When I was a little girl, I had a bug keeper. It had a wood floor and ends, with a wire screen stretched over the top and sides and a handle for toting it around. I scoured for bugs lurking under rocks, crawling up tree trunks, sunning themselves, or hiding in the shade. I captured all different kinds of insects and incarcerated them in my bug keeper. I carefully placed little pieces of grass and sticks inside, hoping to make my prisoners feel at home. And then, I watched…

And as I watched, I learned. I learned that some bugs became more beautiful the longer I gazed at them. Their iridescent bodies shone like rainbows in the sun. I learned that some bugs grew stinkier the longer I kept them, to the point that my mother had to investigate the stench culprit hiding under a mound of dirty clothes. I learned that some bugs didn’t hold up too well in captivity; they died pretty quickly. Others lasted and lasted until I grew bored and released them back into the wild. I learned a lot about bugs, and I grew increasingly picky about which ones made the cut and were allowed entrance to my bug keeper.

My thoughts are like those bugs. In the deepest, darkest valleys of my life, my mind churns with stinky thoughts. They infest with confusion, fear, and shame. They invade and take up residence, building nests that block out the light and digging deep tunnels of suspicion. In those seasons, I can’t feel good, and it becomes easy to believe that I will never feel good again.

The songwriter of Psalm 77 knew what a deep, dark valley feels like. Sleepless nights, pain that steals all words, doubt that creeps its way into the mind and settles in like it’s found its forever home. It would be as easy as breathing to curl up in a ball and wait to die. But God…

But God, in His activating mercy, had rescued the psalmist’s ancestors from slavery. But God, in His bewildering power, had brought all the forces of nature to fight for the helpless and hopeless. These were undeniable truths. And so, the songwriter in the valley trained his mind to focus on what is true.

Our feelings are a good gift from God, intended to motivate us to action. (E-motion! Our feelings are intended to put us into motion.) And what exactly are our feelings meant to activate? They’re meant to remind us to grab our bug keepers and embark on a thought-hunting mission. The Apostle Paul warned that “though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3—4). My battle is fought against the enemy of my soul who wants to infest my mind with thoughts that downplay and dismiss the mercy and might of God.

Therefore, my job is to “destroy arguments and every loft opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10: 5). I scoop up that thought, and I put it into my bug keeper, where I can examine it thoroughly. Does that thought align with what Scripture tells me about God’s care and His character? If not, that thought does not deserve to live in my mind. I need to remove it and replace it with thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). This is an active practice, which means that by God’s grace I’ll get better at it the more I do it.

If you find yourself in a deep, dark valley today, I want you to know that your emotions are not your enemy, and they do not mean you do not love and trust the Lord. They are signaling to you that it’s time to take action! Take up your bug keeper, and scrutinize your thoughts. If you are in Christ, you don’t have to fight this war alone. The Holy Spirit is your Friend, and it’s His job to guide you into all truth (John 16:13). And to every pesky thought that seeks to diminish God and His steadfast love for you, tell it, “But God…”