Someone says to you, “I love you.”
You hear . . . nothing. Actually you hear something. You hear a little voice in your brain that says, “I’m worthless. You’re only saying you love me because you think you have to.”
Somehow, from the mouths of other people to your ear, all words of blessing and encouragement get tumbled upside down and backward and confirm your suspicions about yourself. You are an abject failure. Unloved. Unlovable. And everyone knows it.
There are hundreds of variations.
“You look nice today.”
Push it through the filter of depression and you get, “Not true. I know I am ugly.”
Or, “You seem to be feeling a little better today.”
This means, “Oh, you don’t want to talk to me anymore.”
This is your brain on depression. And we could add, it is your brain on shame.
If this internal circuitry reversed every word, a loved one could say, “You are really such a jerk,” and you would hear, “I love you.” But it doesn’t work that way. Depression (or shame) corrupts every blessing and leaves the curses in their untouched, pristine form.
You might want to take a few minutes and identify this dastardly filter.
What kind words have other people said to you? What did you actually hear after your depressive, inner-translator did a number on it?
That was a warm-up. Now on to something more lethal.
God says, “I love you.”
You hear, “God loves some people but he could never love me.”
Notice that you didn’t hear, “I don’t love you.” That would be your inner filter doing its usual electronic voodoo and reversing any blessing. With this one, you don’t even feel worthy to hear anything personal from the Lord. So what came out the other side was your own voice, not God’s!
Do you think that, maybe, your wiring is completely messed up and you aren’t hearing God accurately?
“I love you,” becomes “God could never love me.” If someone else did that you would tell her she was crazy. But, somehow, for you, it makes perfect sense.
Is it possible that you are mis-hearing?
How convenient it would be if you could simply say, “Oh, now I get it. It was just a little misunderstanding. God, thank you for clearing that one up. I feel much better now. Now I know that you love me.” But life doesn’t work that way. Instead, against all the evidence, such as the sacrificial death of Jesus on your behalf, and his willingness to tell you, over and over, that he loves you, you stick with what you think you heard, as if the problem was hard-wired.
But we are people who believe that the Spirit has been given and he is much more powerful than we think. He can even open our ears so we can hear, even ears that are mis-wired.
The Spirit does his work, in part, by giving you less confidence in the distortions you believe.
Have you ever said, “Lord, I heard wrong”?
Let’s say you go into the presence of a king – a powerful king. He tells you that he is pleased to put you under his protection. He invites you to live in the castle itself. You respond by fortifying your little shack, which stands a couple miles away.
Here is what you are saying to the king:
You aren’t trustworthy. I don’t believe you really want to invite me into your protection.
You aren’t powerful. I am safer outside the castle grounds. I am safer in my shack.
You are mis-hearing his invitation and proclaiming your independence.
But human beings are intended to live life with humility, first before our King, then before others. Sometimes, because you believe his words are too good to be true, you reject what he says and you trust in yourself. At those times, the way ahead is clear – confess to the king that you didn’t really believe what he said. You could call it repentance. You could call it your entrance back to sanity. Only those who walk humbly before the Lord can truly hear.
Be sure to say it: “Lord, I heard wrong. Help me to hear you correctly.”
And once your ears are open you will hear plenty. For example, take a look at the letter we call 1 John. John, who knew Jesus and lived alongside him, was getting up in years, which meant that he was going to stay on message: Jesus loves, not because we are lovable but because he loves, and he will always love first and love most. Then, as one who knew Jesus’ style well, since Jesus didn’t say “I love you” once but said it over and over, John was happy to repeat himself.
But those reversing filters can quickly return.
Jesus says, “I love you.”
To which your inner voice says, “Not me, I’m not lovable.”
Jesus responds, “But I do love you, not because you are lovable (nobody is) but because I love you.”
Pause on this one. Jesus loves you because he is love (1 John 4:8). He loves you because of who he is, not because of who you are. If you feel unlovable – and who doesn’t – that makes his love for you all the more amazing. The evidence of his love? It is much more than Jesus saying, “I feel all gushy about you.” Instead, “this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And, if he died on your behalf, he certainly isn’t going to leave you on you own now.
You have to know that Jesus is not like a mere mortal. In human relationships, our love is way too dependent on how the other person is loveable. When you love others, they love you. When you don’t, they don’t. Jesus, however, is not like other people. When our love for him wavers, he loves us. Therein lies the fatal flaw in your hearing.
So you have your work cut out for you. All new wiring. Get rid of the tangled mess by confessing that you don’t hear, and replace it with a very simple connection: God says it, I believe it. If you want to check to make sure the system is working order, keep track of your relationships with other people. If you turn away from people because you believe you are worthless, then get back to your rewiring. If you notice, even for a minute, that you are facing outward, toward other people, and showing interest in them – showing love – then sit back and enjoy the fine workmanship. And truly hear.
If you enjoyed and were helped by this post, you may want to check out Ed Welch's book Depression: A Stubborn Darkness. Dr. Welch writes compassionately on the complex nature of depression and sheds light on the path toward deep, lasting healing.
Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF.