“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV).
You can define mental, emotional, and spiritual strength by identifying the things that mentally strong individuals don’t do. Emotionally strong people have learned healthy skills that they have made into healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life. Check out these things that mentally strong people don’t do so that you too can become more mentally strong with a sound mind.
I. Mentally Strong People Don’t Dwell on the Past.
There is strength in acknowledging the past and especially in acknowledging the things learned from past experiences—but a mentally strong person is able to avoid spending their mental energy on past disappointments or in fantasies of the “glory days” gone by. They invest the majority of their emotional energy in creating an optimal present and future.
The late Bill Keane, a Christian, was a popular cartoonist whose “Family Circus” was published in newspapers throughout the nation. He said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
The present moment is really all you have. Everything else is history. Even as you began reading this, it is now history.
You have no promise of tomorrow. It is indeed a mystery. The Lord holds your tomorrow. You may look forward to tomorrow, or you may dread it. But, only the Lord holds tomorrow. He is already there.
What about the past? Everything is past. Stored in your memory. It may haunt you with the ghost of bad decisions, missed opportunities, mistreatment by others, or tragic experiences that can even cause post-traumatic stress disorder affecting you today in the present. It’s hard, tough emotional work to get over bad memories of the past and what might have been if only. If only you had gotten that break. If only your spouse had not destroyed your marriage. If only, if only, if only. If you can’t let it go and live in the present and be free, you will live in the pain-filled yesterday haunted by demons of the past.
What about the past? It may hold precious memories that linger on. Memories that bring a smile to your face over remembering good times, family get-togethers, accomplishments, and hard fought victories. These are the good times, the glory days that you relish and remember. The good memories bring an emotional Rocky Mountain high. If you can’t let the good times go, you live in a fantasy world. When the upsets and difficulties of the present seem more than you can handle and you withdraw into a past world that no longer exists, you are emotionally weak and held captive by the past.
The past cannot be changed. It is what it is. You only have the present.
How do you handle the good and bad times of the past without letting it bog you down? How do you quit obsessing about it? How do you quit expending your mental, emotional, and spiritual energy on the past.
Make a memorial to remember the good times. In every memorial, something is established to put people in remembrance of the past.
The Bible is replete with memorials to the good times caused by the Lord’s blessings. Biblical memorials were set up to avoid forgetting what God had done. They were reminders so people would not forget the good times brought by the hand of God who delivered them.
In the Old Testament, Passover was a memorial to remember and celebrate the deliverance by God from the bondage in Egypt. "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord — a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14). This memorial was not meant to remind Israel of death, but of life and mercy from the Lord. The Passover meal is to Israel a time of joyous celebration and thanksgiving remembering the past liberation by the power of God.
In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper is a memorial. Jesus established this memorial. He said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25-26). Every time you partake of this sacrament, you memorialize His past and your redemption. You remember and celebrate with thanksgiving the blood of Jesus shed for the forgiveness of your sins. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial of God’s deliverance through Christ who set us free from sin and death by His blood.
A memorial to your past could be a photo album, a certificate of commendation, a journey back to the old home place, or a family meal on an important date in the calendar. For example, I have a few Christmas ornaments that causes me to remember some good times in Christmas past. I pull them out of storage and hang them on the tree, smile, and remember.
Make a memorial to the good times of the past, but don’t live there.
Bury the bad times and leave them in the graveyard. Randy Travis had a hit country song, “I'm Diggin' up Bones” in 1986 about a husband whose wife left him. The husband couldn’t let go of her and set alone “diggin’’ up bones of a love dead and gone.
I'm diggin' up bones
Exhuming things that better left alone;
I'm resurrecting memories of love that's dead and gone;
Yeah tonight, I'm sittin' alone diggin' up bones.
Certainly, you have to deal with past pains and grief. To deny they happened and that they don’t hurt is emotionally unhealthy. By God’s grace and working through the stages of grief, emotional healing comes. Tears are wiped away. You can face today, look forward to tomorrow, and stop “diggin’ up bones.”
It is very difficult to live in the present if you have suffered a trauma in the past. You may relieve that painful moment again and again as it plays out like an earworm from an annoying jingle or song.
A mentally, emotionally, and spiritually weak person is mired in past pain. Bogged down. Immobilized. Stuck.
