It’s All in Your Mind

I was surprised how quickly I slipped. For several months I’d been mulling over some wonderful truths, gaining understanding and mentally preparing to share them on this blog. I’d learned to see challenges as an opportunity for growth and felt I could approach any difficulty with a positive attitude. Yet all it took was a few unexpected comments at a crucial moment to send me into a spin.

I was six days away from sending my final documents for my book, “Skinny Girl”, to the publisher when an email came from a trusted contact suggesting further edits. By this time—ten years into the writing and editing process—I hoped I had worked through every change that was needed.  I was wrong.

The point my friend made was important and I was glad she raised it. Still, I felt myself plummeting into a crazy mental tug-of-war, my thoughts flitting back and forth between accusations of failure and quieter assurances that correction would only help improve the book. Tiredness and hormones added their weight to the gloomy side, whispering in my ear, No matter how many changes you make, there will always be another error to fix, another fault to correct. This is never going to end.

Always. Never. I’d heard taunts like that before. I knew how to deal with them. But that day—my daughter’s birthday—I was too busy bustling through my list of essential birthday tasks, so the struggle simmered on. Late that evening I finally stopped, took a deep breath and verbalised what God had already whispered to my heart. “It’s gonna be okay. God will work it for good.” As soon as the words left my mouth, the inner battle waned and I could view the setback through eyes of hope. When I read the email again next morning, the words that tormented me had lost their sting and I began to get a sense of the way forward.

Sometimes our thoughts seem to run out of control.  Like cars on a racetrack, they hurtle through our mind, leaving impressions that guide our decisions—often without us realizing. Some days negative thoughts fire at us like a volley of bullets, making us cower in the corner, unable to function. Sometimes they even make us sick.

But are our thoughts really beyond our control? Are we helpless victims to their fluctuations?

Here’s what I’m learning.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2b). He wouldn’t say this unless change was possible. This process of renewal begins the moment we place our lives in God’s loving hands. He infuses us with His life-changing power, giving us a new heart and a new spirit. (Ezekiel 36:26, Titus 3:5) Then He calls us to partner with Him on the journey of transformation—a makeover that begins in our mind.

Holding hands looking at viewIt’s important to note that the verse in Romans doesn’t say, ‘Sit back and watch while God does all the work.’ It instructs us to, ‘Be transformed’. ‘Be’ is an action word. When we say, ‘Be quick,’ ‘Be thankful,’ or ‘Be quiet,’ we expect the listener to make a choice to do what’s been asked of them. When, through Paul, God says, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,’ He’s telling us to choose to change the way we think, so we can grow into the people He designed us to be. He doesn’t leave us alone in this. He’s with us—offering strength and wisdom—every step. But the choices we make are vital to the process.

There are many people who’ve already put this principle into practice:

Wise King Solomon advised his listeners to, ‘Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ (Proverbs 3:5-6)

When David battled depression, he told his soul to, ‘Put your hope in God,’ (Psalm 42: 5) Many, many times he made a decision to shift his focus from the hardships in his life—which were extreme—to the goodness of God. ‘My soul is downcast within me; Therefore, I will remember you . . .’ (42: 6)

Isaiah said, ‘You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in You.’ (Isaiah 26:3)

The writer of Lamentations followed his outpouring of grief over his homeland’s devastation with a determined re-direction of his thoughts. ‘Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail . . . great is your faithfulness.’ (Lamentations 3:19-23)

Paul wrote to new Christians, ‘Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.’ (Colossians 3:2) He told his readers to think about whatever is true, noble, pure, lovely and so on. (Philippians 4: 8)

These verses are the kind we look to for hope and perspective when we’re in a rough patch. We admire the faith of these people and the victories they experienced, often overlooking the fact they made a choice for hope and peace—even while their circumstances screamed pain and hopelessness. They faced their despair and negativity, renewed their mind, rose above the trials and ultimately went on to fulfil God’s purpose for their lives. Their example urges us to do the same. To acknowledge the Lord. Put our hope in Him. Remember His love. Trust in His strength and stability. Call to mind His great compassion. Set our minds on Him and His inherent goodness.closer slow down sign

‘Mindfulness’, the practice of slowing our thoughts and calmly observing them, is popular in our world right now. Many people are adopting it as a lifestyle in the hope of finding peace. To recognize what we’re thinking is an important first step— as we see in the example of David. However, like him, we have opportunity to go beyond merely observing our thoughts to leading them into truth.

Through God’s enabling, we can make a conscious decision to redirect the traffic in our mind. As we recognize destructive thoughts and turn them around, the truth will set us free. Then, further transformed, we can press on to fulfil God’s purpose for our lives.

