Six Ways to Maintain a Well-Balanced Mind

I used to think I needed a brain transplant. Turns out, I can renew the brain I already have.

I remember a specific day when my kids were tiny. I was walking through the dining room with a baby in my arms and a toddler in the next room. There were clumps of cat hair on the dining room table (yes, I know it’s gross), toys strewn all over the floor, and Goldfish crumbs ground into the carpet. Around the corner, the laundry room was too small to contain the mountains of dirty clothes, so they spilled into the hallway. Many of the clothing items had baby puke and toddler pee on them. The kitty litter had not been scooped in days, so the stench of cat poop and pee permeated the air. I was on my way to change a poopy/pee-pee diaper and also wipe a poopy/pee-pee bottom. Clearly, my days consisted of lots of poop and pee back then.

I had heard that a clean house was a sign of a misspent life. So, obviously, I was spending my life well. I had friends who would say things like, “It will be there tomorrow,” and “Enjoy every moment,” and “You’ll miss the mess some day.

Except I didn’t enjoy the mess and chaos, at all. And I didn’t want it to be there tomorrow. Or today. Or ever.

I loved my babies more than anything in the entire world, but I seriously struggled with the mess and my inability to keep on top of it. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t just go with the flow and embrace this season of puke/poop/pee?

I walked quickly through the house, with one arm holding my baby, and the other hand over my eyes and nose, and said out loud, God, I need a new brain!”

I meant it. That was a sincere prayer of desperation, not just a complaint. I thought the only way to survive motherhood was to get a whole new brain. An easy-breezy, carefree, loves-the-chaos brain.

That’s just one incident that stands out in my memory. But it wasn’t the only time I prayed for God to bless me with a brain overhaul. For as long as I can remember, I have battled against my thoughts. I don’t know if it’s a result of hard-wiring or environment or my sinful nature, but I feel like I struggle more than most people in this area. (This is total speculation, since I’ve only lived with my own brain.)

Most mornings, before I have a conscious thought, I feel overwhelmed and stressed. Sometimes, I relive a series of upsetting scenarios in my dreams, and I wake up feeling like I’ve been fighting with people all night long. If someone upsets me, I can dwell on and worry about it for days, until it’s resolved. If plans change at the last minute or the schedule gets out of control, or too many kids demand too many things of me at once, it can reduce me to tears. I’m often shocked at my sharp, angry responses to a disrespectful child or a disconnected husband.

It seems to come out of nowhere.

Except it doesn’t. It’s a direct result of my faulty thought-patterns.

I don’t want to be this way. In fact, I hate this about myself. It’s not at all congruent with my heart, with the things I value or with the God I love and serve.

I firmly believe the struggle for balance begins and ends at the thought level. I told you last week my Aha Moment: it isn’t the circumstances that throw me off balance, it is the way I think about the circumstances.

After decades of circling the exact same mountains, I decided June would begin the month where I change the way I think, forever. I wanted to learn, once and for all, how to think right, no matter what the circumstances. I know this is possible, short of a brain transplant, medication or excessive drinking. I know the God I serve, and I know He promises freedom from everything that binds me.

I want that freedom.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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 10:3-5

I’ve known this scripture for decades, and have always believed I had the ability to make my thoughts obedient to Christ. I just didn’t know exactly how to accomplish this. But with words like “war” and “weapons” and “demolish” and “captive” it was clear this wasn’t going to be easy. I was in for a fight.

So, I guess the very first thing that made a noticeable difference for me was acknowledging that the battle for balance—the battle for clear, sound, focused, peaceful thinking, no matter what the circumstances—is an all-out war. This isn’t about a good schedule or getting up a few minutes earlier to have coffee before the kids wake up. Those things are nice, but they aren’t strong enough to win a war.