I had a relative who lost her dear, sainted mother. She had been dead for several years. I was in my teens, and my mom wanted to visit her cousin. I was shocked and the image is burned in my memory. The cousin opened the door of her mom’s little home and everything, I mean everything, was exactly like she had left it on the day her mother had died. It was really spooky to me. She told my mom that sometimes she spent hours on end just sitting in that little house remembering, crying, and wishing her mom was still living.
Do you clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present. Or, can you let it go and possess the moment.
A mentally strong person can eventually move out of the past.
David experienced trauma. He had to bury his little boy baby whom he conceived with Bathsheba. No one knows the devastating grief of burying a child except the one who has buried their precious child. David mourned and grieved. Tears flowed like rivers. By the grace of God, he accepted his little baby’s death and the hole in his heart was healed enough for him to move back into the present. David said, “Now that [my little baby] is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba” (2 Samuel 12:23-24).
The Bible gives us this key. “I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13-14 Living Bible).
The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness. Invest the majority of your mental energy in creating an optimal present and future. Today is a gift of God. This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it!
II. Mentally Strong People Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over.
You know the definition of insanity, right? It’s when you take the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than you’ve gotten before. A mentally strong person accepts full responsibility for past behavior and is willing to learn from mistakes. Research shows that the ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy people.
Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. That's because the behavioral patterns you repeat most often are literally etched in the pathways of your mind and emotions.
Most people don’t change a habit with a snap of their fingers.
Bad habits are addictions. As a result of an addiction, you get a painful kick in the emotions. You think about changing.
Mental, emotional, and spiritual pain is a gift from God in the same way that physical pain is. Physical pain reveals that something is wrong in your body and that it needs to be treated and corrected. In the same way, emotional pain reveals unknown problems in the soul that prevent inner peace.
In efforts to kill the pain, you resort to pain-killers. Alcohol, drugs, work, sex, pornography, people-pleasing, and trying to be perfect in your tasks are some of the many pain-killers that you may resort to in efforts to kill your pain. You may have such intense pain that you resort to rage and lose your temper. Emotional pain killers create more pain.
Guilt and shame compound the fracture in your soul creating even more intense pain. It is a vicious cycle. Life becomes unmanageable. You keep on doing the same bad habits addicted to the same things in spite of your regrets, denials, vows to change, and your secret life of cover-ups.
You’re not alone in your struggle. The Apostle Paul expressed his struggle with addictions. You can feel his agony and frustration when he wrote, “I see another law at work against my mind making me a prisoner of sinful, painful addictions and habits. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me? (Romans 7:23-24).
Paul was powerless and couldn’t stop. You are powerless and can’t stop. You repeat the same actions again and again while hoping for a different and better outcome than you’ve gotten before. That’s insane.
The Apostle Peter said it like this: “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud" (2 Peter 2:19, 22).
The function of emotional and mental pain is to make you think deeply, long, and soberly and to stop self-medicating through destructive habits. It is to bring you to your senses and get you out of the pig pen. It is to get you from the vomit coming out of your soul to the table of the Lord to partake of His blood, His body, and to drink from the springs of righteousness that never run dry!
Emotional pain makes you go slower and more considerately. It makes you stop and seek help. It makes you look introspectively into your disposition and to undertake a detailed inventory of your own feelings and thoughts.
Consider emotional pain as God’s plowshare that turns up the depths of the soul like a plow turns up the soil. You must embrace the pain and stop self-medicating it through destructive addictions and habits Welcome it as fuel for your new journey toward freedom and peace.
The purpose of the plow is to cause a yield of rich harvests. These harvests are peace, joy, patience, wholeness, and wellness to name a few.
How do you stop the insanity? How do you break the bad habits and addictions? How do you quit self-medicating your never ending increasing pain?
As a man who has recovered and is still recovering from painful addictions such as workaholism, perfectionism, and people-pleasing, the way to recovery takes time - a lot of time. For me, I spent hours in counseling, Bible reading, prayer, meditation, reading the right kind of spiritually helpful books, self-awareness and understanding of just who I really am. Today, I realize my identity is from Christ and not from what I do. In other words, I am rather than I do.
