Thoughts. When I looked at the beauty all around me, I shook my head and sighed, thinking about how I might not have made it here to enjoy this part of God’s creation. I hiked up this hill located in a nearby state reserve and looked around in awe, grateful that God had found a way for me to be here. It wasn’t illness or a broken car that almost kept me from coming to the beautiful central coast of California ~ it was, and is, the fearful thoughts that seek to sabotage what God has planned for me.
You see, last week I was out of town, in the Midwest visiting family. It was a long week, and if truth be told, a bit of a stressful week. We arrived home on Sunday and my nerves were shot, my emotional basket drained but I didn’t have time to pause. Instead of unpacking, I began repacking to make the trip to Central California where I was scheduled to speak at three separate luncheons. The week in the San Luis Obispo area had been planned many months before, and when I think about it, was an answer to prayer from God for some quiet time to write and reflect. I was provided a lovely place to stay during the week, a refuge complete with a beautiful garden.
When my father heard that I was heading up here and had a place to stay, he decided to join me for the first few days of my trip. What a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with my Dad! And an added bonus was that I would only need to take the train to his house and he would drive the balance of the three hour trip. I would only need to take the train to his house…
That was the fearful thought that almost ruined it. If you can keep a secret, I will tell you something about myself. Sometimes I suffer from anxiety. Many years ago it was relentless and I was plagued with panic attacks. It hasn’t been that bad in a very long time, but there are times when I still struggle; especially when I am tired and emotionally drained and need to go outside my comfort zone. Like Sunday night.
At 1:30am I woke up. I can’t take the train, I thought. What if I have a panic attack on the train? What about transferring at Union Station? What if it happens there? What if? What if? What if? Until the alarm went off at 6am and it was time to continue packing so I could catch the train in a few hours; a train that my fearful thoughts had convinced me I couldn’t ride.
I ended up not taking the train and I am a little disappointed in myself for not, this time, pushing through the fear. Instead, my sweet husband made arrangements for a friend to drive me to my Dad’s. I’m not proud of this. I wish my story had a really great, dramatic paragraph about how I boarded that train with my luggage in tow and even shared my story of triumph with some other poor soul while we clackety-clack made our way to our destinations. But even so, God is so good and so gracious that He made a way for me to be here, in spite of my fearful thoughts.
I know I made it here on the prayers of friends and family. Their prayers brought me the peace and presence of mind to share my story with a sweet group of ladies at my speaking engagement yesterday; and their prayers will continue to carry me through the rest of the week.
I am feeling more rested, my time here with the Lord is refilling my basket. And that is why this morning I decided to walk up the street and hike up that mountain, in spite of fearful thoughts ~ mountain lions, the boogey man, my own anxiety. It was glorious! When a fearful thought emerged, I replaced it with a thought about the Lord. This thought thing is a process. It will take time and practice ~ and come Saturday I will have an opportunity to put the practice into play since I will be taking the train home. I am already imagining the dramatic and victorious paragraph I will write!
Ants. “My husband said I have ants,” my friend said.
“What does he mean, you have ants? Doesn’t he mean we have ants?”
“No, not those kinds of ants. He means automatic negative thoughts, you know, ants.”
“Ohhhhh…” I nodded my head in understanding. Let’s say you find an envelope from the IRS in your mailbox. Some people might automatically assume their refund check has arrived; their thoughts automatically go to a positive outcome. Others are certain the envelope holds an invitation to meet an IRS agent in person, and not for tea; they have automatic negative thoughts, ants. Sadly, those kinds of ants have darkened my mental doorway more than once. It’s a pest problem I have determined to exterminate.
Some people think that you can’t control the thoughts that come into your mind, but I am not sure I completely agree. I think of the mind like a sophisticated muscle, and like other muscles, it has memory. If it is trained properly, we can change its shape, the same way we change the shape of our arms and legs with exercise. Sure, there are going to be times when thoughts just randomly come into your mind, but once they get there it is up to you, and me, to decide what to do with them.
I hear my ant loving friends out there saying, “Oh, that’s fine if you want to live in la la land but I prefer to be realistic”. I like living in reality, too, but the reality is we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or five minutes from now for that matter. Maybe sometimes, realistically, the outcome looks less than favorable; but how often do we jump to that conclusion automatically, when a favorable outcome could be just as realistic? That’s an ant problem and it’s not the way God intends for us to live.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
Imagine, our minds can be guarded by the peace of God!
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
True. Noble. Right. Pure. Lovely. Admirable. Excellent. Praiseworthy. Think about it.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ ~ God would not tell us to do something we are incapable of doing. Have an ant problem? Put away that can of Raid ~ nothing beats the Bible to exterminate those pesky pests.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24