Taking Back your Thought Life
My first date with my now-husband was on February 4th. Weather in the midwest is tricky in February–there can be rain, snow, sleet, and sunshine all on the same day. On this particular evening, it was snowing excessively. Even though we were coming from opposite directions, somehow I ended up right behind him as we were about to park. There was only one parking spot in front of the restaurant we were meeting at, and he drove right past it to let me have it.
It was during the pandemic. The restaurant was virtually empty except for us and the waitstaff.
20 minutes after the official closing time, we were still sitting there chatting away.
Do you know what happens 10 days after February 4th?
So, here’s the thing–I’m a chronic overthinker, and I had been in a marriage where Valentine’s Day was referred to as a “hallmark holiday” and never acknowledged. So, of course, after this lovely date and several days of romantic bliss, my mind shifted into overdrive.
“Do I get him something for Valentine’s Day?”
“Are we celebrating Valentine’s Day?”
“What’s appropriate for Valentine’s Day for someone you’ve been dating for 10 days?”
“What if he hates Valentine’s Day…”
My head was about to spin off my body.
I was spiraling down a Valentine’s Day rabbit hole.
Before I started dating again, I made some declarations to myself for the sake of my own mental and emotional health:
- I would be honest about my wants and needs.
- I would express my feelings.
- I would not be with anyone who invalidated my feelings.
- I would not compromise for red flags–no matter how much I liked someone.
- I would commit to only being with a partner who saw me and was committed to me.
I did what any healthy human being in a healthy non-toxic relationship would do–I sent a text, well more like a book, explaining my dilemma and inquiring about his thoughts and feelings about Valentine’s Day.
I wish I could find his response because it was classic.
It went something like this: “Of course, I was planning on celebrating, but if you don’t want to we don’t have to…”
I could have saved myself days of overanalyzing and overthinking if I was honest and upfront about my thoughts from the beginning.
Victims of our Thoughts:
This is the time of year when people spend time and money attempting to shift focus to new goals and new priorities. Don’t get me wrong here–there is absolutely nothing wrong with investing in yourself and making positive changes in your life. Those should always be somewhere close to the top of our priority lists.
This isn’t about simple self-reflection and goal setting.
This is about the kind of self-reflection and goal-setting that results in our thoughts running roughshod through our brains and causing us to become dangerously critical and even obsessive and compulsive.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking how grateful you are that you don’t have this issue during January. If you don’t struggle with this, that’s great! It’s not just the New Year that can wreak havoc on our thoughts though–
- What about that project at work that feels impossible to you?
- Remember when there was that mean girl who was making your daughter’s life hell?
- There was that season when your partner seemed more connected to their co-worker than you.
- Oh, and that time when you didn’t quite have the money to cover the car repair and you’re still carrying the balance on your credit card.
- And the countless hours of sleep you’ve lost because your brain simply won’t shut off.
- Then, there’s the fractured relationship with your adult child who never seems to see the error of their ways or the help you want to provide.
So many things can take our thoughts captive.
For some of us, if we aren’t careful and aware, we can be victims of our thoughts every day.
Focus Your Thinking:
When I was going through my divorce, it was so difficult for me to keep my thoughts in check and not become consumed by the negative, by the fight. During this time, I was leading a book study of Joyce Meyer’s “Battlefield of the Mind.” If you struggle with your thought life or spiritual warfare at all, this is a phenomenal resource! I can’t recommend it enough. One of the scriptures that stuck out to me the most and that has resonated in my mind since is Philippians 4:5-8. Paul is talking to the church in Philippi and reminds them to:
Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ. Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.Philippians 4:5-8 (TPT)
One of the biggest frustrations I hear from people about scripture is how doesn’t always give step-by-step direction and that it’s too abstract. Paul isn’t like that here at all. He breaks it down simplistically so that we can understand how to think and what to think about:
- Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing.
For me, this is probably the hardest part of Paul’s plan, and I think he opened with this because he knew that this is the foundation. If we allow ourselves to be pulled in every different direction and are constantly worrying, we can’t feasibly do these other things.
- Be saturated in prayer throughout each day.
I don’t know about you, but it’s challenging for me to be pulled in different directions and consumed with worry when I’m praying. Consequently, I think this idea of being truly saturated in prayer and communication with God throughout the day is one key to not finding ourselves consumed with worry and being pulled every which way.
- Offer your faith-filled requests to God with overflowing gratitude.
Sometimes my biggest struggle with this is that I feel like I’m being a needy daughter when I take my requests to God. I feel guilty–like I shouldn’t be asking God for anything else. I love how Paul presents this, though. Our requests should be faith-filled–we should have faith that God is God and that He is faithful. If we aren’t praying in faith, believing that God will answer our prayers and meet our needs, then our prayers are just empty, wasted words. Not only that, but our prayers should be filled with overflowing gratitude. One of my favorite things to thank God for is everything he has already done for me, but also all the things he’s going to do for me in the future–especially related to those faith-filled requests!
- Tell God every detail of your life and God’s peace will guard your heart and mind.
Personally, I think this is awesome encouragement. Sometimes, I need a reminder that my life is not a burden to God. Communicating with him openly and honestly about our lives builds our relationship with God and also allows his spirit to know specifically how to guard our hearts and minds.
- Keep your thoughts fixed on all that is:
Authentic and real
We need to focus on our thoughts on what is real–not what we conjecture to be, not news that isn’t truth, and not worst-case scenarios!
Beautiful and respectful
When we focus on the beautiful and respectful, we can keep our thoughts from the negative and the destructive. When I find myself in a rabbit hole, I literally have to stop and ask myself if these thoughts are helpful? Beautiful? respectful?
Pure and holy
This is another difficult task, but it is one worth working on. So many dangerous thoughts and destructive thought patterns come about because they are the opposite of pure and holy.
Merciful and kind
This is another one that is really stinkin’ tough, but again that is worth it. When we find ourselves consumed by anger, hate, and frustration, we should try to refocus and recenter to thoughts that show ourselves and others mercy and kindness.
- Focus your thoughts on every glorious work of God and praise him always.
Gratitude is a key aspect of shifting the focus of our thoughts. Recognizing God and the glorious things he’s done for us as a whole and as individuals change our hearts completely.
Shifting our Thoughts:
I’m not going to lie. It isn’t easy to change our thought lives or our thought patterns. It takes work–constant work. It takes reflection and awareness.
I can tell you this, though–it was only through a constant reminder of this scripture that I was able to survive my divorce in one piece without completely becoming a victim to my thoughts.
It’s hard, but it’s completely worth it in the end.
It will change your entire life.
Until Next Time,
- What areas of my thought life are my biggest struggle?
- What is one way I can take those thoughts captive and start to shift my focus?
- How often do I spend in prayer?
- What is one practical way I can add sustained prayer to my day?
Scripture for Reflection:
Philippians 4: 5-8
Focus is a good word for it, as in Hebrews 12:2. I know all about overthinking, minds are battlefields but we have victory from an enemy that wants it to be his playground.
Appreciate your thoughts on this! Taking our thought life captive is necessary but not always easy to do. Your article lays out practical steps to help in that effort.
Appreciate your thoughts on this! Taking our thought life captive is necessary but not always easy. Your article lays out practical steps to help in that effort.
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