I just returned from two weeks in Uganda. I was there with Azmera, an organization that puts on retreats for women who serve overseas. One theme that kept rising again and again was the belief that negative thoughts of oneself needed to be removed by God. If the negative patterns/thoughts remained even after fervent prayer, God was choosing not to heal.
Our negative thoughts/beliefs/patterns are usually the result of neural pathways we have developed over the course of our lives. The antidote is not miraculous healing, although that is totally possible, I have yet to see it happen. It would be like getting a diagnosis of obesity due to unhealthy habits and praying to God to remove the extra weight. Each day the weight remains seems to be the message you are not going to be “healed” of your obesity. It is wise to seek God’s help but you must also do some of the heavy lifting, in this case perhaps literally through increased exercise, also by changing your eating habits to meet the nutritional needs of your body but not indulging in all the wants (unhealthy food, too much food, the wrong kind of food for your body…).
I am an advocate of taking control of our thoughts through awareness and intentionally changing the way we think. I know this approach works because I have changed my own neural pathways. I’m not perfect at it and at times slip back into old patterns. I have also experienced the freedom when I make wiser choices around my thoughts. I sometimes feel less-than or inferior to others. If I let those thoughts take hold and go unchecked I can spiral into depression and believing I am useless compared to others. This is not true! It’s a lie! I have value and worth on this planet. I’m not the expert in all things and there are many who are more effective in the very same work I do but that’s ok. There’s plenty of room for all of us. The way I communicate, the understandings I have connect with some people and that’s good enough. I don’t need to be the end all. If one person is affected positively by my blog posts, books, sessions, etc., I am content. Anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.
I want to encourage you to remember, we don’t change by praying or even just imaging ourselves as more healthy. We change because we do the hard work of living intentionally, understanding why we do what we do, sharing our story with others who compassionately love us where we are at, and taking the conscious steps necessary to create new and healthy neural pathways. God wants us to invite Him into the process, but I believe He wants us to do our part.
December 2, 2018: I mentioned last winter that my daughter, Anna has chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. It’s a form of rejection that cannot be “cured” it can only be stalled. The stalling effect actually worked and kept her lung capacity at around 50% for several months. In October she was at about 48%. Unfortunately, a week before Thanksgiving, Anna saw a dramatic drop in her lung function on her home monitor which resulted in her needing to go to Duke University Hospital last week. She had dropped to around 40% lung capacity. Her transplant team determined the best option was for her to undergo another round of rATG. That’s the infused treatment she received last December when she was diagnosed with chronic rejection. She’ll be in the hospital for a few more days to receive the full five days of treatment. Hopefully this will stall the rejection again, like it did last year. For now she’s in good spirits and her dad is with her helping her pass the time. 🙂
As we approach Thanksgiving in the US, it’s a good reminder to shift our thoughts toward gratitude. Sometimes it seems as though there’s very little to be grateful for. If you’re reading this blog chances are good you have electricity, internet, a smart phone or a computer. Be thankful for them. It’s also likely you have a roof over your head, somewhere warm to sleep, and food to eat. If it’s hard for you to find things to be grateful for, start with these. We sometimes forget to be thankful for the basic necessities of life.
Watch the sunrise or sunset and notice the beauty it casts across the sky. Take pleasure in what nature has to offer you, even a weed poking though a crack in the cement. Observe the unique qualities in the people whose paths you cross. Look around you and find what you can be thankful for.
This is an exercise in seeing the positives in your life rather than focusing on the negatives. When we shift our attitude toward gratitude we open up space within to find contentment and joy. Try it 🙂
What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.
Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.
When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.
You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.
Do you ever wonder if you’re the only person who thinks and feels as you do? We often feel isolated in our experience, usually because we don’t want others to know what we’re really thinking and feeling. We are often too embarrassed by our experience to reveal it to others. And yet, here we all are doing the same thing and feeling alone. We feel odd so we don’t share with others who are also feeling odd. If we all shared honestly we wouldn’t feel so odd anymore.
Here’s a tip, every human who is capable of thinking has all kinds of thoughts and feelings, some that are acceptable and some that are not. We all have thoughts and feelings associated with anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness, inadequacy and joy. This is not an exhaustive list, just the first ones that come to mind. Lately, my thoughts and emotions have been connected to joy, anger, jealousy and inadequacy. I’ve experienced the others on the list as well, just not right now.
I think it’s our human nature that guides us not to share, we are hiders. If I tell you the truth about my experience you might judge me and I’d rather not experience the judgement so I’m going to hide my real thoughts and emotions to protect myself. But, as I stated in the very first paragraph, we’re all doing this and we know it. Or at least some of us are aware that everyone is doing it. Anyone who tells you they don’t ever feel anger, jealousy, fear, lust, sadness or inadequacy is lying either to you, to themselves, or both.
Some people work very hard to detach from the reality of their human experience, “I never think bad thoughts” they might say. It’s not true. They do, they just want you to see them as only good because the bad or seemingly unacceptable parts stir up unbearable shame; however, as I stated in my We Are Not All Bad blog, we have a mix of good and bad (helpful and hurtful, or acceptable and unacceptable) within us. I believe a large portion of our journey in life is to come to terms with the truth of who we are and what we are capable of both positive and negative.
Coming to terms with our complexity allows us to embrace and honor our reality. When we embrace and honor, we can work to process and understand our experience and be in charge rather than having unwanted thoughts and emotions in charge of us. How do we do this? Find out in the next blog.
I believe God and I read the Bible. There’s a lot of good information in there. There are some things I do not understand at all and there are some that are so challenging I wonder if I could ever do them. One particularly challenging action is loving my enemies. Related to my “I’m Back” post, I have been working on going beyond forgiving people to actually letting go of the bitterness I feel toward them. This has been incredibly hard. It’s easy to want good for my children, my grandchildren, my husband, people who are nice to me, people I don’t even know…But to truly love and want good for someone I have been hurt by or am angry with, well now, that is perplexing! When I am dealing with enemies, I want nothing to do with them. In my darkest moments I sometimes hope they drop dead (on their own, not by my hand; and yes, I really do think that way sometimes…not proud!).
Lately, I have been turning a corner toward loving and wanting good in the lives of people I haven’t wanted to love. This has been an elusive experience for me most of my life. It feels good to love and not harbor hate. I believe staying away from ruminating on the bad parts of these relationships has helped. All that tail swishing I learned from the horses through equine therapy is really paying off! I am not pretending nothing hurtful happened, I’m just not letting it rob me of joy or snatch my love for people.
I’m experiencing this breakthrough today. I take steps forward and steps back so I’m not saying I’ll never harbor icky thoughts or feelings towards others. What I can hold onto is knowing I’m capable of this previously unconquered thought shift. I will find my way back to it again because I know the way and it feels so much better than hate! 🙂