Tag Archives: Mind

Lost in Thought

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus….
Hebrews 3:1 (NIV)

Whatcha thinkin’ about over there?” Wendy asked me yesterday in the car.

It’s a common question that gets asked back and forth between us. It happens often in the car when time driving in confined space allow for long periods silence. Usually the question comes out when one of us seems lost in thought.

Lost in thought.”

It’s funny how we have these phrases we use all the time without really pondering their meaning. How often am I “lost” in my thoughts?

Lost (adj) [lawst] having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place, direction, etc.

My brain is constantly thinking, pondering, and ruminating. It never really stops in my waking hours and when I go to sleep it continues to process in my dreams. I wrote last week about my brain sometimes being like a runaway train. The truth is, my brain is always a runaway train unless I train myself to control.

In this morning’s chapter the author of the letter to the Hebrew followers of Jesus encourages them to “fix” their thoughts on Jesus. The word picture is to consciously think about or give consideration. It makes me think about the difference between spacing off in class (runaway train!) and actively listening and taking notes on the teacher’s lecture. The writer is making a simple yet profound point. If I’m following Jesus, as I say I am, then my attention needs to be fixed on the One I’m following. It’s hard to follow if I’m lost in thought.

I learned along somewhere along this life journey that my thoughts will be lost and wandering if I am passive about it. My thoughts can also be corralled, controlled, directed, and “fixed” where I choose. I am either in control or I relinquish control to let my brain wander around lost in thought. It requires the development of a certain amount of self-awareness to what my thoughts are doing, and self-discipline to direct them where I choose.

 

The Runaway Train of My Brain

we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b (NIV)

When I was in 8th grade I learned how to diagram sentences in English class and how great stories were structured. In high school I learned how to break down stories and characters into their component parts and how to construct a cohesive presentation. In college I learned how to critique, how to “beat” a script, and how to storyboard an idea. In my personal work with multiple counselors I’ve learned how to recognize my own patterns of thought and the conversations I’m always having with myself. I’m still a work in progress but I’ve been learning over my entire life journey how to meta-communicate. That is, to think not only about what is being communicated but how it’s being communicated.

I happen to be married to Wendy, who does the same thing. It makes marriage interesting.

Thus it was that when I came across the phrase above from today’s chapter what initially struck me was not the spiritual meaning of this phrase, but the fact that it is a recurring theme in conversation between Wendy and me. “Taking every thought captive” comes up regularly in our discussions as we process through patterns of thought and behavior. So, I’ve been thinking about that in the quiet this morning.

I’ve realized along my life journey that my thoughts are often a runaway train. My brains neurons, synapses and transmitters got wired a certain way like a set track and when particular situations or circumstances present themselves my thoughts mindlessly follow where that track leads. There’s no meta-communication. There’s no thought about my thoughts. I just follow the tracks and end up at the same stations of words, emotions, behaviors and situations.

When “taking every thought captive” comes up in conversation between Wendy and me, we are essentially referencing the process from the old Westerns of riding fast to grab control of the train engine and pull on the hand brake. We’re forcing ourselves to think about our thinking and then do something about it.

Wait a minute. I keep going to down this ‘train’ of thought and I never like where it leads me (or us). Why am I thinking this way? What situation/experience/circumstance/word triggered my brain engine to take off down this track? What assumptions have I made in thinking this way? What am I not considering? What am I afraid of? What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about what it is I really want or desire? What am I not seeing in my limited view of the situation? Is my perspective skewed, and, if so, by what?”

Forcing myself to consider and answer these questions put the brakes on the runaway train, take the mindless thoughts captive, and begin the process of choosing new paths of thought toward better places in life and relationship.

This morning I’m thankful for God-given brains that are naturally powerful at learning, adapting, and changing. I’m grateful for God who is infinitely gracious with this wayfarer’s life-long journey of chasing down runaway thoughts and laying down new tracks. I am equally grateful for the spiritual power that assists in the mental processing. I am reminded that Jesus great commandment includes loving God with all of my mind as well as my heart, soul, and strength.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch.

To Tell the Truth

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr
source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

“as long as I have life within me,
    the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
    and my tongue will not utter lies.”
Job 27:3-4 (NIV)

I am what is known in general and colloquial psychological terms as a pleaser. It’s always been my nature to desire relational peace with others and to want others to “be pleased” with me. Like all personality bents, being a pleaser has both its strengths and corollary struggles. On the plus side, I tend to be amiable and easy to get along with. I’m not usually given to strong public reaction, rather holding my emotions in check until I can process and thoughtfully respond. I’m generally diplomatic and tend to be sensitive to all sides in a conflict. The downside is that I will sometimes stuff my emotions until they begin eating away at my soul like corrosive acid. I respond to others in the way that will make them happy rather than responding in a way that is true in expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. Throughout my life journey I have been guilty of suppressing and submitting my own thoughts, will, and emotions to the thoughts, will, and emotions of others in order to please and placate. For the record, that that never turns out well¹.

Interestingly enough, I am married to a woman who lies at the opposite end of the personality spectrum. “Holding emotions in check” and “suppressing strong reactions” are not apt descriptors for Wendy, but “emotionally expressive” and “forthright honesty” definitely hit the mark. This, of course, makes for some really interesting conversational choreography when it comes to conflict in our house, but we’ve learned a few steps from one another which has ultimately made us better relational dance partners.

