Alongside all the new understanding I have gained about managing my thoughts and feelings, there have been some really simple physical, practical things that I have found incredibly helpful. I have learnt how effective a few, slow, deep breaths can be in reducing tension in the body and refreshing the mind. The deep breaths literally stimulate the parasympathetic system which counters the adrenaline (one of the stress hormones) in our bodies! They also deliver an extra dose of oxygen and get rid of excess waste gases building up in our lungs – causing us to feel refreshed and more able to focus. (if you find yourself yawning a lot, take a few slow, deep breaths instead you’ll actually feel refreshed and its much less rude to those around you!). I usually use the deep breaths as a way to focus on a short prayer or a verse, bringing my attention in that moment literally to the source of my life.
And of course the very act of focusing in on my breathing and with it the prayer or verse also means that I have stepped off the runaway train of my thoughts! Other simple things like focusing on the sounds and smells around me for a couple of minutes or even turning my attention to my body with a quick body scan, serve to halt the thoughts and bring me back in touch with the present. These are all things that help both at night when it’s taken a little longer to get back to sleep, and during the day when I am just going through the motions or feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
This is the last of my series of posts based on the battle I have been fighting for peace of mind. Once again, I hope you have found some of them helpful, its certainly been good to share the journey with you.
The bible is full of instruction on how we should behave and think towards one another. It turns out that this isn’t just so that we can live in community and harmony; it’s also because it’s good for us! When I think thoughts about another person that come from my frustration, anger or any other negative emotion towards them, my body changes. This state of affairs causes certain chemicals and hormones to be released including adrenaline that effect my entire body including my muscles and vasculature. When this becomes habituated, simply being in the presence of the person, in a place that’s associated with them or a conversation about that person, can trigger off those physical changes in my body.
Here’s what I found though, even when I am in full flow of mental rant concerning someone who has offended me in some way, when I stop those thoughts and choose to bless them unconditionally, I can feel my body changing. When I did it the first time I was astounded! It really works. Sometimes going through Philippians 4:8 and finding things about the person that fit the criteria and thanking God for them, is really helpful. Taking a few deep breaths; becoming conscious of and receiving Jesus’ grace and mercy towards me on the intake, and being thankful for and ‘releasing’ his grace and mercy towards them on the exhale. This too has been helpful and when I can’t think of anything else just praying the Numbers 6 blessing over them is great.
So, yet another lesson in the battle for my mind and the war against fear and anxiety – what and how I think about others really makes a difference. Regardless of how much of a numpty they have been towards me, it really isn’t worth harbouring those thoughts against them… for my own
In the battle for my mind one of the ground breaking things I have learnt about is the transient nature of my thoughts. I can be thinking a certain way about something or someone and then a few hours later my thoughts towards them have completely changed. Equally when I choose, I can stop a thought in its tracks and replace it with something else without too much effort. Where do my thoughts come from, particularly the unbidden ones?
I realise the answer to this question is deeply complex but it has been said that by the time a thought reaches our conscious awareness it has passed through the filter of our (unconscious) belief system. Our belief systems are put together as we go through life interpreting and internalising all that we experience; and some of the things we internalise may well contradict each other. Basically our thoughts are often driven from deep within and have more to do with our past, our brokenness and our fears for the future than present reality.
Coupled to this however has been the growing awareness of the profound power that my thoughts have on how I feel – not just emotionally but also physically. I can think a fearful thought about a situation or person and within seconds I can sense the effects of adrenaline in my body bringing about the symptoms of anxiety.
I have found a number of ways of applying these new awarenesses in the battle for my mind. Firstly, it’s helped reinforce the ease and appropriateness of ‘taking every thought captive’ and bringing it in line with the Prince of Peace. Secondly by understanding where in my belief systems and past wounds different thoughts have their origin, I can invite and welcome healing at the source. Thirdly, by managing my thoughts I can change the physical, hormonal milieu of my body so it’s in a much more healthy state.
(I really do hope you find these things helpful, they have been changing my life!)
One of the key things that Candace Johnson also shared in her sermon was the importance of Philippians 4:8 in the battle for our minds. This is part of an entire passage where Paul shares some of the secrets to doing life so that our minds and souls are really experiencing the rule and reign of Christ. I found this verse a really helpful tool in the process of taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ; by simply using the verse as a list of criteria to assess whether a train of thought is OK to follow or not.
As part of this process I developed a practice of dwelling on a particular part of St Patrick’s breastplate. So whenever I needed to ‘centre’ and get off the runaway train of my thoughts (day or night) I would take some deep slow breaths and dwell on the words ‘Christ within me; Christ without me; Lowly and meek; Yet all-powerful’. This would help me become conscious of Him being within me, of Him surrounding me – closer than the air I breathe … the Prince of Peace and King of my heart!
After a while I sought to understand what the significance of the second two phrases were. It is true that Christ is within me – the creator of the universe, the all-powerful one; he is also the King of my life and my heart… so why doesn’t he just snap his fingers and put everything right – I have given him the right to do so, heck, I have asked him enough times to do so!!!?