Today, I am mentally, emotional, and spiritually strong. I’m not saying that I have arrived, but I accepted full responsibility for my past addictive behavior and was willing to learn from mistakes. The pain and depression were too great for me to continue on as I was. The God-given ability to be self-reflective in an accurate and productive way is one of the greatest strengths of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy people. That is a gift from God.
And what did the Apostle Paul conclude about his rescue and recovery from his wretched state of repeating the same harmful actions over and over which were beyond his power to control? “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Because of Christ’s rescue, I don’t condemn myself any longer. The guilt and shame have been washed away by the blood atonement of Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:1-3, 6-7). I am free from the guilt caused by my bad habits and addictions!
Mental, emotional, and spiritual health doesn’t reside within you. It is not within your power to have peace. The power is outside of you. Peace that you yearn for is outside of you. The power and the resulting peace comes into your innermost being from the Holy Spirit of Christ in you. Only in Christ may you have peace (John 16:33) and freedom from the chains of bad habits and addictions that create your pain.
It is a freedom that releases you from the pain and bondage of repeating the same mistakes from bad habits and addictions. It is the freedom to be conformed into the image of Christ by the power the Holy Spirit.
Christ alone has the power to prevent you from making the same mistakes over and over by destroying the addictions and bad habits. Through Christ, you can have different and better outcomes than you’ve ever gotten before!
III. Mentally Strong People Don’t Resent Other People’s Success.
It takes strength of character to feel genuine joy and excitement for other people’s success. Mentally strong people have this ability. They don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed (although they may take close notes on what the individual did well). They are willing to work hard for their own chances at success, without relying on shortcuts.
Resentment smolders in the soul like a fire that won’t go out. The smoke from that fire clouds judgment and makes breathing the Spirit of God almost impossible.
The Bible shines the light on resentment. “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple” (Job 5:2).
Do you resent the good blessings and fortunes of others? Do you resent getting passed over for a raise when you know you deserve one better than the one who got the raise? Do you resent the praise that another receives when you don’t get that praise and notice?
Resentment can kill your soul. It can suck the air right out of you and leave you short of breath. It can make you feel like a big fat loser when you compare your lack of success to the success of another.
And consider this situation. You go through a bitter and expensive divorce. The natural default position is to wish and hope for bad things to happen to your former spouse. But no, the former spouse is not only able to survive but also thrive leaving you smoldering in the embers to fret, stew, and resent his/her successful new life.
At its worse, resentment can boil over into sabotaging the success of another. Who can ever forget the tragedy that happened to a champion ice-skater due to the resentment, jealousy, and bitterness of her rival?
Nancy Kerrigan was an Olympic medalist. She won the 1992 Olympic bronze medal, was a two-time world medalist, and the 1993 U.S. national champion in figure skating. In January 1994, she was on track to win another Olympic medal in the 1994 Winter Olympics. But during a qualifying round on the eve of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she was clubbed in the right knee with a police baton by Shane Stant. The assault had been planned by her rival Tonya Harding and her boyfriend Jeff Gillooly. Harding was eaten up with resentment and jealousy about the success of Kerrigan. Her resentment boiled over. She wanted Kerrigan out of the way so that she could get the coveted spot on the American Olympic ice-skating team.
Justice was served. Harding received three years' probation, assessed $110,000 in fines and legal fees, sentenced to 500 hours of community service, and forced to resign as a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Nancy Kerrigan recovered from the attack and went on to win the silver medal in the 1994 Olympics.
It takes strength of character to sit on the bench as a second stringer and root for the guy on the first team who scores the touchdowns and gets the glory.
The Scripture counsels you to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3-4).
This attitude is the example Christ left you to incorporate into your character. “Christ, God the Son, made himself nothing, took on the very nature of a servant, and was made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).
With this attitude imparted to you from Christ, resentment dissipates leaving your mind and emotions free to rejoice over the success and blessings of others when they don’t come to you.
This servant attitude is imparted by Christ’s unmerited grace and love toward you. From His love, you can love. You can even love those who get the coveted spot you wanted, who get the praises and accolades you deserved, and who are more successful in life than you are.
Love is the Biblical key. It is beautifully expressed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, and it does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” In other words, love causes you to feel genuine joy and excitement when another - even a rival - succeeds. Love doesn’t rejoice in a rival’s misfortune and defeat.