So it is that I really appreciated reading Job’s honesty in today’s chapter. Job reveals the same qualities that I admire and appreciate in Wendy. He will not suppress, submit his thoughts and emotions to please or placate his wife or three friends. He is compelled to be honest and true in expressing his thought and emotion, realizing that it would actually be wicked of him to be dishonest about his anger and frustration with God. It would be a lie to plead guilty to some heinous sin that precipitated his suffering. It would be untrue to say that he’s okay with his lot when he honestly feels that his suffering and circumstances are utterly unjust.

This morning I’m realizing that, if I were in Job’s sandals, I would be tempted just to say to my friends, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for setting me straight, guys.” I admire Job’s honesty. It challenges me. I appreciate his willingness to tell the truth about what he really thinks and feels, even though it’s not what the others want to hear. That’s a trait that this pleaser has been striving to develop over time.

I think I’ve made progress. I’ve got a good coach! 🙂

 

¹See exhibit A: the divorce decree.

Maintaining a Healthy Spiritual Heart

English: Arthur Saxon performing a bent press....
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
    as they did at Massah in the wilderness.
Psalm 95:8 (NLT)

We all know the basics of cardiac health. A healthy heart depends on what you consume and exercise. I have found that the same parallel pertains to the spiritual heart. Our spiritual hearts can get just as easily gummed up with the plaque of anger, hatred, negativity, doubt, fear, or anxiety.

To avoid the hardening of our spiritual arteries, we need to regulate what thoughts, messages, books, stories, posts, images, audio and videos we feed to our heart and brain. We also need to regularly engage our spirits in the conscious exercise of gratitude, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, goodness, and grace. A little strength training of prayer and worship helps, too.

Health is not only about our physical condition, but also about the conditioning of our hearts and minds.

Chapter-a-Day Colossians 3

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Image via Wikipedia

Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Colossians 3:2 (NLT)

Wendy and I love movies, books, and the arts. We talk about them all the time. A friend of ours has told us on several occasions that he likes to watch movies with us. “You see things in the movie I don’t see,” he said. “And, you talk about the movie when it’s over; really talk about it. Most people I know don’t do that.”

Wendy and I tend to look at movies from different perspectives. We think about themes, the writing, the way it was directed and shot and edited. We talk about what the writer and director were trying to say about life, or death, or relationships, or whatever piece of world view they happened to address. The river of our conversation will often flow out into little tributaries of related conversations about all sorts of things.

Some people find it annoying. I know. “Cant’ you just watch a movie?” I’ve been asked on several occasions be different people. I could. I guess.

Wait, scratch that. No, I can’t.

As I observe people and talk with people in different avenues of life, I see those whose thoughts and motivations rarely, if ever, stretch beyond their natural appetites. Get to the next paycheck. Get to the next party. Get to the next major purchase. Get to the next meal. Get to the next sexual experience experience. The journey appears never to exit the interstate of base human appetite.

I have found that Life is so much more than simple appetites. We live in an ever expanding universe made by an infinite Creator. We are eternal beings on an amazing sojourn through this world that is a miniscule dot on eternity’s time line. I don’t want my life to be confined to the dot, I want it to expand toward the entire line. I don’t want to spend the journey a zombie wandering thoughtlessly to my next instinctive need never giving thought to Life which is happening all around me in a million different ways. I want to spend the journey reaching out expansively to fill my mind, my heart, my spirit with Life.

So, to me a movie is more than a two-hour nap for my mind and soul. It’s a leaf from the tree of tales that is unique and fascinating and waiting to be explored and understood in the context of Life. I know it seems weird to some. Hey, what can I say? That’s how we roll.  Come on over to the house sometime for a little wine, a nice dinner, some of Wendy’s fabulous cheesecake, a movie and a little late night conversation (along with another piece of cheesecake). You might just leave feeling fullness in more than your stomach.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 3

Fan
Image by Kurt Christensen via Flickr

All the people boomed out hurrahs, praising God as the foundation of The Temple of God was laid. As many were noisily shouting with joy, many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads who had seen the first Temple, when they saw the foundations of this Temple laid, wept loudly for joy. People couldn’t distinguish the shouting from the weeping. The sound of their voices reverberated for miles around.  Ezra 3:11-13 (MSG)

As I read about the loud, demonstrative worship of the Israelites in today’s chapter, I asked myself when I’d felt such a rush of emotion that I felt I had to scream. Just recently I got the call that my sister’s cancer was in remission and her PET scan came back clear. That created an instant shout of joy from the depths of my soul. Sports probably creates that rush of emotions as much as any other common human experience. I remember the miracle on ice in 1980 and watching the gold medal ice hockey game with my dad. It was perhaps the only hockey game I’ve watched in its entirety in my life, but I remember screaming for joy and jumping up and down when the United States won.

From the intensly personal issues of life and death (a family member with cancer) to the things that are trivial in the grand scheme of life (a hockey game), we can feel things with such intensity that we have to let it out. I wonder why it is that over the centuries we’ve stuffed the most critical and eternal spiritual matters into a box of social propriety.

For much of my faith journey I would describe my weekly public worship experience as exactly what I was taught as a child it should be: proper, cerebral and emotionless. Then, about ten years ago or so, God started a work in me. It started with tears. Each week I found it more and more impossible to stop the tears from pouring out of me during worship. Then came singing. Not just the stand there and mumble along singing, but the “sing it at the top of your lungs with your whole heart because you want God to hear your voice all the way up in the throne room of heaven” kind of singing.

Not every worship experience is intensely emotional, but I’ve learned over time that authentic worship of God requires all of my being. Not just my posterior in the pew and mental engagement, but my entire body, my spirit, my mind, my emotions and my voice. The more I fully engage in worship, the more meaningful it becomes to my daily journey.

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