when i was little we called them dittos. you know, those single sheets of busy-work paper that the teacher used to give us? some call them work-sheets. we had to fill in all the blanks. and i loved them. because i loved the look of having all those blank spaces filled in. i liked having all my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed. i still do. i like knowing what’s going on. i like having the answers. but in real life, we don’t, do we? we don’t have all the answers—ever. not this side of things, anyway.
so i’m learning to live in that tension of having blank spaces but also being at peace. knowing that the Author of my life and yours can be trusted and has a plan. i’m learning to look at a paper and not have to scan to fix all the punctuation or capitalization. it has been freeing to settle into the fact that i don’t have to have answers for all my questions. i still don’t like it. it feels uncomfortable at times. but it also feels more real than when i fooled myself into thinking i knew exactly how it all worked.
so now, when i start feeling panicky about things i don’t know, i just start listing the things I do Know:
I know I was created by a loving God, not accidentally formed by ooze. I look around at the complexity of nature’s balance or inward at the workings of the amazing human body, and I know it was all designed. God’s fingerprints are all over this creation.
I know that Jesus lived, died and rose again. And because of that—I have amazing grace and freedom. I believe the argument that Josh McDowell puts out there (and maybe he got it from CS Lewis? I don’t know) that Jesus was either Liar, Lunatic or Lord. Those are the options based on the life he lived and the words he said. I choose Lord.
I know that God places a high value on wisdom and I should too. And that “all the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in Christ and nowhere else.” (Colossians 2:3 The Message) So to be wise, I need to know Jesus more.
And I know that Jesus told us to Love God and Love People. Those are the greatest commands and that’s something tangible that I can work on.
all the rest? i just don’t know the answers to all of the “whys?” but it’s okay. i can live with that. i can thrive in that. because I Know the important stuff and that’s enough for me.
“Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.”
Funny, right? An ironic funny comment that I’ve laughed at and quoted over the years. But the reality is that in most situations people are not thinking about us nearly as much as we think they are. We say something and then we obsess over it, over-analyze it and wonder if the other person is upset, bothered, annoyed by what we’ve said or done when most of the time they don’t give it a second thought.
Usually, these over-analyzing thoughts are the result of negative self-chatter and so often it can lead to misunderstandings. I remember one day, years ago when I was watching the news and saw that Saturn was coming out with a minivan. My husband had worked for Saturn so I thought he would find it interesting. I said, “Hey, did you see that Saturn is coming out with a mini-van? Cool, huh?”
We liked the Saturn brand and philosophy. My thoughts were simply that I was glad to hear they had one. I knew that at some point in the future we would probably look at mini-vans. I was glad to know Saturn would now be in the mix. That was the sum total of my thoughts on the subject and I immediately moved on to whatever was next in my brain, like “Geez, I have to come up with something for dinner, again?” or “I like coffee.” or “I wonder if tea tastes the same in England.” Some random grouping of thoughts occupied my brain (as usual).
But not my husband’s. No, his thoughts went something like this: “She wants a Saturn mini-van now. We can’t afford that. Why does she want things we can’t afford. She probably wishes she married someone who has more money. I can’t even provide the basics for my family, like a Saturn mini-van. I’m a terrible provider…” blah, blah, blah. (I can’t say these were his exact thoughts, of course. But we have talked about the “Saturn Minivan Incident” (as we now refer to it) and I know these thoughts are close.
He responded angrily, “We can’t get a minivan right now,” and he stalked off. I was brought out of my reverie on tea in England abruptly. I could have sworn I heard the squeal of said minivan tires interrupting my peaceful thoughts.
“What?” I was puzzled and starting to get ticked. Why was he yelling at me. I didn’t say I wanted a minivan. So I yelled back. “What are you talking about??”
You can picture the ensuing argument. “You said…” “No I didn’t, I said…” Etc. etc. etc. We worked it out because we eventually got to the bottom of things. What I said hit a nerve with him. He assumed I meant something I didn’t and was holding me accountable for things he assumed I was thinking. But I married a smart man. He realized quickly what had happened. He explained what he’d thought and I was able to assure him that I was thinking none of those things! It’s now something that we laugh about and reference whenever one of us is assuming things we shouldn’t.
I’m positive the shoe has been on the other foot at times in our marriage. I’m quite sure I have assumed his thoughts to be other than they are and I’ve responded out of hurt or anger. I just can’t think of a specific example right now (convenient ;)).
In her book, Unglued, Lysa TerKeurst sheds some light on the physiological effects of negative self-talk. Or as she puts it, “What some really smart people are saying about some really amazing stuff.” If I could, I’d quote the whole chapter entitled, “Negative Inside Chatter” here. But I think that would be frowned upon 😉 so you’ll have to purchase the book (which I highly recommend!!). But in this paragraph Lysa is quoting Dr. Caroline Leaf from her book, Who Switched Off My Brain:
“For instance, if you are anxious or worried about something, the hypothalamus responds to this anxiety with a flurry of stress chemicals. These chemicals engage the pituitary gland — the master gland of the endocrine system. The endocrine system in turn secretes hormones responsible for organizing trillions of cells in your body to deal with impending threats. Negative thoughts shift your endocrine system to focus on protection and limit your ability to think with wisdom or develop healthy thoughts.”
Whoa! Did you catch that last line? I’ll repeat it. Negative thoughts shift your endocrine system to focus on protection and limit your ability to think with wisdom or develop healthy thoughts.
I think that’s incredible. Not only do the silly things we tell ourselves cause misunderstandings and hurt feelings. They actually make it difficult for us to think in a healthy way. I almost think this is saying it makes us dumber. That’s totally my paraphrase. But it’s kind of true. The kind of negative self-chatter that we are talking about causes us to do and say stupid things. It makes us dumber.
So, STOP IT! Yes, I know it’s considered shouting when you use all caps. That’s why I did it. Cuz I mean it…and only cuz I love you…STOP IT! You know who you are. You know if you’re one of those people who over-analyze your conversations and wonder if people are upset with you because of what you said. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here; If someone is upset by what you’ve said or done it is their responsibility to either let it go (best option…being easily offended is not healthy) or to kindly let you know you’ve upset them in some way.
It is not your job to constantly wonder if someone’s upset with you. That takes your focus of of Jesus and showing his love to the world and places it squarely on yourself. Is that really where you want your focus? It’s not where I want mine. I don’t want to be dumber. I want to be peace-filled and living out my mission which is to be an ambassador of God’s love with my life.
Lysa quotes Philippians 4: 6-9 and it’s one of my favorite passages of scripture:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
That is the opposite of becoming dumber. That is putting your concerns on the shoulders of the One who can handle them and in exchange, he will give you PEACE. And with that peace, you will have more mental energy to think about noble, right, pure, admirable and lovely things. You will live the life that you are meant to live, tell the story you’re meant to tell. I’m feeling preachy…so I’m gonna sign off now. I hope this has been as enlightening for you as it was for me. And really…get the book. (click here) It’s sooo good!