Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:6-9
Negative Nancy. Debby Downer. Pessimistic Patty… I prefer the term “realistic”. Call me what you want, but I have always focused too much on the negative. It makes me a great “fixer” – ideal at perfecting syncopated rhythms in a choral setting, revitalizing a school music program, or redecorating a house. I can spot a problem from a mile away and I know just how to fix it. On the flip side, I’m not so good at encouraging others, I complain about everything at the drop of a hat, and I can wallow in self-pity like I get paid to do it.
Almost every January my New Year’s resolution is to stop complaining. Ask me how well I’m doing! Hint: not great. (Thankfully my ‘realism’ keeps me humble?) I work so hard to shut my mouth the second I’m tempted to complain about a situation in life. But I rarely make it so far. Some say it’s because of our hunter-gathering instinct – our brains are wired to spot a potential threat from a mile away. But my goodness, the bears aren’t attacking us at our desk jobs. We’re gonna be fine! With that said, knowing the reason my brain tends to think negatively doesn’t help me much in keeping my New Year’s Resolution. The problem is that I try to achieve my goal by focusing on controlling my mouth and not on controlling my thought patterns.
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Our thoughts control our tongues and our actions. If we can put a filter on our thoughts to focus on good, we can change the way we live. You know when you play a video, computer, or phone game too long and you close your eyes to sleep but you can still see that game playing? Or you fall asleep listening to a song and your dreams have the song playing? Our brains continue to play the game or sing the song even though we’re not. In the same way we can train our brains by stopping ourselves immediately when we are going down a dangerous thought pattern. The more times we stop ourselves, our brains will continue to move in the positive direction. You see, we DO have the capacity to change. The brain is like a muscle that we must exercise. We just have to get off the couch and force ourselves to go for a walk, and then for a short jog, and then for a run. Our brains, just like our muscles, will begin to change and grow stronger. We’ll begin to realize that when we actively choose to focus on the good, pure, and praiseworthy thoughts, our thoughts will slowly mold and change until we naturally think positive, wholesome, uplifting thoughts. And I believe by changing our brain patterns, our hearts and souls will improve, too.
Maybe negativity isn’t your battle though. Maybe you judge others. Maybe you critique the clothing style of your friends. Maybe you constantly play the re-run in your brain of the time your family member or friend hurt you.
Mary Whelchel in her book, “What would Jesus Think? Let Christ Transform Your Thought Life” speaks on this subject:
“In a similar way, when we willfully keep records of wrongs done to us, we are refusing to get well and contributing to our own pain. It is self-inflicted suffering. And keeping records of wrongs done to us always results in bitterness… Where do bitter roots grow? In the garden of our minds.”
Just because no one can read your mind, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for us to think in a destructive way. Why does it not bother us that God knows and hears our negative thoughts? Why aren’t we more embarrassed or ashamed by that fact? We assume that if no one can hear our judgmental thoughts, we’re in the clear. But God hears them all. And the truth is that if we think them, we will eventually say them.
"Lord, rid me of all thoughts that I would not write on my forehead with indelible ink. Thus my thoughts are written on my soul, for thee to see-for all to see, some day.”
Amos Wells, When Thou Has Shut Thy Door. Fleming H. Rebell Company, p. 38
If your brain needs a spring cleaning, don’t wait until spring to begin. The time is now to get off the couch and begin training.