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Editor’s Picks: Best of “Why Do I Think?”

As we’ve spent the last three months looking at what it looks like to love God with all of our minds—we’ve been asking the question, “Why do I Think?”.

Help! I Can’t Stop Overthinking!

Hands shaking, I clung to my iPhone as I searched the Internet.

WebMD. Got it.

A few seconds later, I found myself reading through symptoms of a brain tumor.

Headaches? Check.

Vision problems? Check.

See, you’ve got two of the main symptoms.

But there are others I don’t have.

But you’ve got these two. You’ve got to see a doctor. What if you have a brain tumor?

After weeks of vision problems, I booked myself a trip to the doctor, convinced that my death sentence awaited me in that examination chair. It would only be a matter of time. It was a constant downward spiral I couldn’t seem to crawl out of.

What if you find out you’ve got a brain tumour?  Stop.

It would explain all of your vision problems.  Stop right now. 

It might have been there all this time.  Stop this, Rachel.

And you’ll find out what you’ve always feared.  Stop.

One look at your optic nerve and . . . STOP!

With tears streaming down my face, I pleaded with my doctor to conduct whatever test he deemed appropriate in order to rule out my fear.

After an hour’s worth of tests and scans, I was embarrassed to find out that after all the time and energy I had spent worrying, my headaches and vision problems came down to stress and what he called “ocular migraines.”

“Stress?” I blew my nose into a tissue.

“Yes, you need more rest,” he confirmed as he proceeded to hand me more tissues. Then he offered me some advice I’d struggle to forget.

“If you go looking for something to be wrong, you will eventually find it.”

Now, he wasn’t for one second suggesting that it was a waste of time for me to come in. But he was inferring that our fears have the power to concoct something into being, and that if we let our imaginations run away with us, it might lead to trouble.

 

How We Know When It’s All Gone Wrong

Perhaps you have never had the joy of experiencing a panic attack at your optician’s office like I have, but there is likely something in your life that keeps you on a mental hamster wheel. Your relationship. Your work. Your health. Your finances. Your living situation.

And the more weight we place on this one thing, the more potential there is for the enemy to keep us sick with worry about it, similar to how my active imagination left me in fear-locked shambles for weeks leading up to my doctor’s appointment.

This issue of destructive thought patterns has been on my heart for some time, and I have learned that we can claim back our imaginations—we have to! The reality is, our feelings are extremely misleading and can’t always be trusted. Once I realized how much air time I was giving to negative voices in my life instead of God’s voice, I knew that something had to change, and I needed to learn to tune into the right voices.

 

Reclaiming Our Imaginations

Our imaginations are a fascinating part of who we are. They are a beautiful, magnificent, inspiring part of us. Our imagination is the birthing place for every incredible, ground-breaking, creative idea that we will have. It’s an extraordinary incubator of inspiration and catalyst for endless opportunities.

But, it can also imprison us if we allow it to go astray.

Friend, listen to me. There is a war going on right now. And it is a battle for our minds (Ephesians 6:12). The enemy is after your imagination (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), but thankfully, we don’t have to live shackled to fear. God has a purpose for each of us (Ephesians 2:10). A rich destiny. He has already spoken His promises to us (Jeremiah 29:11, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Peter 5:6-7). Now we just need to speak them to ourselves.

I don’t know anything more powerful in overcoming negative thought patterns than meditating on Scripture—which is why one of the most important steps to overcoming negative self-talk is learning how to take back control of the conversation.

Take it from the hypochondriac herself. We need to stop listening to our mind’s wandering thoughts, and start listening to what God says about us and His plans for us.

If there is anything I have learned from repeated episodes of panic, it is that our lives tend to follow the direction of our conversations. Courage and fear both come from those conversations with ourselves.

Instead of anxiety being my go-to response, I want prayer and recalling scriptural promises to become my knee-jerk reaction whenever life turns pear-shaped.

I’m not by any means suggesting that we ignore our problems. If anything, I think we need to be realistic and face them head on with practical solutions and supernatural wisdom from the Bible. However, we also need to remind our concerns of where they stand in relation to God—His voice, not my negative self-talk, is the authority of my life.

Right now, I am wrestling with this truth. I want so badly to get to a place where I can see my problems and not get hung up on them but to hang on tightly to the promises of God instead. Throughout the Bible, God has promised many times to watch over His children, and I know He will watch over me and carry me through any difficulty I might face. So I will keep on striving to remember that truth.

I will never leave you nor forsake you. I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future. (from Hebrews 13:5, Jeremiah 31:3, Jeremiah 29:11)

Will you join me in tuning into God’s voice?

Handing in My Self-Degrading Thoughts

One of the most natural habits I acquired through life was that of putting myself down. I didn’t need anyone talking down at or to me because I was already so good at doing it to myself.

I was never berated while growing up. I just always wanted to be the best at everything, so I put unnecessary pressure on myself to succeed no matter what.

In school, if I got a 96 instead of a 100, it was easier to beat myself up for “not being smart enough” than to celebrate the fact that I had passed with a high mark.

Such self-deprecation never actually helped me accomplish or achieve good things. It only fostered a heart prone to endless pain. And it was tiring. The burden of self-degrading thoughts was overwhelming.

Where I erred most, however, was when I never took my heaviness as a sign to stop and surrender. Instead I allowed my mind to further fall into the destructive habit of thinking poorly of myself.

My views of who I was were low. Putting myself down was natural. And my feelings weren’t me just being “modest.” I truly did think very little of myself, to the point where I felt I had no purpose.

I insisted on holding on to my self-made mirror instead of looking at the one Jesus wanted to give me instead.