So how do we renew our mind? Here are a few techniques I find helpful. I’ve mentioned some of these before, but they’re so important they’re worth repeating.

1. Read your Bible. Find verses that address the area where you need renewal.

“For the word of God is living and active . . . it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

  1. Display truth. Put these words in a prominent place and read them often.

“Pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words . . . for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.” Proverbs 4:20 – 22

Studying word on deck

3. Meditate. To meditate, in its most general sense, means ‘to think about something very carefully and deeply for a long time’, much like a cow chewing its cud. Journalling can help with this. Dwelling on specific verses over a period of time can help embed them in our memory. Then they’ll be available for us to draw on any time.

“My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Psalm 119: 148

  1. Speak life daily. In conversation, in prayer, in gratitude. There is power in the spoken word, especially when it’s God’s word.

“From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied. The tongue has the power of life and death.” Proverbs 18:20 – 21

  1. Learn. Listen to teaching related to your struggle on YouTube and podcasts.

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the understanding get guidance . . .” Proverbs 1:5

  1. Sing. Use music that lifts you out of those mental tug-of-wars and into freedom. Lyrics tend to stick with us long after the song is over, so choose carefully.

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

  1. Sift. Disconnect from anything you read, watch or listen to that feeds destructive thought patterns. Replace them with good fuel.

“I will not let anything worthless guide me . . .” Psalm 101:3a

The process of mind renewal is a lifelong one and it will often be challenged. It’s good to remember that each time we make a choice for truth, God will strengthen us and give us clearer vision for the things to come.

Joy's misty morning

Photo credit to Joy Van Namen

“. . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10: 5b

“. . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2b-c

 

References

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, Lexico, 10 June, 2020, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/mindfulness

COLLINS COBUILD, Collins, Glasgow, UK, 10 June, 2020, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/meditation

 

 

 

Snapshots

I’m so excited.
No, not about moving house, if that’s what you guessed, though we are right in the thick of that process. I’m excited about a gift I’ll receive in just a few weeks. At the end of this month I’m having a special birthday so I figured this was my opportunity to make a special request.
I asked for a camera – a good one.
This may not seem like a very big deal to you but it is to me. The thought of being able to capture fleeting moments in crisp detail thrills me. With the departure from our home of ten years almost upon us I’m aware of how much we’ll rely on pictures to remind us of all the special experiences we shared here.
But there’s another aspect to photography I’m just starting to recognise – it’s in the process of taking a picture that we more fully appreciate the moment we’re in.
Sometimes our lives can be nothing more than a frenzied series of activities, all blurred together as we hurry through our days, distracted and oblivious to the detail. But when we stop to take a picture – when we study light and shadow, colour and expression – we notice new dimensions in the world around us. . . and we savour.
On Mother’s Day my husband had to go out for the afternoon on an urgent errand. Our oldest son was needed at work. Our oldest daughter wasn’t feeling well so she retreated to the bedroom. Suddenly, with little warning, our family of six had shrunk to a meagre three, counting me. Mother’s Day was starting to feel a little mellow.
With a deep breath, I invited the two remaining children to join me in playing Finska, an outdoor tossing game. As an afterthought I snatched my phone off the bench on my way out of the kitchen, thinking maybe I could use it to take some pictures. I stepped outside and my mood instantly lifted. Rather than feeling deprived, I noticed the rich, gold tones in the afternoon sky. I gazed in wonder at the brilliant green of the grass beneath my feet.  We were surrounded by beauty – and I’d almost missed it.

FinskaFinska cheering
Our laughter and cheering seemed to echo in my heart as we played that afternoon. Each time I stepped back to take a picture I recognised afresh how blessed I was. Everything may not have been as I’d wished it that day, but I had much to be thankful for. By the end of our games – and a scenic walk with my girls – my heart was full to bursting.

Mother's day walk 2018Girls with horse Mother's day walk
Often it’s the little things that bring us the most pleasure – if we take time to notice them.
Perhaps that’s why our Father tells us to slow down. Wait, He says. Be still. Lift up your eyes. Set your mind on good things. Give thanks. So often we struggle and fight, insistent that there isn’t time.
But look what we’re missing.
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My thoughts were recently drawn to one particular line of Psalm 23 and I noticed something I’d never seen before. It says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Did you see that? He makes me. It’s not an optional extra to lie down, to be still. It’s a command from God. And the purpose of that lying down?

A restored soul.

How can we refuse that?

Peace in the Puzzles

The room was silent when I woke. Jolted out of slumber, I blinked in the darkness. What time was it? Three? Four in the morning? My husband breathed calm beside me, his warm chest rising and falling in steady rhythm. I rolled onto my side and closed my eyes, willing my heart to slow and my body to sink back into dreamy slumber.

