Thursday, 27 February 2014

It's all in your head

I have a rich imagination. My daughters have inherited that -- you should watch their play. From princesses to flying, from talking magnet letters to "kiss-y" flowers.. those girls pretend anything and everything, and anything can be a basis for play. They incorporate story characters from story time, movie plots from some of the kids videos, and every once in a while, they'll break out into song. It's like having live musical theatre on most of the day.

As I was saying, they inherited it from me. I remember diving into storybooks, and literally seeing the story take place in my mind. Like I was tagging along on the journey, I would go with the characters in my book and feel what they felt, see what they saw and be right there as they did what they did to win.

I don't read as much these days as I did when I was a child. It's just not possible, with everything else I have to do. But, I still imagine. Only these days, that rich imagination can be more curse than blessing. Try worrying about the consequences of a choice, and seeing the consequences play out in your mind's eye. Or letting a stray thought take my imagination on a scary journey down dark paths. These kinds of imaginings can make me lose sleep at night, if I'm not careful.

But there's a couple of things I do, in obedience to Scripture. First, God tells me to "take captive every thought". That means not letting those stray thoughts lead me on these imaginary scary journeys. Then God tells me to "think on these things" -- whatever is pure and lovely and truthful and noble. That means training my imagination to not dwell on fear and worry, but instead on delighting in the moment, remembering the victories of the past and thinking only of God's provision and glory in my future. Anticipating rather than worrying anxiously. Then God tells me to "cast all my cares upon Him". That means that all those worries and fears, once I've taken them captive (step number 1), I turn them over to Him. Resting in His love for me. Finally, God tells me to "renew my mind" and be transformed. This means replacing those negative thoughts, those worries and fears and doubts, with truth and hope and plans.

Taking captive one's thoughts is hard. It's a constant process. After all, we're only human, and it is our natural tendency to think the worst, to see the glass half-empty. In this fallen world, how can you not? But God wouldn't command something that's impossible, so it must be possible to do. Like so much in the Christian walk, it requires discipline. Taking captive a thought is an act of will, and does not come naturally. It means when that negative thought comes up -- when that picture of my child being hurt comes up in my mind -- I grab it. I don't pay attention to it. I immediately shut it off. I turn my attention to something else -- almost anything else. I think about the weather, my grocery list, or a song. I don't dwell on the negative thought and let that train take my imagination some place I don't want it to go.

Thinking on the things that God tells us to is also an act of a disciplined will. It's not enough to just capture the thoughts you don't want and get rid of them. Jesus told the story of a cleaned out house -- that soon filled with more evil than it was cleaned out of. Science says nature abhors a vacuum. And it's true of our thoughts. You can't have an empty mind. We weren't designed to be empty-headed. We were designed to think, to reason, to problem solve, to imagine. Imagination isn't evil, it's what you do with it that's good or bad. Imagination is just a tool, something that separates humanity from the animal world.

So what do we think about? Scripture lists "things that are noble, pure, lovely, honest, worthy of praise or respect." There are several things you can do here. It's easier to think on the pure and noble, when your mind is filled with lovely, honest things. So maybe this means changing the type of music you listen to, or the books you read, or the blogs you look over. It means filling your mind with good things.. not negative things. For me, this meant that as much as I liked it, I needed to turn off the radio. I used to love to listen to talk radio for hours every day. The questions challenged me, and the debates invigorated me. But the constant negativity trained my mind to think negatively. Now, if I want to listen to someone speaking, I'll listen to Christian teaching.

So once I've captured the negative thoughts, and filled my mind up with better things.. then what? There's an old song, sung at camp meetings and sunday schools, that goes,

"Cast your cares upon Him. 
Lay all of your burdens, down at His feet. 
And anytime, 
you don't know, 
whaaaa-aaat to do, 
Cast all of your cares upon Him."

It's a slow song, with a simple melody, but the message is good. That's exactly what we're supposed to do. When you don't know what to do, cast your care upon Him. Jesus told us, "All you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me, and I will give you rest." and "Take my yoke upon you, it is easy, and the burden is light." Jesus is willing to take our cares and griefs and worries and doubts.. those things that weigh us down and drag our feet.. and give us rest and an easier task. Carrying a lot of worry and fear is tiring. It's stressful. But obedience here creates rest and freedom. 

Ultimately, though, all of these things seem unnatural to our human brains. After all, this fallen world drags you down. It's hard to be cheerful and uplifting and hopeful when all you see around you is difficulties and obstacles and pain and suffering. It's hard to think about the good things in life, when your past may be very painful. It's difficult to count your blessings when you are stressed about the bills. 

Precisely because it's unnatural to our fallen minds is why God calls us to renewal and transformation. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your minds." How do we renew our minds? Taking captive the old thoughts, replacing them with the new ones, and turning the prisoners over to God. Renewing the mind is a lifelong process, that requires constant course correction and fine-tuning. It is an act of discipline and will to continue in this way, but at the same time, it brings incredible freedom. 

And isn't that the paradox of God's kingdom? What seems, at first, difficult and constricting and unnatural, will become, while never quite natural, freeing and easier as time goes on. 

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