Throughout the years, I knew the truth in my mind—that my value is far more than I could ever imagine, because Jesus died on the cross for me. Sinful, seemingly insignificant me. He gave me new life and new hope. But that head knowledge couldn’t access my heart for the longest time while I held on to my own beliefs of how insignificant I still thought I was.

Until one night at church when my pastor came over to pray for me. As he prayed, he reminded me that God not only loves me, but He is delighted to call me His daughter. And that is what I am. A daughter of God.

As he said those words, it was as if a switch were flipped in my brain. And in my heart, I suddenly understood the truth about myself.

It left me broken, but also with a newfound joy as I learned to surrender my thoughts.

To my low self esteem, God says . . . He has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)

To my fears of failure, God says . . . Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. (Isaiah 41:10)

To my physical insecurities, God says . . . My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

To my people-pleasing ways, God says . . . Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)

To my feelings of hopelessness, God says . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

To my self-demeaning thoughts, God says . . . See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)

In time, I’ve found my prayers going from “Lord, help me as I seek to do things for You today” to “Lord, help me simply ‘be’ for You today.”

At times, it’s still easy to slip into old habits of beating myself up, but I don’t stay stuck in those ruts anymore. God in His great faithfulness meets me where I’m at and beckons my heart to move forward with Him.

When I moved from Mexico to Hong Kong nearly three years ago, I found it so easy to compare myself to other women’s academic achievements and statuses. I constantly imagined what life would be like if I had had their qualifications, and I often berated myself for not being as smart or as accomplished. It was draining, unnecessary, and, quite frankly, all superficial.

Over time I learned that as great as such outward qualities may be, at the end of the day, God is more interested in my heart.

Within the last year I’ve slowly stopped comparing myself to others’ academic achievements or statuses. Berating and thinking poorly of myself has lessened more and more as I’ve allowed the truth of Scripture to really sink into my heart. The verses I mentioned above have been key in my life as I learn to see myself as God does.

I keep learning that “being” for the Lord looks like simply listening to what He has to say about me, enjoying His goodness, and resting in His freedom.

The truth about me and the reality of my identity is this: I am a child of God.

I Stopped Letting Negativity Rule My Thoughts

Written By Riley Sands

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 10:5)

It all started with my second rejection for a work placement.

I had applied for two work placements—one with an independent publishing company and the other with the university where I was pursuing my Master’s. Since I had previous work experience at a publishing company, I surmised I’d have an edge over the other candidates for my first placement. However, I was rejected.

In the subsequent weeks, I was reeling with disbelief. But the hopelessness dissipated when I received news that I was shortlisted for an interview for the other (and much-desired) placement. It was a research assistantship with the university, and I wanted it badly. But to my disappointment, I was notified two days after the interview that I wasn’t selected.

After this second rejection, I was back to reeling, desperately trying to make sense of everything. Questions like, “How did it happen?” and “Why didn’t God bless me with this placement?” kept replaying in my mind like a broken record. That night, instead of dwelling on God’s faithful provision in my life over the years (Deuteronomy 2:7), I continued to dwell on my rejections and started to doubt His goodness.

The negativity eventually morphed into a myriad of voices and my mind quickly filled with harsh condemnation. “You messed up the interview!”, “You have years of work experience and still can’t even get a decent placement!!”, and “People will see what a failure you are.” With tears streaming down my face, I tried to shut out these thoughts, but it was to no avail. Instead, the accusations grew louder and gradually cut deeper, eventually leading to thoughts like, “You are useless” and “You are not worthy of God’s love”.

I knew right away that something wasn’t right. Fear and trepidation rose within me. It occurred to me that if I were to allow those words to sink it, it would be a slippery slope to wallowing in self-pity. I made up my mind that I didn’t want to go there.

The thing about negative thoughts is that they don’t develop overnight. In fact, they are bred over a long period of time.

When I was growing up, I faced various rejections and disappointments in my pursuits. Often, this led me to believe that I’m just not good enough. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that because of these negative experiences, I’m susceptible to letting my mind become consumed with negative thoughts—and that has helped me realize that I must fight the hardest to think godly thoughts in those moments.

Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” I recognized the fleshly, sinful nature of my un-true and self-degrading thoughts, and it brought me to the Lord in repentance. With renewed strength, I spoke against the dark voices in my head and searched Scripture so I could fill my mind with God’s promises instead.

I would turn to promises like, “He does not make us timid but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7), and remind myself that this God-given power gives us the strength to fight against spiritual darkness, including negativity that threatens to consume me.

I found comfort in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, where he encouraged them to fill their minds with godly thoughts:

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)

As I began applying these verses to my thought life, the voices stopped and God’s peace came upon me. By replacing defeating thoughts with constructive biblical ones, I began a journey of committing every thought and making it obedient to God.

Even after this specific episode, I wouldn’t say negative thoughts have stopped polluting my mind entirely. Sometimes, criticism and doubt unknowingly start creeping into my mind, especially when I contemplate my future.

But now I know better how to respond—I take these thoughts captive and remind myself of God’s truth. It’s never easy to do that because it requires a lot of discipline to not let my emotions get the better of me.

However, I remember that as Christians, we are, “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37), and even though negative thoughts can nudge us into thinking that God has abandoned us in times of crisis, the truth is that He is always with us in every step (Isaiah 41:10). Turning to His Word daily helps to drown out the noisy thoughts that compete for space in our minds.

Today, I’m still applying for other job opportunities. The process is slower than I’ve expected. But I’ve grown in confidence and choosing to not allow negative thoughts to take root in my mind. Instead, I am learning to take joy in the process, knowing that my God knows exactly what I need for the next phase in my life.