It didn’t work. Sleep was elusive.

Hazy images of loved ones travelled across my mind. Each picture stirred emotion, carefully contained during the day but so often unfurled in the mid-night hours. These people were struggling. Deep longing for their relief swelled inside me. My heart lifted each one to God, whispering pleas for healing, for understanding, for hope.

Some of these were facing challenges far beyond my realm of understanding. I yearned to help them, to somehow restore order and peace to their lives. But how?

Show me, Lord.

His voice spoke silently to my heart. Remember the puzzle.

Ah, yes. The puzzle.

Several years earlier I’d been fretting over a friend whose life was often darkened by struggle. Whatever amount of support I offered, it never seemed enough. I often felt helpless, wishing I could do more, be more.

In the midst of my yearning, God planted a clear picture in my mind – a puzzle made of many interlocking pieces. Each piece was blank. Except one. That piece was colourful, patterned – distinct from all the others.

He spoke gently to my troubled heart. This puzzle is your friend’s life. Each of the pieces are people and influences I’ve put in her world. You are one piece in her life – the coloured one.

It’s not your job to fix everything. You can’t. See all those other pieces? They are other people and circumstances I’m also using to help her. You can’t see what they’re doing but I’m working through them too.

It doesn’t all depend on you.

I see the whole picture and have everything in hand. You pray, play your part and leave the rest to Me.

puzzle piece in hand

Relief flooded through me. I was just one piece. Yes, I yearned to make everything better for her, but I wasn’t able. I could play my part, though.

That little picture taught me so much.

Each piece in a puzzle is unique. I don’t have to be like all the others to contribute to someone’s life.

A puzzle piece has clearly defined edges and a specific place in the overall picture. I too had limits in what help I could offer. And that was okay.

Each puzzle piece is put in place by the One Who sees the whole picture. My role is to rest in His hands and let Him place me where I belong.

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I smiled in the darkness as that puzzle image hung suspended in my mind once more. Thanks for the reminder, Lord. I can do that. I can play my part, be that one piece and trust You with the rest.

I breathed deep and wrapped my arms loosely across my chest. God had heard my prayers, I knew. He was working in the lives of each person I’d lifted to Him. I could trust that as I waited for direction He’d show me what He wanted me to do.

My heartbeat settled and my body relaxed. Being one piece in His hands brought peace – deep and calm.

The Master Puzzler knew what He was doing.

“We are (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”    Ephesians 2:10

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”    Psalm 32:8

 

Standing Firm in Turbulent Times

I never imagined we’d end up here.

A storm is brewing in our nation. This tempest grows increasingly fierce as contentious issues – the subjects of public debate – are relentlessly shoved in our faces. For some, peaceful dialogue seems to be on the decline. Words fly impulsively, venting passionate opinions without thought for the real people who’ll receive them.

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I understand that these issues need to be discussed. The decisions which are made will have lasting impact on our beautiful country. All perspectives need to be heard.

It’s the open hostility and relationship breakdown that I struggle with.

By nature, I’m a peace-lover. I’m most happy when everyone is in harmony, whether in our family or on a larger scale. The constant tension and hateful language we’re confronted with makes me shudder. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

“How am I supposed to deal with this, Lord?”

This question often springs up from my anxious heart. Today as I waited on God, He revealed some of the answer.

I realised Jesus understands fully what it’s like to live immersed in tension. His people, the Jews, had a level of freedom to practice their faith. They could carry out their weekly rituals and meet in temples without question. Yet overarching these freedoms was the brutal rule of the Romans, who demanded complete submission and feared any kind of uprising.

Right from birth, Jesus was seen as a threat by those in leadership. Soon after his birth, his parents had to flee to another country for a time to keep their precious baby from being murdered by King Herod (Mt.2:13-18). As Jesus matured and His fame grew, so did the hatred of the religious leaders. The common people saw Him as their King, the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression. The chief priests and teachers of the law despised Him (Lk 19:28-20:47).

Today I read Luke 22:1-6, the story of Judas plotting with the religious leaders. These priests and teachers were terrified by the people’s worship of Jesus. They feared losing the power they’d held over the faithful for centuries. When Judas, one of Jesus’ closest friends, offered to betray Him, they were delighted. If they could be rid of Jesus, they thought, life could return to its former state.

I was confronted with the way we humans clutch at control when life gets uncomfortable. We avoid difficult people, effectively seeking to remove them from our lives. We block our ears to contrary voices or try to shout them down. Anything to shut out the ripples which shake up our comfy status quo.

Jesus knew the plotting that was going on. He felt the hostility directed toward Him from several directions. He fully understood the betrayal, false accusation and intense suffering that lay ahead (Lk 19: 28-20:47).