Real love flowing from Christ’s love for you leaves no place for resentment in your mind, emotions, or spirit. In fact, it may produce this feeling of joy that the more they have, the happier you are because that’s how love behaves.
That is a key to inner peace, joy, contentment, and mental strength.
Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong people don’t become jealous or resentful when others succeed. They rejoice with the joy success has brought someone else - even a rival. They are grateful for what they do have and are willing to work hard for their own chances at success.
IV. Mentally Strong People Don’t Give Up After Failure.
Every failure is a chance to improve. Even the greatest entrepreneurs are willing to admit that their early efforts invariably brought many failures. Mentally strong people are willing to fail again and again, if necessary, as long as the learning experience from every “failure” can bring them closer to their ultimate goals.
You can’t let the culture define you by success. Is success achieved by the accumulation of things and money? Is it in A+ grades and a college education as touted by the education establishment? Is a person a success who has power over others? Is it in popularity, achievements, and accolades from others? Success doesn’t determine who you are.
You can’t let the culture define you by failure either. Are you a failure if you get laid off your job. Are you a failure if you don’t own a home or a late model car? Are you a failure if you didn’t finish high school? Failure doesn’t determine your identity either. It doesn’t define your self-hood.
It’s not what defines you but who. To follow Christ is to have your deepest need for identity defined by Him. You are “in Christ.”
The Bible says, “You have everything when you have Christ, and you are filled with God through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:10 The Living Bible).
No matter if you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, own a home or don’t own a home, own a car or ride public transportation, you have everything in Christ Jesus. Everything!
Now, your efforts to achieve your dreams may have failed. You may have failed in that sense. But the difference in a mentally strong person and a weak-minded person is that failure does not cause a mentally strong person to give up in despair with the resulting depression that follows like night follows day.
On the other hand, a weak-minded person gives up. Quits. Lays down and refuses to take another step forward. He/she is emotionally spent and doesn’t have the emotional energy to move.
Battles are fought in your mind every day. When you begin to feel the battle is just too difficult and want to give up, you must choose by faith to activate the power of God who works within you. And because God is at work in you, you can get up from the bed of depression and take a step and another and another.
An amazing thing then happens! Stubborn hope in Christ gives just enough energy to just show up and try. The dawn breaks through the darkness of failure. You don't give up because your strength comes from the Lord. Your first step out of failure is feeble at first, but you do not faint because of Christ’s strength in you. The next thing you know, you are running and not weary until at last, you soar again on wings like eagles.
“I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD” (Psalm 71:16).
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).
“I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:13-14).
So you have failed and failed. You have fallen again and again. But every failure is a chance to improve and grow.
Mentally and emotionally strong people pass the history course in The University of Life, the only college where everyone is a permanent student. This history course is not a crip course. It’s not easy to learn from your history of failures and mistakes. But, you can pass this course with an A+.
You are a product of your past, but you don't have to be a prisoner of it. From your past failures, you can learn to avoid the same mistake twice so you won’t repeat the same mistakes over and over. Mentally strong people learn to avoid the same mistakes that lead to failure which gives them wisdom.
Mentally strong people know you can’t allow failure to tear you down. They don’t keep dwelling on past disappointments or else nothing is ever learned from them. These life lessons give them wisdom.
Wisdom brings enlightenment to try again in a different way.
A failure then is actually a gift. Mentally and emotionally strong people find that lessons learned from failure prove to be of great worth in acquiring wisdom.
If you stand back and analyze your greatest mistakes and failures, digest them, interact with them, and learn from them, they can be the greatest moments of your life!
Each failure brings you one step closer to reaching your goal. By His strength and power in you, you can “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
Each failure makes you stronger, bigger and better.
Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation and that there are better approaches.
No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up. “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again“ (Proverbs 24:16).
Remember, it’s not your success or failure that defines who you are. Your identity comes from outside you. It comes from Christ who gives you the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to keep on keeping on.
Because Jesus never gives up on you, you have His strength to never give up. So, keep on keeping on! Life goes on.
Life goes on. There is never an end. What was dead lives again. Jesus promised that life goes on for the ones who believe. †
Rev. Dan White is founder and pastor of North Columbia Church, Appling, GA. He is a free-lance writer and has been published in secular and Christian newspapers and ezines. He has written two books. Follow him at http://revdanwhite.blogspot.com/