Losing the Battle in the Brain

Proverbs 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

I was having a discussion with my young son about math recently. He was trying to do his math, and I could see he really was struggling to keep going on it. He was working on multiplication problems, and he was just going downhill mentally and emotionally. He had gotten himself worked up to where he didn’t remember 3×7, which he had used over and over. This wasn’t a knowledge problem, it was a battle of the brain problem.

When I began to look at his work, overall he had done 90 percent of it right. But he was telling himself stories, like “I don’t like Math.” “This is too hard.” “I don’t want to do this.” “I need help.” “I can’t figure it out.” Yet he had done most of the work perfectly all by himself. But now he was at the brink of tears and unable to do a simply 3×7 because of the stories he was telling himself. He was shutting down.

So, I held him close to me and hugged him and told him that he wasn’t losing the battle in the math workbook, he was losing the battle in his mind. I had him look at all the right things he had done on that page, and I had him say positive things about himself when it came to those he did right. “I am smart. I can do math. Look at all I did right. I can figure this out.” By the way, brothers and sisters in Christ, do not disregard the power of meditating on the positive and telling yourselves hopeful things (Philippians 4:8). Paul says think about what is “true,” so God does not want us to tell lies to ourselves.

You see, with this son, if he is doing art or building Legos, there is nothing too hard for him. He is designing his own amazing and complex things out of Legos (good grief he is making his own Transformers out of Legos). His artwork for a young kid is just incredible. There is nothing too hard for him there. He certainly has a gift with art and designing things.

Maybe his “gift” will never be that he excels in Calculus or Nuclear Physics, and that is fine! We would not want to push him in a direction other than his natural talents and strengths. But what we do want for all of our kids is for them to learn to win the battle of the brain.

Don’t defeat yourself before you even begin something by telling yourself I can’t do this, or it’s just too hard, or I’m just not able to figure it out. Maybe it isn’t possible for you to do that task. That might be true. For example, the only way I’m ever going to dunk a basketball is if I use a step ladder or if the rim is adjusted to 7 feet! So there are limits to what we can do, no doubt. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My point here in this article is to discuss how we can defeat ourselves from the beginning just by how we think and what we say.

I know I’ve lost that battle repeatedly, and I can see in my kids when they begin to go down that road. Look at that above passage from Proverbs, a person can tell himself there is a lion in the streets when no such lion exists. There is no real lion! The man did not step out to work because he told himself a wrong story in his brain.

What stories are you telling yourself? Are you losing the battle of the brain because of what you are saying to yourself?

What Great Leaders Faced

Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln both suffered with debilitating bouts of depression. Other great artists, leaders, athletes and composers have suffered from various forms of internal struggles, such as bipolar disorder, suicidal thoughts and depression. I write this so that if you are struggling inside, you are not alone, and many others have gone through those dark valleys.

Here is an article on “Famous People and Depression.”

I think of the apostle Paul when he was at Corinth preaching. Luke writes in Acts 18 that he faced a lot of heated adversity in Corinth to the point that Jesus came in the night to comfort him.

Acts 18:9-11
And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Jesus came to comfort Paul. Paul was afraid, wasn’t he? It seems from what Jesus said here that Paul was considering shutting his mouth to avoid any more pain and persecution. Jeremiah, Moses and Elijah all faced similar things. The Lord told him some very important things here. “Don’t be afraid…I’m with you…and there are people here in this city who will listen!”

Read how Paul described his mental state as he was in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 2:1-5
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Read it again slowly. Paul was with the Corinthians in what kind of mental condition? Weakness. Fear. Much trembling. And he couldn’t fall back on his excellent oratory skills because he apparently didn’t have them (2 Corinthians 10:10). Paul could barely function because of his great anxiety, but God wanted him to preach in Corinth. Why? Look at what Paul says. God did great things through him in Corinth. You could see God’s goal in working through Paul was that folks would not rest on Paul’s wisdom and abilities but in the mighty power of God. Paul was shaking in his sandals, but God did mighty works through Paul’s hands, and people came to faith in God because of God, not because of Paul.

I’m not sure what God is working in you, but it is a good thing and it is for His glory (Philippians 1:6; 2:13). You are afraid. You are depressed. You are about to give up. Please remember Paul. Jesus did wonderful things through Paul’s times of weakness, fear and anxiety. I believe sometimes people quote Philippians 4:6 where Paul says “Don’t be anxious,” and they talk as if Paul never struggled with that. I’m comforted by the fact that when Paul tells me not to be anxious, I know that this was an incredible struggle for him.

Even the “great apostle Paul” wanted to give up.

2 Corinthians 1:3-11
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Meditate on this section of Scripture from 2 Corinthians. See that Paul was so “utterly burdened beyond” his strength that he “despaired of life itself.” You may have never seen Paul that way, and I hope you will think of him as a real human being who really got down and who really had times when he didn’t see a way out. He despaired of life itself. If it happened to Paul, it will happen to us. We are not alone. But see that Paul’s deliverance through these dark valleys taught him not to trust in his own strength but in God’s. He also recognized that his suffering was not just for him, but it was for others because others were strengthened and brought closer to God because of what Paul went through. Remember that as God walks with you through those dark valleys, you will be able at some point to hold someone else’s hand through those times of despair.

Don’t suffer alone. Don’t suffer in silence. Just as Paul reached out to God and to his brethren for help in prayer, you and I can do the same.