Yet He didn’t flinch.

Not one bit.

He set His sights on the task at hand with complete confidence in His Father’s ability to see Him through. He stayed the course, doing what He’d been sent to do, step by step by step.

All the way to His final breath.

No wonder He’s referred to as the Rock.

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We can’t walk in God’s purposes while fear is ruling in our hearts. Like Jesus, we need to set our eyes on our Father and trust Him to see us through. He doesn’t want us to try to control everything. Nor does He want us to be paralysed by fear.

He has plans for us to fulfil, good works for us to do – right in the midst of the storm. (1 Peter 4:19).

No matter what tensions and upheavals we may face, there is a place of peace and confidence from which we can live full lives and bring hope to those around us.

A place we can plant our feet and stand firm, come what may.

That place is a person. He’s called the Rock.

Psalm 18:2 

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.”

Isaiah 26:3-4

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast

because he trusts in You.

Trust in the Lord forever

for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”

Learning to Rest

It all began at a women’s retreat five years ago.

Twenty of us had gathered at Camp Clayton for a weekend of fun, relaxation and reflection. We’d just finished a beautiful time of singing and were waiting, with quiet hearts, for God to speak. I sat, eyes closed, smiling as I basked in the calm that filled the room. Any moment, I imagined, God would give me something to say. I was the leader. Surely He would reveal some powerful truth that would meet a need or bring new understanding.

Instead I heard, “I want you to put your children in school.”

Whaaaat?

Home schooling was my passion. I loved investing in our children. We’d been at it for almost a decade. Surely that wasn’t God speaking.

I opened my eyes to a half-squint and peered around the group. The women sat motionless, each listening for that still small voice. Oblivious. No one else had felt the earthquake that just ripped across my world.

Now’s not the time to think about that. I shoved the words into my box marked ‘later’ and continued with the retreat.

By September our children were enrolled at a local Christian school. God had spoken. The same day my husband started a new job – a wonderful opportunity which also held many challenges.

Our family was beginning a new season.

Change can be exciting…if you’re ready for it. I wasn’t.

Like a fussy mother hen I fretted almost constantly. How would everyone cope with all the adjustments? How would I cope?

That wasn’t all. Soon after, we laid down all our leadership roles at church. The time and energy required for them just wasn’t there anymore.

In a matter of weeks my whole world morphed into something unrecognisable. Almost every role that I’d held so zealously had been stripped away. Days which had been packed full with vision and activity suddenly seemed empty and aimless.

How did I cope?

I didn’t.

I fell in a heap.

I spent weeks lying on the couch, too tired to read or even pray. Anxiety flowed through my veins over the littlest things. My heart began beating in strange, thumping rhythms. I withdrew, avoiding conversation with anyone beyond family and very close friends.

It felt like my world was imploding. Burnout, some call it.

One afternoon I lowered myself into a warm bath, groaning inwardly. The weariness wasn’t lifting, no matter how much I rested.

“I’m going to bring you back,” God whispered. “Stronger than before.”

Really, God? I sighed. Is that even possible?

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In recent months I’d become the mouse in the wheel, frantically running in circles. My Father God saw what was happening and lifted me out, removing the wheel completely.

He lovingly stripped away all I looked to for identity, reminding me who I was when our relationship began. Way back then, midway through my teens, it was Him and me…just because. Nothing extra was needed. His love was enough.

Much as I thrived on all the busyness and accomplishments of more recent years, God wasn’t especially impressed. The most important thing to Him was the state of my heart.

Gently, He began to woo me again, reminding me how wonderful it was to just ‘be’ with Him. To sit in His presence and drink of His boundless peace. Such peace. He gave me courage to again lay myself at His feet and say, “Have your way, God. Do whatever you want. I’m yours.”

Then, oh-so-tenderly, He began to rebuild my life on a new foundation – one of rest.

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God’s rest isn’t like that stillness we seek at the end of a demanding day. It’s not a long, cool drink or a quick lie down. It’s not something external at all. It’s an inward condition of the heart. An awareness that everything we need is found in Him. Not in ourselves. When we understand that, we’re released from the pressure to struggle and strive (Heb.4:10).

All we need to do is walk with Him.

Jesus invites us to come in all our weariness and drop our heavy burdens at His feet (Matt. 11:28-30). He has a better way. As we look to Him He will lead us, one step at a time, in the way of rest. He will set the pace and He will set the limits. Best of all, He will shoulder the weight of any load we need to carry.

I’m still learning how this works out in practice. I have a feeling this particular lesson will last a lifetime. But the journey is an absolute pleasure. I couldn’t ask for a better travelling companion.