IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility.
Measuring progress is tricky for many reasons. First, measuring progress is an attempt to measure something very fluid and dynamic. There is a rise and fall, acceleration and deceleration in progress that makes it hard to get a concrete reading. Second, measuring progress has a tendency to measure performance over dependence. This tendency can easily begin to undermine the God-reliance stressed throughout this material. Finally, measuring progress can foster shame when there is some type of regression. How regression is handled is pivotal to establishing lasting change.
C.S. Lewis gave a very instructive metaphor for how to deal with shame. Lewis compared shame to hot coffee. If we spill hot coffee on our skin we are burned, scalded, and feel disgusting. However, if we drink coffee we are warmed, nourished, and energized. When we avoid shame or wallow in shame, it becomes like spilled coffee. When we handle the stigma that may exist over depression-anxiety in the ways that are outlined in Scripture, then even our weaknesses draw us closer to Christ, remind us of the necessity of the cross, and give us testimony to share.
David Powlison gives seven indicators that progress is being made with sin (bold text only). These are discussed to give you a more robust understanding of progress than merely counting the number of good emotional days. As you read these consider how each point helps you see and/or maintain progress even when you experience bouts of depression-anxiety.
- Decrease in Frequency of Sin: Progress does mean that we should sin less; trust and rest in God more. As you implement these materials in context of loving community and wise medical advisement, there should be noticeable and quantifiable decreases in the frequency of your depressive-anxious experiences. A holistic plan to combat depression-anxiety lived in the encouragement-accountability of friends disempowers the passivity and sense of futility that sustains chronic depression-anxiety.
- Repenting More Quickly: Progress means that when sin leads us to anxiety-depression we will respond to those emotions differently. Quick repentance is the key to stopping “emotional paralysis.” No longer will you give into the mindset, “If I’m already down, I might as well stay down because there’s nothing I can do about it.” You should be conversationally comfortable going to God in repentance (review step four).
- A Change in Battleground: Progress should mean that you see an advance in your battle against sin; from behaviors and belief to its core fortress–your heart commitments. These changes should excite you. This realization is what allowed Paul to say “I am the chief of sinners” (I Tim. 1:15) without shame. He was excited to take his battle with sin to its core. While each new battleground may require different strategies and durations of time to win, there should be a joy as you see God’s kingdom penetrating new territory in your soul.
- Having a Greater Sense of Need for Christ’s Mercy and Grace: Progress that does not persistently realize its reliance upon Christ, degenerates into pride and becomes a stronghold for the enemy. The enemy may use this stronghold as the basis for generating new expectations or failures that create a recurrence of depression-anxiety. The point is not to try to predict where every new emotional challenge will come from, but to remain humble and reliant upon God regarding whatever emotional challenge may arise.
- Increase accountability and honesty: Progress means that you do not need a “reason” to be honest and things do not have to be “that bad” in order for you to have accountability. In many ways, this variable is one of the primary, practical expressions of the humility discussed above. Humble people refuse to fight sin alone and refuse to trust their own hearts apart from the community of caring, Christian friends (Heb. 3:12-14).
- Not Responding to Difficulty by Indulging in Sin: Difficulty is the time when progress is most clear. When we forget this, we become discouraged by difficulty and this discouragement adds to our temptation. Recognize that when difficulty comes (i.e., conflict, stress, setbacks, etc…) this will be a time when your progress will be most evident. Realizing this should help you maintain the will to persevere during these challenges.
- Learning to Love and Consider the Interest of Real People: This is the epitome of progress because it is the fulfillment of the whole law of God (Gal. 6:2). The opposite of depression-anxiety is not mere absence of unpleasant emotions. The opposite of depression-anxiety is the emotional freedom to form real, caring relationships with other real, in-process people. You come to people, not primarily seeking relief from your struggles, but the opportunity for authentic relationship because you know that is what is healthiest for both of you.
There is another way we can think about measuring our progress with depression-anxiety. We can look at markers of reliance upon God in the moment of struggle or we can consider a multi-dimensional way of measuring the decreasing size of our emotional struggle. We want to do both; we want to increase our reliance upon God in the midst of the experience (criteria above) and we want to decrease the size of our emotional disruption in as many ways as possible (criteria below).
As you face the ebb-and-flow of your emotions, we want you to look for three markers of progress: intensity, duration, and frequency. Even when your emotions are unpleasant, look for these markers as evidences of God’s grace. To help you make sense of what growth looks like practically, imagine a sound wave (see the illustration below). A sound wave can be measured three ways:
- Intensity (height: A to B),
- Duration (width: Y to Z), and
- Frequency (peak to peak: 1 to 2).
Our experience of depression-anxiety can be measured in the same three categories. This now gives you three ways that you can begin to measure progress with your emotional struggle. Is your anxiety less intense? Does your depression last for briefer periods of time? Are your emotional disruptions less frequent? Your depression-anxiety journals should provide a fairly objective basis of comparison.
To provide some encouragement consider the following “life disruption score” (LDS). LDS is an arbitrary statistic, but it highlights a valid point. Let’s assume that the intensity, duration, and frequency your depression-anxiety were maxed out on a 1 to 10 scale. That would create a LDS score of 1,000.
10 (intensity) x 10 (duration) x 10 (frequency) = 1,000
Now let’s assume that you are able to decrease the impact of each variable only by two increments. How much do you think that would improve your LDS score?
8 x 8 x 8 = ________ (yes, you have to do the math)
Are you surprised at what a small amount of progress in each area can do? It is not just a math trick. It is the grace of God. If our sanctification (spiritual, relational, and emotional maturity) required a level of effort that matched the impact of our sin, that would be self-atonement. What it takes is dying to self and wisely living for God’s glory through blessing others. When that starts, the momentum of all Heaven is at our back. Each step of faith is caught up in the current of God’s grace.
You might ask, “What is the key variable that makes this work?” The answer is hope. When we begin to see that we can, by God’s grace, have influence over our emotions we gain hope. We feel less powerless. Depression-anxiety thrives in an environment of perceived futility. Once we gain hope, much of the bondage of depression-anxiety is broken.