Recently I had coffee with a friend. We talked, as we usually do, about everything under the sun. Eventually the conversation turned to why we feel like we so often do. What is it that causes emotions like fear, anxiety, resentment, pride, rejection, anger, depression and self pity to surface unbidden and unwanted, especially at key times when we really need all our wits to operate in a good way?
My friend has a theory and it’s one I subscribe to myself. Let me explain it to you. Our thoughts, emotions and opinions are all the product of what is fed to us, working the same way as nutritional food and junk food do to our bodies. Whatever company we keep, whatever we read, watch, listen to, wherever we turn for relationship, comfort, entertainment, challenge or relaxation, becomes who we are as an emotional and spiritual being, just like our food becomes who we are as a physical being. Scary thought! There used to be a sausage advertisement on a building near a railway station in Sydney Australia that said ‘What you eat today, walks and talks tomorrow.’ The same is true intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
My friend said she’d realised that she could control her ‘front thinking’ but that she had no control over her subconscious and it is the subconscious that controls how she feels, and what emotions rise and under what circumstances. She began to look at what she was feeding herself in terms of her thought life and was startled to understand how much leeway she was giving her mind to go its own way and do its own thing. The result was that she was trying to work against all sorts of negative emotions that at times threatened to swamp her entirely without realising that it was she who was creating a space for that kind of thinking to breed.
We don’t realise how much what we feel is affected by what we give room for our minds to think until all of a sudden we realise that faith has drained away and we’re struggling to cope with the issues of our lives without it…and we don’t understand why. It’s because of what we’ve been feeding ourselves.
There are a number of scriptures that relate to this; here is one of them:
Philippians 4:8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Our subconscious directs how we think and what we feel, but our subconscious is shaped by what we feed it. More than that, our subconscious begins to crave more and more of what we’ve been feeding it and we become addicted to depression or lust or God; whatever we’ve been giving room for. If your favourite TV programs and books are about murder and mayhem, it’s easy to see why fear springs so easily to your heart. I was at work late one night many years ago and the office doorbell rang. My co-worker jumped and wondered fearfully if someone was about to murder us with a machete. When I asked what could possibly make her think that, she asked had I not seen ‘The Great Texas Chainsaw Massacre’. Aahhh… no! Missed that one!
Literally, what you think about feeds your heart, which is your subconscious, and your subconscious responds by directing your thought processes and feelings. Your thinking guides your subconscious and your subconscious informs you what to think. That’s why it’s so difficult to get anything out of reading your Bible or praying when the rest of your life is geared to the sort of stuff that engages with negative emotions like arrogance, misery, humiliation and anger. When the background music of your life is anti to your faith; when the conversations you are part of or the entertainment you relax with are against the principles you have determined to live by, pretty soon the principles begin to give way in your heart, and your life and thinking gradually change direction as you are lulled into a place of deception without you even realising it. Your life changes, your relationships change, your perspective changes, and in the struggle to work out what’s happening, you never even realise that it’s all to do with what you’ve been feeding yourself.
My friend made the choice to direct her ‘front thinking’. She says that you can’t control your subconscious, but you can direct what goes into it, and she set herself to change what she could change. No more vacuuming furiously while arguing with an unseen opponent in her head meant no more depression and fear rising unbidden in her heart. She began to soak herself in ‘whatever is good and lovely and commendable.’ She took the Apostle Paul’s advice and stopped being conformed to what the rest of the world found interesting. She changed her thinking, and in the process, her mind was renewed so that she could discern the will of God more effectively for her own life.
Sound easy, doesn’t it! But we all know it isn’t. It’s a battle every day to make the right choices about what to listen to, say, care about, be entertained by… and ultimately, what to think. You can only do it day by day. You can’t say ‘I’ll make good choices forever.’ But you can say, ‘I’ll make good choices today’ and each day feeds the next one, and each choice feeds the next one… and we can end up with a renewed mind that is able to understand what God wants, in the midst of what can at times be very hurtful or confusing situations. You can’t control your subconscious but you can control what goes into it by making a choice about what sort of thinking will help your subconscious to deal effectively with the circumstances of life.
None of us have got it right, but God has given us the tools to sort ourselves out. Often the difference between a mediocre faith and a great faith lie right here, in our choices about who we are, and these choices are made as we select what we are going think about. The good news is that God is on our side as we work it out.
Go on; make the cut of some of those non productive thought patterns you’ve been feeding. You’ll be really glad you did.