I’m not going to pretend these things are easy. They aren’t. It has required much prayer and self-discipline. I’ve had to pay mucho attention to every last thought. Honestly, I have neither the time nor energy to engage in a war (what with all these kids and laundry and cat hair and stuff). But it appears as though I have no choice but to live with a war-like mentality if I want a well-balanced mind. And I can safely say, after two full months into this, many of these practices are becoming automatic. For the first time in forever, I feel like my thinking is actually changing.

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Here are Six Weapons of Warfare I’m using to make my thoughts obey Christ.

1. Memorize Scripture. This one is pretty basic. If you are a Christian, you already believe the Bible is God’s word—it’s a peek into His mind. It tells us what He loves and what He hates and how He thinks. It makes sense, then, that “making my thoughts obedient to Christ” involves knowing (REALLY knowing) God’s word. Therefore, I’m taking the time to commit some scripture to memory. Every morning, as part of my prayer and journal time, I practice saying a few verses of scripture from memory.

Just so you know, this is very hard for me. There is something about Bible verses and the wording of such that makes it difficult for my brain to retain, word for word. Some of you have been memorizing scripture since elementary school and this is no big deal to you. Me? I memorized the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody and Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, not to mention the entire Grease Soundtrack. If scripture were a 70s rock ballad, I wouldn’t need a brain transplant.

Or maybe I need a brain transplant BECAUSE of 70s rock ballads…

2. Do What Scripture Says To Do. I think this one is helping me most in parenting. In the book of James, we read “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Apparently, only reading scripture can trick us into thinking we are honoring God. I think we do honor God when we read and memorize and study the Word. But we are supposed to read the Word so we know how to behave, not so we can have a bunch of knowledge stored up in our head.

I can memorize “Rejoice in the Lord always,” all day long, but the REAL change comes when I’m tempted to be angry or hurt or defensive, and actually rejoice in the Lord! I can quote, “Let your gentleness be evident to all” all day long, but the REAL change comes when a kid sasses me, and instead of wigging out, I’m actually gentle in my correction!

3. Apply The Philippians 4:8 Filter. This is a practical application of memorizing a scripture and doing what it says. But this particular verse deserves its very own point, because it is the one that has had the most impact on my thinking. I committed it to memory and I say it every day. Several times a day, in fact.

“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.”

This one helps me most in thinking about other people. When I’m tempted to dwell on something stupid someone said or did, I ask “Is it noble? Is it lovely? Is it admirable?” Probably not. So, I think about something else.

When I’m tempted to linger on a hurtful comment from my husband, I ask, “Is there anything excellent or praiseworthy about Jon?” Well, of course. There are thousands of excellent things about my husband that I can be thinking about instead of the one little hurtful comment. So, I think about one of those things instead.

(I never realized how much I dwelled on stupid, hurtful things other people said and did, until I started attacking every single thought. I mean, I would scroll through my Facebook feed, and think about someone’s stupid status for DAYS! Am I the only one who does this?)

4. Pray for People instead of Dwelling on the Things That Bug Me. Sometimes, I start thinking about a stupid or hurtful thing that someone said or did, and when I apply The Philippians 4:8 Filter, I know I need to think about something else. Except I can’t think of anything noble or pure or excellent or praiseworthy about that person (changing your thinking is HARD!).

That’s when I pray for them.

Instead or rehearsing the hurtful conversation or the stupid comment or the inconsiderate behavior, over and over, I lift that person up to Jesus. I ask Him to bless them and bless their marriages and bless their children. I ask God to give them an abundance of good health and peace and joy. I pray they have wisdom and knowledge and freedom. I ask God to help them stop saying or doing stupid, hurtful things (ha!). It’s really hard to think bad thoughts about a person I’m praying for.

5. Believe the Best. Recently, I was driving on the interstate, and someone sped up behind me, did some jerky moves, cut me off, and zoomed past. Since I am teaching my daughter to drive and I also had my 16-year-old niece with me, I decided to use it as a teachable moment. I said, “I choose to believe that when people drive like that, they have an emergency. Someone is dying or they have a sick kid in the back seat they are rushing to the ER. It helps me not be mad at them.

