to join us to talk about that, and I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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