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.
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?
This is an ongoing series called Depth Through Discipline. For all the posts in this series, click here.
So good Sandy. I printed it out and re-read it a few times. SO GOOD.
This is a keeper for sure – it hit home. You struck a nerve more than once! I will be re-reading this one a few times this week.
That means a lot to me, Jean. Thanks for always letting me know I said something that impacted you.
Once again, right inside my head. Even to the verses you cite. My Daddy had me memorize Philippians 4:8 when I was just a little girl. I don’t think I even understood what all those words meant! He also signed every email with “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
Thank you for sharing the wisdom of your experience with us.
This was SO good!
The transition from “listening” to “doing” is where the challenge is!So many of us love to listen to wisdom, share wisdom, and even write wisdom, but how often do we actually *do* it?
I love the biblical references here. Thanks for writing this important post!
I agree, Daisy. I fall into the same trap more often than I care to admit. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.
Reading your words, I feel like I’m reading my own! We are the same! Every single thing you said, is exactly how I think and what I feel and what I know I need to do to fix it 🙂
That’s awesome and scary at the same time. To think, there are two brains like this in the world!!!
So very many thoughts in my brain right now, which is why I haven’t posted a comment until now! I have been rethinking this all week, and really paying attention (not all the time, but much more aware) of how many negative thoughts, attitudes I have. I consider myself a fairly upbeat and positive person, but wow! Lots of room for improvement.
All good things…this was a wonderful post.
Thank you, Mindy. I, too, consider myself a fairly upbeat and positive person. It’s crazy when we start analyzing every thought. It’s a bit like keeping a food log, no?
THANK God for this site! !