They laughed, but I was dead-serious.

I’ve been that frantic parent racing to the ER with a dying child. I know it happens. The last thing they need is a loud horn blast and an inappropriate hand gesture.

When someone is rude to me in public, I choose to believe that she is fighting a battle. Maybe she got divorce papers or maybe she was up all night with a sick kid or maybe is trying to figure out how she’s going to pay her rent or eat dinner. Maybe she has social anxiety and she is doing her very best to hold it together right now.

I know this isn’t always true. Sometimes people are just bad drivers or mean or whatever. But, what if it IS true?

This is really helpful at home, as well. If Jon does or says something I perceive to be hurtful or inconsiderate, rather than dwelling on the hurtful thing, I CHOOSE to believe that he loves me, wants the best for me, and would never knowingly do something if he knew it hurt me. It makes it not hurt as much when I believe the best about him and his intentions. And I’m usually right about him. He doesn’t ever hurt me on purpose.

6. Be on the Right Side of the But. This one is most helpful when circumstances are not going as I’d like them to go. I can think the exact same thing, two different ways, and have two different feelings about it. I can be on the Wrong Side of the But, or the Right Side of the But.

Consider these two completely made-up and hypothetical examples:

Wrong Side of the But: Our new home is lovely and, really, it is everything we hoped it would be. I am so blessed and thankful. BUT man-oh-man, the move was incredibly stressful. It really took its toll on me. I will be happy if I never move another day in my life. In fact, if I tell you I’m moving, just shoot me and put me out of my misery.

Right Side of the But: The move was incredibly stressful. It really took its toll on me. I will be happy if I never move another day in my life. In fact, if I tell you I’m moving, just shoot me and put me out of my misery. BUT, our new home is lovely and, really, it is everything we hoped it would be. I am so blessed and thankful.

Wrong Side of the But: I’m thankful for a great, low-key summer. It’s been so nice spending lots of time with my kids. They are growing up so fast and I don’t want to miss a thing. BUT, I am so ready for them to go back to school. They are bickering daily and driving me batty. For real, how many days until school starts?

Right Side of the But: For real, how many days until school starts? I am so ready for my kids to go back to school. They are bickering daily and driving me batty. BUT, actually I’m thankful for a great, low-key summer. It’s been so nice spending lots of time with my kids. They are growing up so fast and I don’t want to miss a thing.

See how differently that sounds in those completely fake and hypothetical examples? It’s the exact same thing, but leaves me feeling two different ways. It doesn’t deny that the circumstances are hard. It just reframes them. It puts them in proper perspective and helps me dwell on the positive.

And when I actually, SAY it this way, out loud, to other people, I have the ability to help shape their thoughts, too. Amazing!

There’s one more Weapon of Warfare, but I’m saving it for the next post, since this one is excessively long. The final Weapon involves gratitude and journals and such. But different than maybe you’ve done it before.

Meet me here next time?

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This is an ongoing series called Depth Through Discipline. For all the posts in this series, click here.

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The Key to Balance (No, For Real! The Struggle Ends Here)

I write about Balance, not because I am a Balance Expert, but because I am a Balance Struggler. I find Balance and lose Balance constantly. I have days or weeks or months where I find a good life-flow, chugging along happily and all well-balanced-like, only to be derailed by Something.

roseanne-roseannadanna

“It’s always something. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”  

~Rosanne Rosannadanna~

A few months ago, I dug out my old journals and began reading from the beginning. I started keeping a regular journal in 1990, around the time I graduated from college. I still lived at home, I worked part time at Kids R Us and I was dating a guy I thought I’d marry. My life circumstances were completely different than they are today. But, you know what was exactly the same? My Balance Struggle.

Always wondering what my priorities should be.
Always wrestling with time-management.
Always feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Always berating myself for feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Always striving.
Always trying to fix myself.

