The ubiquitous COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought out the worst in people all around the world. The number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression has almost quadrupled. Porn viewing increased, and stress and anger also rose. Why has this happened? And how do we shed those unhealthy pandemic habits that may still linger?
Exploring the deeper reasons behind our struggles will truly help us shed those unhealthy habits we’ve picked up (or were revived from dormancy) during quarantine. And we’re not just talking about wearing pajama pants with a suit on Zoom calls—but that needs to go too.
The reality is that our unwanted behaviors aren’t random, they’re signals to be answered. To say it differently, our unhealthy thoughts and behaviors have a cause, and we must discover the cause if we want to experience freedom.
Do you know what drives you to your unwanted behaviors? Your God-given desires. What? Yep. God put within humanity desires—or heart longings—that drive everything we do. The Bible lists seven including: our need to be accepted and appreciated, the assurance of safety, and the affirmation of our feelings. All of our actions, our thinking, our beliefs, and the good or bad choices we make are in an attempt to get our heart longings met and when we are unable to find healthy ways to fulfill these longings, during say… a global pandemic, we turn to unhealthy or unwanted behaviors.
For the past year and a half, it seems like the world has been set ablaze through people’s stress, rage, and pent-up fears. We experienced social distancing—where human connection was limited. We witnessed the death of friends and loved ones—where there was no assurance of safety for anyone. We experienced chaos on social media and TV as opposing sides argued and cancelled each other—where there wasn’t acceptance of one another. Our deepest longings were going unmet—we were acting out.
I’ve (Ben) experienced this first-hand. Growing up, I experienced deep hurt, confusion, and trauma. I experienced bullying, my father’s anger, and a deep sense that I didn’t belong anywhere. I became addicted to porn, alcohol, and food. When life felt too much to bear, I’d turn inward, get depressed, and struggled with suicidal thoughts. These patterns continued in my life until I started to explore their cause and find what I was truly longing for. It was only then that God started to bring true healing and freedom.
While growing up as a child of an alcoholic father, I (Josh) developed a tendency to rescue others. Rescuing loved ones seemed to be one of the few ways I could gain the acceptance and love of my family. I felt valued when I could help my mom with chores around the house, knowing that my dad was often too drunk or too disengaged to help her. I felt like I belonged when I became the man of the house and my mom looked to me for emotional support instead of to my dad. I felt like I had purpose when I could protect my sister and give her emotional comfort.
This rescuing behavior continued into my adult life, leaving me feeling like all of the problems in the world were mine to solve. I had a thriving ministry as my team and I were reaching millions globally. But I was overcommitted, exhausted, and compulsively rescuing others from their problems. Eventually, I called one of my close friends and the best psychologist I knew, Dr. Henry Cloud. As we began meeting each week, I found understanding and healing. I learned that this unhealthy pattern wasn’t random; it was driven by a longing to be loved and accepted. I began to experience God’s healing as I learned new ways to find the fulfillment of those needs through him and others.
Our unwanted behaviors or patterns aren’t random; they’re signals to be answered.
We see this throughout the entire Bible:
- In Genesis 3, after sinning against God, Adam and Eve were naked and afraid so they hid.
- In 1 Samuel 21-24, David had unmet longings for safety leading to anxiety when Saul was seeking to kill him.
- In Job 3, Job had unmet longings after losing his family, health, and wealth that he felt so depressed he wished he had never been born.
- Get anxious when you fear for your safety or worry about your future.
- Watch porn to find pseudo-acceptance or love when you feel rejected or inadequate.
- Perform for the approval of others when you feel unwanted or unknown.
God invites us to begin to shed our unwanted behaviors as we answer their signal and experience the fulfillment of what we were looking for in them through Him and one another. We can find true acceptance, appreciation, and safety as we reach out, become vulnerable, and connect with God and others.
Josh McDowell and Ben Bennettl are the authors of the new book Free to Thrive: How Your Hurt, Struggles, and Deepest Longings Can Lead to a Fulfilling Life (Thomas Nelson Resources, 2021). Josh and Ben serve as speakers and authors with Josh McDowell Ministry (A Cru Ministry), helping individuals all around the world live, share, and support their faith.
McDowell, the founder and president of Josh McDowell Ministry (A Cru Ministry), has written or co-authored 152 books in 128 languages, including the multi-million selling More Than a Carpenter and Evidence That Demands a Verdict (named one the twentieth century's top 40 books by World Magazine).
Bennett, an author, speaker, and the Director of Resolution Movement – a global movement helping young people overcome hurts and struggles and thrive in life, has faced addiction, trauma, and other mental health struggles in his journey toward a wholehearted life.