"For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." - Proverbs 23:7a
When I first read this scripture it scared me. When I stopped to pay closer attention to the things running through my mind, I was more than a little shocked. My thought habits were not healthy or helpful.
Romans 12:2 says to be renewed in the pattern of your thinking... how do you renew what's always been? Most people don't bother digging beneath the surface of their thought processes to do this. They simply acknowledge a thought, recognize it as a "bad" one and then try to think better next time. It's not enough for real change.
What most of us don't realize is that our thoughts don't start in the mind. They begin with what we believe in our heart, and our mind regurgitates it into a thought. Consider this. What you tend to think about is what you believe about something. Your heart sends the first signal, and your mind chooses to cycle that signal into a process than eventually comes out into words.
This means the real work of renewing our minds isn't just a matter of the brain. As the Proverb says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (emphasis mine). I think it's safe to say that this isn't just referring to thoughts of the mind, but rather attitudes of the heart, the attitudes of being.
As I began this process of taking captive every thought (yikes) and making it obedient to Christ (double yikes) [2 Corinthians 10:5], I learned a few helpful tips:
1a. First, don't capture every thought as it comes. Rather, look for a theme.
We have so many thoughts going it's impossible to sit still and pay attention to every individual thought that sails past our consciousness. We'd never get any work done! We'd never have any relationships! We'd be so focused on getting our thoughts "right" we'd exhaust ourselves. Instead, I asked God to help me identify the ones He wanted me to address today. What's most important right now? What theme did I notice a series of thoughts following? Was it self-pity? Insecurity? Fear? Doubt - in God or in myself? Lack of confidence? Pride?
1b. Then, rather than focus on the negative theme, set your mind on Christ who counteracts it.
Are you obsessed with looking good in front of others? Take some time in silence to ask God where that drive came from. Who told you your pride was worth having at others' expense? Identify what Jesus' heart was about this. Consider what He did on the cross to free you from that bondage of performance. Seek scriptures about humbling yourself (James 4:10) and considering others higher than yourself (Philippians 2:3) by recognizing what God has already done for you at His own expense. Two or three times a day stop and ask yourself how you can walk humbly in this situation you're in right now, just as Jesus did. Then do it (Micah 6:8).
2a. Be on the watch for floods.
When you find yourself at war in your own head, thoughts just flooding your mind in an onslaught, stop and ask yourself: Am I hurting? Angry? Lonely? Tired or traumatized? HALT. These are flood gates that can open at any time and unleash an onslaught of thoughts that came out of a dam of Trauma, Loneliness, Anger or Hurt. Are any of those present? Or are the thoughts circling anything that happened when you experienced one, or more, of those things? Sometimes we can identify a flood before it happens and it's just a matter of securing the dam before the gate surges open. Other times the pressure is just too much and the gates break open. When that happens...
2b. Get to high ground. Let the waters pass.
No one tries to stop a flood. Neither should you. Just get to higher ground. Don't try to fight the thoughts and don't try to stop the thoughts. You grab hold of your higher ground - Jesus, whose thoughts are always higher than our thoughts and whose ways are always higher than our ways. Grab hold of him and let the negativity and ugliness sweep beneath you. Don't jump in. Don't ride the waves. Grab hold of Christ and wait for the floodwaters to subside. Thoughts breed words, which become our actions. If you acknowledge the thoughts as they pass without engaging in them (Proverbs 17:27-28) it's easier to recover from them. When the worst of it is over, you know exactly what dam to approach, which gate to close, and having spent all that time clinging to Jesus you'll have the thoughts to reinforce the gate so it's stronger than before.
3a. Speak life.
There's a saying, "fake it 'till you make it." I'm not a big fan of this saying, primarily because it encourages people to live disingenuously. I don't believe in faking it through life, but I do believe in living the life you desire, rather than the life that is. I desire to be happy, so I will speak things that will draw happiness to me. It's not faking it, but rather speaking what I desire into existence with the belief that it will happen. Faking it implies dressing up with a bad attitude no one can see unless they look close enough. Living into the future means I believe today what I want for tomorrow. If I walk around faking happiness, then I'll be smiling and going about my business waiting for happiness to arrest me. But if go about my day speaking life to those around me, and to myself, life grows.
3b. Do life.
Look for things that will bring about life. Do you love the outdoors? Go on a hike or to a park. Do you like to laugh? Play some funny cat videos. Does it make you feel good knowing something you did makes another person happy? Make a random-act-of-kindness card and give it away to a stranger. By not only speaking life into things but actually sowing life into the world around us we can't help but step outside of our negativity. It's not faking it because you're doing it! The only difference with faking it is that your heart isn't into it. You can't do life and speak life with the expectation for life to come back, and reap death. It doesn't work that way.
This can be a lonely process. In the midst of our mess we really want someone who can identify with us and hear us out. But this is selfish, because by speaking our toxic and selfish thoughts to others we're now dragging them into the same mess we're drowning in! However, by sowing life into others, we're going to reap life in return.
There are times it's appropriate to ask one or two trusted friends, who have a good grip on what's true and what's not, to help us keep a tight hold on Jesus when we feel our fingers slipping on higher ground. But it's never appropriate, and is always entirely selfish, to unleash our negativity onto others for the sake of making ourselves feel better by "getting it off of our chest."
That simply leads to damaged relationships, not relief and certainly not healing.
What do your thoughts look like? If you're not sure, your overall experience of "being" will give you an indication. Tired? Lonely? Content? Joyful? That state of being is stemming from your thoughts, which is rooted in your heart condition.
Take a look. And take a leap.