His answer: when it comes to our personal lives, the things that we would ordinarily choose, he chooses to be lowly and meek. (Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart). He doesn’t express his reign in my life by taking over or lording it over me; he expresses it in lowliness and meekness, mentoring me so I can learn from him for myself. As I walk with him and get to know him, his heart, his ways, I learn the way to choose and I engage my will accordingly. He reigns in my life through the choices I make. (aside: This is freedom and it guarantees that true and unconditional love can genuinely exist between myself and the Prince of Peace, my King).
SO back to the battle for my mind; He reigns in my mind through the choices I make with my thoughts. But thankfully, he doesn’t expect me to carry out those choices in my own strength, He the all-powerful one, the King of my heart and my life, is within me. He is the strength I need to keep choosing and to follow through on my choices.
To fight the battle against those strongholds of anxious thought, I knew I needed to learn how to be ‘present’ in a given moment. For many of us we spend most of our time replaying the past (good or bad) or rehearsing the future (with hope or fear); for me most of my night time thoughts were in these two areas. But, whether day or night, both of these activities take us away from the ‘here and now’. Did the King of my heart and my life want me to be fretting over the past or the future, or did he want me to be present with him in the here and now? The answer was obvious! This was all about taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Jesus.
Since Jesus was King of my life, my mind, my soul, my body, my everything, then it made sense to bring my thoughts under his rule and reign. God has ordained the night for sleep and rest, and the day for work and activity – being awake during both night and day was clearly not part of God’s design or will. (Even for those of us working shifts, a 24 hours cycle is split between time for rest and time for activity, be that day or night.) At night time though, in that space between dozing and being awake, I found it almost impossible to intercept my thoughts. It was like I was a passive passenger on the runaway train of my thoughts. So I began to pray; ‘Dear Jesus, I need you to be the strength within me that enables me to take my thoughts captive before they run away with me.’ Time and again I was conscious of Him answering this prayer, I began dropping off to sleep soon after waking in the night. About three weeks into the battle, I was sleeping up to 3 nights out of 5! What a miracle!
This is part one of a series of reflections and lessons learnt in my battle for peace of mind.
I owe this lesson to Candace Johnson from the Bethel leadership team who preached on the subject earlier this year. Through the sharing of her own journey with anxiety, I recognised that I had some deeply ingrained habits of thought that kept me in a constant state of anxiety. I was also able to see in a fresh way how our minds can be very much like the massive storm that the disciples found themselves in one night on the Sea of Galilee. Our anxious thoughts, like the disciples get more and more frantic and our worst fears look like becoming reality, until we eventually (hopefully) realise that Jesus is in the boat with us. When the Prince of Peace arises in the arena of our mind, he can take authority over the waves and wind of our thoughts and bring complete peace.
As I went to battle against these habits of thought, I began at night to invite Jesus, the Prince of Peace to take his place as King of my mind. Something changed in the night and in my soul as I became conscious of the truth of Jesus presence with me. I have suffered from insomnia on and off all my adult life; when I am experiencing stress in life, the first place it shows is in my sleep. For three months I had not been able to sleep more than 3 or 4 hours without a sleeping tablet, but now I could see why, and I was on the road to discovering how I could find health again.
‘Jesus, Prince of Peace please arise in me now and take the authority that is yours in my mind.’ This became a regular prayer of mine in the night. I still was awake for many hours in the night but being conscious of His presence with me made the hours less stressful and exhausting. The battle wasn’t won yet though, there was still more for me to learn!
Podcast of Candace Johnson sharing her journey with finding Peace.
Someone had a picture during morning prayers of a person looking at themselves in a cracked and broken mirror. The Father showed me that if I looked in the mirror of his love for me, I would see a truer and clearer image both of myself and my past. I asked him to show me myself and my journey through his love, and he did.
Sad and painful things in my childhood are no longer indicators of the Father’s distance or lack of care. In the mirror of His love I see angels on assignment, waging war and winning. I see His Spirit wrapped around my spirit. I also see choices being made by people governed by sin and brokenness, spurred on by a host of demons. Then I suddenly realise that I have always been surrounded by songs of deliverance and victory, songs sung by the angels and God himself; my spirit has grown up with this, it is part of my identity. I see the Father decreeing that nothing will ever transpire that stops my adoption into His family as a beloved daughter – this is His chosen inheritance from before the creation of the world. He permits nothing to thwart His purposes for my life (nothing that is, except my choice). I see that I owe my life to warrior angels on assignment, the Holy Spirit and a devoted Father who refuses to let go of his eternal purposes. And finally I realise that He has been faithful and He can be trusted.
Through the years, before I consciously knew of his existence, the Father has been watching over me. By his Spirit he has spoken to me and sung over me, his angels too have done the same; my physical senses couldn’t quite pick it, but my spirit knew. And since the day I chose him for myself I have become more and more aware of him in my life, until last week when he showed me more in the mirror of His love for me.
My response isn’t gratitude, or praise or even thanks.
My response is my love and a yearning for his voice and his face.