Like any good sermon, this post is written more for myself than anyone else.
I’ve been pretty miserable for a good portion of my life. From panic attacks and depression as a young boy to inheriting the worldview of a family that doesn’t necessarily always look on the bright side, my predisposition has been more gloomy than not.
One interesting thing I’ve learned as I’ve aged, though, is so much of my experience of life is shaped by my own outlook.
True, my outlook doesn’t change the objective events that happen to me, but the way I perceive said events and process them internally is dependent only on how my mind interprets them.
I’ve recently begun to pay attention to what I’m thinking as I live my life: you know, the internal, running dialogue we have as we go about our day. The stuff we don’t normally consciously pay attention to because, well, it’s me – this is the pattern of how I understand life and what I tell myself about what happens to me and what I observe.
And I’ve found it really interesting that a lot of my thoughts aren’t very positive. No surprise given my history and struggles, right? But it’s a big deal to realize that I am choosing – albeit often subconsciously – how to reinforce my quality of life.
I choose whether I focus on my problems or on possibilities. I choose whether I brood or whether I savor the positive.
One of the big things about being a Christian that most of us neglect is we’re supposed to actively be working, with God’s help and strength as our source, to allow ourselves to be molded into the image of Christ. And to be the image of Christ isn’t to be a sourpuss.
Nor should I want to be one, but I have this funny attachment to the way I think – I mean, it’s what I label as my identity, in a way.
But it isn’t really. We have lots of things we mislabel as our identity, and the patterns of our thoughts is as misguided a label as any other.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5, NIV)
From a less holy source but one that’s nonetheless tracking a similar wavelength and is near to my Gainesville heart:
“Did you ever think there might be another way / To just feel better, just feel better about today…If you’ve had enough of all your tryin’ / Just give up the state of mind you’re in / If you want to be somebody else / If you’re tired of fighting battles with yourself / If you want to be somebody else, change your mind” (“Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel).
But I don’t want to advocate the power of positive thinking but rather to champion the power of reinforcing the truth of who I am in Christ.
It isn’t easy. I don’t know how many thoughts float through your head at any given moment, but I know a lot are generally going through mine, and the second I stop actively paying attention to what I’m thinking, my thoughts start taking on the same patterns they’ve known for as long as I can remember.
Plus there are deep parts of me that are still struggling to accept my identity in Christ. It’s taken an awfully long time for my heart to truly believe God loves me, and I’m not going to pretend that that truth has fully permeated me.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in my own shortcomings, to focus on the negatives that all too frequently expose themselves as I go through my day, from dropping expletives at work to being fussy with others and channeling Eeyore regarding self-pity.
But I ask God explicitly for help in changing my thought habits. I listen to music that doesn’t reinforce unhealthy thoughts. When I catch myself going down dark thought paths, I rebuke the thoughts and try to refocus whatever I’m going through in the larger context of God’s reality.
Slowly enough, change is happening, though it isn’t as fast as I would like. But when I find myself in the midst of very stressful situations, I’m not folding like I used to. It still is incredibly unpleasant, but I’m able to bear it where once I may not have.
And my overall outlook on life isn’t as negative as it once was – there is a sense of hope and joy gradually building within me regardless of circumstance. It’s nothing to brag about, but it’s an improvement for me, and I trust as I carry on through ups and downs, it will continue to improve over the long haul.
So be mindful of your mind, friends, and what you allow it to dwell on. It not only has ramifications for your quality of life right now, but impacts your ability to determine truth in a convoluted and fearful world.