by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
A news report describing a recent university study published in the July 2007 journal Developmental Psychology caught my attention. The study concluded that although excessive discussion about problems may strengthen friendship, it takes an emotional toll that can result in depression, and more so on girls than boys. Apparently, girls are more likely than boys to mull and worry endlessly over just about everything imaginable.
These results didn’t surprise me. I’ve never found it helpful to relive and rehash the mistakes, behavior and past actions of myself or those of anyone else. In the same light, I’ve never found inspiration and encouragement by time spent speculating over what-ifs. And yet, it’s impossible to count the immeasurable number of hours I’ve spent with girlfriends probing and analyzing for naught or thinking to myself in futile contemplation.
I eventually discovered that this type of venting and brooding created a vicious cycle of replaying unwanted memories. Guilt, anger and despair can feel overwhelming. We certainly don’t want to keep these feelings bottled up and festering. But we also don’t want to perpetuate these emotions.
The whole point of bringing such feelings to the surface is for the purpose of feeling better — healing, resolution, growing and progressing. So, a helpful and productive discussion about problems, challenges, disappointments, and so forth, is one that helps us be honest with ourselves and lifts us out of and moves us beyond painful pasts and remembrances.
My favorite biblical example of someone who didn’t waste time ruminating is Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul. For some time Paul was a harsh persecutor of those who preached Christ, but he had an experience that changed his outlook and ambition to a spiritual course. In his case, dwelling on his many mistakes could have entangled his thoughts and emotions into an eternity of guilt. But the Bible says, “and straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20).
Undoubtedly, we’ve all had times when we wish we could rewind the tape and delete undesirable scenes and start over. Whatever your sad story may be, the imprint of bad memories can vanish as quickly as the ocean washes away footprints in wet sand. Perhaps you’re thinking, “If only … ”
There are several passages in the Book of Psalms that I now turn to when I need to silence bad dreams, bad memories or dark forebodings. First the question is asked, “Whither shall I go from thy spirit?” (Psalm 139:7). Then the next few lines present dreary scenarios, such as making my bed in hell or dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea or the darkest of night (Psalm 139:8-9). In every situation, I am assured of God’s presence: “thou are there … even there shall thy hand lead me … even the night shall be light about me” (Psalm 139:8-11).
Reminding myself that God is a constant companion — that I’m never alone — is comforting. And it’s a relief to remind myself that His love for me is unconditional and infinite. This type of communing seems to require that I enter into my prayer closet where I can shut the door to disturbing images, fears and worries and refresh my troubled heart with a spiritual view. Asking myself what God knows, sees or thinks enables me to find the spiritual view that can see beyond excited, anxious and disturbing emotions.
God understands and knows our needs, whether we voice them or not. Again, the Psalmist wrote, “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psalms 139:2). We can relieve our minds from depressing thoughts as we reassure ourselves with the presence of God’s love and guidance. We can mentally contradict and protest every dark image in our thoughts with the light of what God is thinking for his precious children right now. As Jeremiah wrote, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil … ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Don’t let unwanted memories become ghosts that haunt you the rest of your life. Yes, confront them. Then — dismiss them, banish them, reject and disown them. Simply blot them out with God’s all-encompassing love. Defend yourself from anything that would weigh you down and keep you from moving forward on your life path. God is your best and forever friend who is always listening and ready to give the best advice in every situation.