Believing the truth shouldn’t be hard. It totally is.
This is especially true (hehe) of those truths which concern ourselves and our worth. It’s so easy to start each day with the last thing I thought about–how I didn’t go to bed on time, how I wasted time on Youtube, how I screwed up that friendship forever. I don’t give myself a chance to start the day fresh, because the bleed from yesterday’s negativity seeps in before my feet hit the cool, wood floor of my studio.
When I realized I was doing this, at first, I laughed. How would I stop myself from thinking patterned thoughts, that seamlessly lead into each other and relentlessly spin at the back of my head? It seemed impossible, like telling yourself, “Don’t think about X.” You’re going to think about X, whatever that may be.
I started to read, only half-believing I would find someone to explain a concept that felt obvious yet wholly unattainable. Some of the authors were Christian and some weren’t, but they all had one thing in common: They operated from the perspective that you can change your thought patterns. We can choose what we think about, but we tend to take the path of least resistance and let the Wheel of Crazy lumber on.
According to the inimitable “they,” thinking what you want to and should think about–like a muscle–can be exercised. Developed. Mastered.
Okay, I sighed. Let’s try this.
To be honest, it initially felt like I was trying to bamboozle myself. I’d be torturing myself over some offhand remark I made and reveling in the deliciously miserable idea of being excommunicated; then I’d abruptly catch myself and start cross-examining my cauliflower rice, to reset my mind. It’s not unlike when little Henrietta fixates on the new whizgidget and her parents are forced to create a dramatic distraction…only I was doing it to myself. It felt absurd–the ultimate display of mendacity.
Of course, my old-self was constantly screaming, threatening, ridiculing, scoffing at my attempts, if only to go back to her old ways. It was a bit of a nightmare, and one I had willingly chosen. If there existed a special instrument that could identify a person’s inner state, my cross-section would have been Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.”
Perhaps I’m being dramatic, but there’s nothing quite like wrestling your tendencies, day after day, moment after moment. But I kept trying. I was desperate.
The grace of it all is that even tiny changes will amass into great, directional shifts. Almost without me realizing it, the struggle became less like a UFC match and more like an argument over choreography, between two dancers. I stopped feeling like a trickster and started feeling empowered. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that all attempts at living a Christ-filled life will be graceful or smooth, or even not-funny. To wit, for me, taking every thought captive is not unlike the frenetic activity of a squirrel:
“Man, I wonder if they forgot? That sucks. Or maybe I’m just weird. Maybe I just don’t belong. That’s gotta be it. Maybe I’ll never….whoa. That’s not useful, let’s see…uhhh…look at that tree. It’s so green. Yeah, but I wish I hadn’t…gah! TREE.”
Thankfully, I am random enough that this works–which is, in and of itself, hilarious.
Regardless, I began appreciating this new skill and holding my head a little higher. Being able to redirect my own thoughts was new and very, very refreshing. I had more room for what I actually wanted to think about–a better future, better relationships, spiritual growth–and watched as a kind of spring bloomed in my soul.
It took me a long time to find the proper concoction of books, audio-books and articles to get to this point. I’m going to boil it down to a few key phases (not phrases, though they are that, too) that I journeyed through and am still journeying through. We’ll call them “The Metamorphosis of Accepting That I Lie to Myself, Can’t Live Like This Anymore and Need to Make A Change ASAP.”
You are utterly tired of the thoughts that run circles around you and are willing to do the hard work of beating them. Admitting that you’ve indulged in this practice for too long is absolutely crucial, because the work will not be easy. Don’t force it and don’t fake it. If you’re not desperate for change, let the idea percolate. Are you where you want to be spiritually, emotionally, interpersonally? Are you an encourager to others and to yourself? Do you criticize yourself and others relentlessly? Read on.
Now, it’s time to identify those thoughts on repeat, that are just a ball-n-chain to your heart. I don’t care whether you’re an artist, financial consultant, politician or the next Barbara Walters. There are thoughts dancing around in your head that take up precious real estate but fail to turn a profit, and actually hinder you. Of course, they are masters at camouflaging themselves as truth or realism, so here’s an easy way to identify these sneaky jerks: They often begin with I’M SO and I CAN’T, but aren’t above using the variations of I DON’T, I WILL NEVER or THAT’S NOT ME. If it’s something you wouldn’t say to a friend on your worst day, you shouldn’t be saying it to you.
Yes, that’s my uber-technical term. Have you ever gardened in a place where brambles, old vines or (heaven forbid) a tree stump needed to be cleared? Not fun. The backs of your hands and your arms get scratched, that space between your shoulderblades burn-aches, and, according to Murphy’s Law, it’s about 100 degrees outside. But it’s got to go.
If mom is to be satisfied and if you want to plant something else there, it’s got to go.
This is the daily grind, my friends–the arresting of thoughts you’ve treasured for years and nursed into monstrous slugs. They lounge on the cushy couches of your mind, drinking fizzy lemonade and waiting for their turn to cut you down to size, bring your joy to a screeching halt, or remind you of why you shouldn’t even try (insert any dream). You cannot go easy on these guys. You need to fire up that weedwhacker and go full Rambo, right up the middle of the darned patch. Whenever you catch yourself thinking one of those thoughts, do whatever it takes to stop it–pinch yourself, switch the music you’re listening to, take a walk, make a random observation (it works) or just say, “That’s not my business!”
Whatever it is, do it. They take up all the room and leave none for what’s good.
Now comes the part that I am insanely passionate about: Finding new things to think.
You can’t leave a vacuum behind. When you have an open plot of garden, you have to cultivate the space or it’s only a matter of time before the old weeds are back or before new weeds take up residence. You and I need to be as relentless in replacing our negative, unhelpful thoughts as we are in identifying and weed-whacking them.
This is where the Part One and Part Two come in, because I have a list of truths that I (try to) read every morning. When I start the day with these and check in on them periodically, I worry far less about me and far more about the rest of the world (which is really big, really scary and really awesome). In Part Two of this blog post, I’m going to dive into this list and specifically how each truth addresses insecurities I think we all deal with. But, first, let’s start with the revolutionary Truth # 1:
You (yes, you) belong here.
Say it until you start to believe it. One day, you’ll find you actually do.
That’s all folks. Hope to see you at Part Two. 🙂