To get out of the gloomy pit of despair, bitterness, hostility, jealousy, and the accompanying aches, pains, and misery, you must take personal responsibility for your own character, no matter what someone else does–or did. If a person is miserable, it is his or her choice. Our woe is not the result of our background, or the people around us, or our environment, but of a choice, either deliberate or vague, to continue in the direction that we have been heading.
Spiritual maturity brings peace, as the psalmist indicated: “Mark the blameless [mature] man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace” (Psalm 37:37).
Do not avenge yourselves; live peaceably with all men; love, bless, forgive. These words place the responsibility for your decision squarely on your own shoulders. This is the essence of good mental health–it depends on you. You reap the results of your own decisions, your own reactions.
So it is with unhappiness. No matter the origin (and the unhappy person can usually explain how he got that way), it is now his responsibility and his alone to take proper steps to correct the condition that is causing his unhappiness. But it should be mentioned here that understanding alone, without changing one’s course, is a dead-end street. Man is miserable when he does not take responsibility for his own inner life, his own reactions and behavior toward the people and circumstances that come his way.
Jesus stated an obvious truth, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). We all have our share of trouble and always will. But the presence of trouble does not alter personal responsibility. “For it is written: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12). Also, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Being either clearly or vaguely aware that we are answerable for our own conduct, is it any wonder that more and more people become miserable as they forsake biblical principles?
Past history shapes you. In counseling, I generally find that the unhappy person who has been rejected rejects others; the victim of mean, angry, hateful people is also mean, angry, and hateful; the person who grew up in an atmosphere of suspicion is suspicious of others. People seem to reproduce in themselves what they are exposed to.
We would agree that a person’s circumstances seem to rub off on them, thereby giving them cause for happiness or discomfort. There is the mark of parents, experiences with brothers and sisters, relationships gained through church and school activities. We are the product of our family’s economic status, our education, our bodies, our talents and our opportunities.
People who are unhappy have been mistreated. A woman who is withdrawn and sullen often has a mother who was withdrawn and sullen. People appear to be caught up in a circle, a vicious one, forged by generation after generation of example.
It is true that a child tends to absorb the atmosphere in which he was raised. It is also true that people tend to keep on going in the direction in which they are headed. But the Bible says, “You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1).
An unhappy person must come to terms with the people in his past, forgive them, and seek to understand the effect they have had on him. But this Bible verse says he has no grounds for reproducing the pattern, once he understands it.
If your anxiety is due to your violation of a biblical principle, then this is good news. It is good news because you can do something about such a violation. You can confess your sin, acknowledge it before the Lord, and look at it the same way He looks at it–with hatred and disdain. David admitted his sin before God and asked for cleansing from it: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions… Create in me a clean heart, O God… Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:23a, 10a, 12a).
You cannot erase the past. You cannot decide what your marriage partner will do. You cannot control the conduct of your associates or the turn of world events. But you can do something about your sin, which cuts you off from personal inner peace.
This is indeed good news. It is not someone else’s wrongs toward you that cause your anxieties and tensions. It is your own sin. And you can do something about it by coming just as you are to God for His forgiveness and cleansing.
The choice is yours.[This is an excerpt of chapter 9 from Dr. Brandt’s book, The Struggle for Inner Peace, currently available as an e-book.]