On the way back from a short trip on Memorial Day weekend I didn’t turn the radio on at the start because of static on my favorite station. As I drove I was quite appalled to listen to my mind and its intrigues.” Oh, why didn’t they ever ask about my work?” Or “Oh, I need to get gas. What if I‘m stranded by the roadside with an empty tank?” Or strains of “Woe is me!” Or, “that car ahead is really slowing me up!” And more! I was so appalled I left the radio off for the whole two hours and ruminated about the downward spiral of my thoughts. I realized that this kind of thinking is mostly unconscious. It is in the quiet spaces of our lives that we hear it clearly. We avoid hearing this repetitive negativity at all cost. I usually drown it out with my radio, at least when I’m in the car.
I started praying that God help me overcome this negatively spiraling thinking. I set an intention to love myself, to reconfigure my self-image to a more positive one. And spent the second half of the two-hour ride at peace. I still did not turn on the radio, but my thoughts no longer bothered me.
No one, I would bet, would want to spend time in the depths of all this negativity. So we turn to our phones, our computers, our games, our shopping centers, books, addictions of all kinds just to avoid our own baseline thinking.
What if there were another way to approach the way we think instead of just running from it? What if we could acknowledge the sources of the thinking, tie it to a time and place? See it for the destructive thing that it is—the undermining of who we are, who God created us to be. What if we could step back from the repetitive thinking of the mind and just be an observer of it, no longer running from it?
There would be a chance, a good chance that we could live in peace without avoiding these thoughts.
So I offer this challenge up to you, too. Unplug from all electronic devices, turn off the radio and television, don’t do anything you habitually do and listen to the schemes of your mind at least an hour a day. Decide that no matter what your mind serves up to you, you will not be upset by it. You will just observe and notice and try to figure out why you might be thinking these thoughts. If you go further into them, again objectively, you might notice a common theme, perhaps it’s something like this: “I can never be what they want me to be.” Or this: “I try so hard and no one ever cuts me any slack.” Or even, “It(whatever the it is) won’t work out for me.”
When you get this far in observing them, you’ll be getting down to the source of all the negativity you hold against yourself. You’ll be able to trace the original source of the negativity. And often it happens that we formed our basic opinion about ourselves at a very young age, sometime between four and six years of age, long before our cognitive brains kick in with their ability to see the context of what is happening and to not take things personally. We take our early experiences, especially those in which we fail to follow the rules, and decide what we’re going to have to do to make up for how bad we are—this is what forms our basic opinion of ourselves. In a good and loving family, this is tough enough to swallow, but in an abusive family or a cold one, our opinion of ourselves is much, much worse.
So here, as adults, we still have this early opinion of ourselves determinative of our behavior, albeit an unconscious driver of our thoughts. As we observe these thoughts, we can almost identify the source of the voice. In my case if I was doing something wrong, it was my mother’s voice. My father’s, if I wasn’t taking the initiative. If I was going to spend too much money, my Aunt Grace’s. Both my parents’, if I was going to be late.
As young children we misunderstand that it takes a good many years before a child is obedient on a regular basis. We think that we are bad, when the reality is that we are just not formed enough yet to be consistent. We judge ourselves as unworthy and this judgment has ramifications for years into adulthood and maybe for our whole lives.
Even worse it keeps us a child before God and skews how we think about God. We will not in any way bring our whole selves before God; we have too much bad about ourselves to hide. And so we have a very limited relationship to God.
Theologians talk about functional and formal beliefs. There is what we think we believe—the formal beliefs– and our unconscious attitudes about it—our functional beliefs. With God we might hold lots of loving beliefs about God in our minds and yet emotionally cower before him like a young child projecting onto God what her father was like. Our functional beliefs are a wall between us and God. Until we recognize them for what they are, the walls will be there. We are not seeing God himself, we only see what we project on to him and that is mostly negative, just a bigger parent than our own mother or father.
This is a different scenario than when Jesus was talking about becoming as a little child before entering the kingdom of God. There he meant that we need to drop the worldly sophistication, the worldly attachments and prepare to be dependent on God to meet our needs and to train us and to love us, so that we can accept him as a totally loving parent.
And why would I spend the time disengaging from my thoughts? “Be still and know that I am God.”[Psalm 46:10] Be still and know God personally, intimately, daily, all day long. For as long as our negative thoughts take up all of our mind space, we will not know God’s Indwelling Spirit’s voice within us, the “still, small voice” of I Kings 19 which is drowned out by all the noisy repetitive inner voices.
I have continued to drive without the radio on for the last fie weeks and I am beginning to appreciate some of the reasons behind my negative reactions when driving. We have to be alert to many dangers while driving, so our “fight or flight” instincts are on high alert. It’s what our minds do with these instincts that counts whether we are driving or not. Do we just acknowledge that there is some danger ahead or conjure up some story like I did a few days ago about what I’m going to say to the driver at the stop light ahead of me who is not signaling a turn, but might turn—very inconvenient to me. I had a whole dialogue rehearsed—in anger—about what his not signaling meant to me! As it turned out, he didn’t turn. And so we both went on our ways!!!!! I find myself making up these types of arguments all the time with people I’ll never see outside of the car! Often they have not done what I was anticipating they would do!
I am beginning to appreciate how my mind works, to know it in great detail as I continue the radio silence while I drive. I am beginning to know the ins and outs of that thinking, to really know who I am at a deeper level. I have to say that I am fascinated by the way my mind works. It also gives me lots of fodder for prayer, lifting up to God all these hidden angers and fears.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I well acquainted with the way I think? And what are the sources of that thinking? Am I willing to get really know how I think and what I habitually think about? Will I be lifting those things up to God to heal, to transform?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who bring our whole minds before God, the way we think, the negativity within us, the preoccupations of our minds. May we be willing to embrace our whole selves, just as we are, and bring that whole self before God. May we be able to love God with our whole selves.
News from By the Waters:
All five of the videos about the Exodus story are up on YouTube, plus two more. Here are the url’s to access them:
Part I: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKfouN0PNH0
Part II: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyvRsnqYrdg
Part IIIa: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZU32Y09UN8
Part IIIb: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHqKay89kjE
Part IV: www.youtube.com/watch?v=84z7KF_uv7Q
God’s Invitation, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOkp_-wDKFo
The Heart of the Gospel, www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJJbPKSOACc
My book, “Thy Kingdom Come!”, is up on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. Look under Patricia Said Adams.