You have no idea how badly 46-year-old Sandy wants to sit down with 22-year-old Sandy and say, “Oh honey, please relax. You have so very little to stress about. You have no kids, no husband and practically no responsibility. Additionally, you have no wrinkles, no cellulite, no fashion sense and really awesome, albeit big and long, hair.”

Sandy and Her Hair

 

As I made my way through a decade of journals, I relived the adventures of getting a real job, and breaking up with the guy I thought I’d marry, and marrying someone else, and moving across the country, and birthing babies, and burying a baby, and quitting my real job to raise babies, and adopting more babies, and moving across the country again.

Within ten years, everything changed. Everything except for this:

Always wondering what my priorities should be.
Always wrestling with time-management.
Always feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Always berating myself for feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
Always striving.
Always trying to fix myself.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Every once in a while, I’d have a brief season of crystal clarity, where I grasped ahold of something that grounded me and balanced me. Where I had a supernatural level of peace and purpose.

Not overwhelmed.

Not berating.

I’d think, while I was reading, “Yes! You found it, Young Sandy! THIS. You are in such a good place. Stay there. Don’t let it slip!”

Then all of a sudden, I’d lose it again, and resort back to that awful pattern of wondering, wrestling, stressing and striving.

I read through these journals with a mixed sense of amusement and frustration, seeing a younger version of myself circle the exact same mountains, over and over and over. Despite the fact that I walked faithfully with God through all those years, I couldn’t find the key to making Balance stick.

Why was that?

That’s when I had a big, giant, two-part aha moment:

First: Whenever I feel Balance slipping away, I tend to blame circumstances or sleep deprivation or poor time management or bad diet.

And second: None of that matters as much as I think it does. I mean, circumstances and sleep and time management and diet certainly affect quality of life, and all that. It matters. But, amazingly, circumstances do not dictate my Balance levels, good or bad. Neither do my constant attempts at finding more efficient routines or healthier habits.

How I think about my circumstances has a greater impact on Balance than the circumstances themselves.

I was both shocked and encouraged to see that during some of the most difficult seasons of my adult life, I was also the most peaceful. Often in dark times, I had clarity. I moved through certain days confidently and joyfully, even when life was hard and unpredictable. Sometimes, I was able to transcend my ordinary, everyday life, and see things from a godly perspective.

And it was that godly perspective that made all the difference.

I started this year with an intention to go deeper in God. I wasn’t sure what that even meant, exactly. But I knew it involved core changes that would affect me forever. After reading through a fifteen-year documented account of my Balance Struggle (I stopped reading in 2005, because I couldn’t bear to relive the Depression Years and The Middle School Era), I think I have a glimpse of what depth in God might look like, and how it might change my life forever if I go there and STAY there.

So far, in 2015, I’ve devoted a month or longer to these spiritual disciplines:
January—fasting.
February—silence and solitude.
March, April and May—prayer.

After my big, giant, two-part aha moment, it became clear that June’s focus should be the discipline of conquering my thought life.

This is the very core of my Balance Struggle.

And though I haven’t lived your life, I’m stepping out on a limb to declare it’s the very core of your Balance Struggle, too.

It all originates in the mind.

You guys, we could drive ourselves crazy seeking a new method for housework or pursuing a new hobby. We could eat better food and do better workouts. We could work smarter, not harder. We could simplify our homes and our calendars until we are doing little more than sitting in a bare room with only our favorite people doing only meaningful activities—but none of that will eliminate the Balance Struggle.

The Struggle for Balance begins and ends at the thought level.

As you can imagine, addressing your thoughts is hard work. June wasn’t my favorite spiritual discipline month, but it has been the most life-changing, by far.

If this is resonates with you—if you think your Balance Struggle is deeper than a good house-cleaning schedule (and I love me a good house-cleaning schedule!), come back next time, when I will give you some very practical ways I’m learning to think differently.

This is huge.

I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, I truly believe the struggle ends here.

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