The human mind is a brutal thing. Mine is no different.
I don't like to admit that anything about me is brutal. It doesn't paint a good picture. It feels contradictory to my personality and my goals in life to admit that my brain is can, so regularly, be dark and negative.
To be brutally honest (and literally redundant), while the world tends to be a brutal place, I have been very stubborn over the years to admit my mind can be part of that trend.
My mind is not a kind place. It's can even be an abusive place. Of course, I put on my happy, smiley and easy going appearances, and do my best to be courteous, empathetic, compassionate, hard working and kind, but inwardly, to myself, I am a big fat jerk. This is when I, at my best, would make the following joke (see that the parenthetical comments are my negative mind chiming in loud and clear):
"I apologize, self, you in fact, are not a fat individual (though you may be considerably out of shape and as over weight as you have ever been ... however). It was inappropriate of me to call you fat."
If you caught the nuance, then you would notice that this "apology" is not in any way taking back the part about being a big jerk.
I am coming to the realization that my brain, if not distinctly prompted otherwise, tends to turn anything I think in the direction of fear, anxiety, comparison, and self deprecation. It's become so natural. It's my default setting. It's easy.
I am astonished sometimes how far in the periphery, how deep in the subconscious are and how influential these negative thoughts can remain. It is a sad reality that many many people in this world, especially in the USA, are dealing with serious depression and anxiety. I could go search for some numbers or statistics about it but I don't even think that's necessary. How many people do you know who have been depressed? Are you yourself depressed? How many times a day to you rag on yourself for not being good enough? How frequently do you compare yourself to others?
The truth is, a lot of good people have a lot of bad thoughts.
What's even more crazy, is that just about all of these negative thoughts that lead to depressed states are completely irrational. In the book "Feeling Good; the new mood therapy" by David D. Burns, M.D., these thoughts are referred to as cognitive distortions.
Here are some examples:
Over the past year, whenever I thought of writing anything in this blog, I'd pause, and think something like this:
"Man, I really should have been writing in that all along."
Then I pause again and think:
"I'm a just a withered branch. I have zero credentials related to being fruitful."
Other times when I sit down to play music, I start playing or recording a song, I stop and think:
"Why do I even try, I'll never get it right!"
"Am I an idiot? I can't remember the words to my own song!"
"Ehhhcck, that 'oo' vowel I just sang sounded so nasal, no one will ever want to hear that. I'm terrible!"
Or when I'm doing some type of physical activity
"That was a horrible put, I'm a terrible putter. I should stop trying."
"How did I only hit that drive 260 yards, it felt like I crushed it ... Have I atrophied?"
"Why am I so tired after 10 mins of friesbee? ... I must be dying."
"Why am I so sore? (the day after 4 hours of frisbee) ... I must be dying."
These aren't the only examples.
Cognitive distortions that turn what should be my favorite things into things that seem impractical and turn everyday tasks into daunting excursions, or high pressure decisions. It's not that hard to get up and do the dishes, but for some reason a sink full of dishes sometimes just looks like too much work when with each thought I find myself sinking further into a cognitively distorted rut. I can't express how many times I am confronted with what seems like a impossible obstacle has fallen into my path when in reality, it's just a small sensation, or simple choice that doesn't really amount to anything in the long term.
My brain is wired to facilitate fear. It magnifies potential conflicts, assumes the worst, discounts the positive, and insists that I never make the right choices and nothing I do is ever good enough. Not only that, but it insists that no one could understand how bad I feel, and it assumes that everyone else sees me and my actions in the same negative light. This effects almost everything.
What has struck me most recently, is simply how much of human existence rests upon the brain. It is the command center. It's what separates humans from other primates, and what separates primates for other animals. In this way, I have come to the conclusion that everything in human existence, is in fact mental.
I know, I'm getting really philosophical here.
The fact is while each of these areas of human health have their own separate domains, they are all intrinsically linked together by human experience. And human experience is sensed through the brain.
While I've never been diagnosed with a mental illness, it has become clear that my well being, in all facets of my life, is deeply linked to the state of my thoughts. When my thoughts get trapped in metaphorical house of shadowy mirrors, my body feels worse, and my prayer life wains, draining me of the life giving connection with Holy Spirit flow.
My fruitfulness, in this world and in the Kingdom, is ruined. I am made withered.
Dwell on this for a moment. I just did, and it is really good news.
A Living Sacrifice12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but 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.
Humble Service in the Body of Christ3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love in Action9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The message in Paul's words that I here is this:
Get your mind right, stop thinking and do something. Act upon your faith.
This is seriously different than my life of late. The mind is a maze. The human mind, especially one that is afflicted with negatively trending thoughts, can get so flooded with thoughts, no actions are taken. Everything can slow down. In this passage, Paul is writing commands to the Church in Rome. Verbs are key to life and living. Nouns are stagnant and passive. Verbs are active and alive.
"Do not conform"
"Hate what is evil"
"Cling to what is good"
"Mourn with those who mourn"
What also strikes me about commands, is while they come from a place of power and authority, they are also given to someone with the stipulation that the commanded person must take responsibility to respond. That is to say they have the choice to act.
And not only that, but when it comes to faithful Christian authority like the Apostle Paul, these commands are commands that are designed to give life. They are commands that awaken souls to the truth of the life giving love of our God.
My mind is a brutal place. My mind is my responsibility. What I think about is under my control. I am convinced that if the heart, not the muscle of blood pumping fame but the metaphorical home of human love, and the soul, the home of spirit, must actually be found in the brain.
Growing up I had a misconception that holy spirit renewal was disconnected from my control. I believed that the Holy Spirit would magically wash over my brain and transform my mind like some uncontrollable wave of literal holy water, that would permeate my brain, purify my heart by it's marinating, baptismal, righteousness infusing power.
While I don't think that's necessarily a misconception, it's effect is not a passive thing. There is a wave of marinating, baptismal, righteousness infusing, literal holy water and that is called grace.
Grace is explained to in a (wonderful) Christianese way by the following acronym:
This does not demand that the riches are accepted. Spiritually, and intellectually, I have accepted the reality of my new birth through grace by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but had an expectation that I would simply be made new. That all of a sudden after saying the magic word my mind would be removed of negativity and I would suddenly become a mouthpiece for God's words.
Paul's commands say something different. Life as a fruitful branch is not passive. It is living into the life that God gives through grace by faith. It does not ease responsibility, and while it is supernatural it is not simply magic. I believed that the Holy Spirit's presence in my life would renew my mind. For Christians, faith is comforting, but when it is genuine and devoted to kingdom work it is not a crutch. Faith doesn't make someone super human.
Paul tells us not to think to highly of ourselves. We have work to do. Paul commands the Roman church to take action. He tells them what to do an not do. He tells them to take control and believe in the good news. He tells us to go against the darkness of the world, but by renewing our own minds we become open to the transforming light of Christ. Then, in that transformed state we are commanded, equipped and endorsed by the omnipotent creator of the universe to do is his all renewing Kingdom work.
This is good news.