The Takeaway - Negative Thoughts
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Or a more timely way to put it—is your pantry half-full or half-empty? Or your toilet paper stash? I’m guessing that your time quarantined and “sheltering in place” has tipped the scales of your thoughts in one direction—towards the negative.
We as human beings have an evolutionary predisposition towards negative thinking. We scan for problems as a way to keep us alive and safe from saber tooth tigers and other threats. Seen in a more productive light, our bias towards negative thinking (and our tendency to get stuck in it) has protected us personally and collectively as a species.
What you water grows, as gardeners well know. The thought patterns, or neural pathways, that we reinforce will strengthen and become automatic. Half-empty thinking can become a way of life.
This pandemic—and the negative thoughts that naturally accompany it—can be rebalanced. We can’t make negative thoughts disappear—just as we can’t make the pandemic disappear—but we can rebalance and reframe our thoughts: for our own well-being, for the good of our inner circle of loved ones and quarantine mates, and for the good of our greater community and world.
How? Through basic Jedi mind training. Imagine Yoda is whispering in your ear in the everyday moments of your quarantine life. Seriously, that’s the best way I can describe these steps:
- Breathe (your most powerful tool to steer your mind)
- Recognize the negative thought in your head, receive it without judgment
- Be curious about the thought, what it’s trying to tell you
- “Use the force” to reframe and rebalance
- Reframe by assuming that everyone is doing the best they can (including yourself)
- Rebalance with a gratitude practice (noticing the positive)
What exactly is “the force”? Question that I’m always left with after a Star Wars movie. For our purposes, “the force” is the spirit of Jesus—“all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1.16-17) The force is a network of life, light that holds the universe together. Jesus is the means by which we can reframe situations. Through Jesus’ eyes, we can see that everyone is doing their best. We can see that we are doing our best. And through Jesus’ eyes, we can see the holy gifts all around us—even in the midst of troubling times.
Here’s an example of Jedi mind training from our home today. The negative thought that most pervades my quarantine situation is: “I am doing my part and no one else is.” Is this really true? At lunch my coworkers (aka children) grumble about the division of labor, and division of food. There’s only enough salami for one person. Their negative dialogue spurned negative thoughts in my own head. I got angry and said: “Watch your attitude; do your part; we are in this together.” My parental speech only inspired a few more rounds of complaining. I finally decided to shift my assumption about my kids from “you are not doing your part” to “you are doing the best you can.” I found myself asking one child, “You sound like you are having a hard time. How was your morning?” Then the truth came out: it was a long, hard morning in front of the computer. One negative thought disarmed.
The Apostle Paul used the force, the spirit of Jesus, to find joy, life, and light, in the darkest of circumstances. This brings us to today’s Scripture, from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, city in Macedonia, modern day Greece. Paul wrote this letter while in prison. Our passage, Philippians 4.4-9, is from the very end of his “Letter of Joy” or “Quarantine Manifesto.” Listen for God’s word for you, today:
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Did you catch all that? In all circumstances, take your worrying thoughts and reframe them into requests of God in prayer. And then “think about true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent things.” In short, focus on the good in others, in ourselves, and in God.
- Let us now connect with Jesus, through prayer, using the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century pastor and martyr
- Let us pray
O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you;
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me….
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before men.
Lord whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.
Until next time, receive this blessing from today’s Scripture from the Apostle Paul.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Today, this week, and always. Amen.