Fighting Words

Wherever you go, in restaurants, stores, even gas stations, there are background tracks playing. Like elevator music that fades into the periphery of conversation and the din of customers, the songs go mostly unnoticed. Then, a favorite song comes on, and suddenly you are aware that there has been music all along. Our thoughts play in much the same way. All day, every day, we are forming an inner script, creating the narrative of our lives inside the confines of our minds.

Our thoughts are the hidden tracks of our lives.
Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

Most of the time, we remain blissfully unaware of our thought content. Still, if we considered our thoughts to be like an album playing in the background of our lives, upon turning up the volume, what track would you hear playing in your mind? Some common refrains I hear in my counseling office sound like:

  • I am never enough.
  • What if I fail?
  • What do others think of me?
  • I hate my body.

The list can go on and on. Each of our minds have specific, go-to, negative tracks that our brains like to play when we feel tired, weak, hurt, discouraged, or lonely. The amazing fact about our mind is that all day, as we think and act, we are wiring and rewiring our brains. The neuronal pathways that “fire” together in our brains also “wire” together. This means that, as we continue to think the same negative thoughts, we are making super pathways for those thoughts in our brains. On the other hand, as we change our thinking patterns, our brains are capable of making new pathways. It’s a completely phenomenal design by our Creator who is in the business of redemption. That is the good news.

The bad news is this: it takes a lot of work. A LOT of work. First, we must become aware of our thought lives. Paying attention to our thinking, or “metathinking,” does not come naturally. It feels strange at first. The process of beginning to change those negative thoughts once we are aware of them is even more difficult. After all, if we truly believe the negative scripts playing in our minds, then with what ammunition are we going to fight them?

Ellie Holcomb has a song, Fighting Words, that I absolutely love. In one short, fun-loving song, she sums up the work of fighting negative thoughts by speaking truth to them. As we begin to challenge the thoughts, rather than believe them every time they present themselves, change begins to occur.

A few years ago, I heard a pastor on the radio teaching about taking our thoughts captive to obey Christ (II Corinthians 10:5). He advocated that the imagery of taking a captive is the language of war. It doesn’t mean gently reprimanding a wayward thought. It means forcefully taking it to the dungeon and chaining it up. We are taking thoughts prisoner. We are reminding ourselves of the truth of Scripture, even when we are not yet able to believe it. Even when we don’t yet feel it.

The “fighting words” we use to speak back to the negative and untrue thoughts playing in the stereo of our minds help us incrementally build new pathways in our brains. Each small success has an impact on our spirit and brain. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Even attempts to challenge old thinking patterns begin to disrupt old neuronal pathways. That, friends, is the beauty of neuroplasticity and a God who loves to redeem and make all things new.

Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

Pause: Take a moment to still your body and calm your brain. Slowly breathe in and slowly exhale. Read Romans 12:2 and meditate on the idea of being renewed by the transforming of your mind. What does this mean to you? What could this mean about your thought life?

Renew: As you have time, list some of the negative thoughts that plague you consistently. Begin to write down true statements that you can use to combat those thoughts when they come. Find Scripture passages that directly relate to those thoughts and use them as your “fighting words.”

Next: This is hard work. Give yourself grace for even trying. Healing is never linear, and neither is change. It takes time and practice. Thankfully, you have a whole lifetime to keep practicing. Choose one thought that you want to start fighting this week and begin the warfare!

May we know and accept Grace and Truth as we change the music of our thought-lives.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Thoughts, Thighs, and Toll Booths

You’re at a play date, listening to another mom tell stories about her child.  As you listen to all of her parenting accomplishments, you begin thinking, “Man she’s really got it all together.  Her kid is really succeeding and seems like he’s on the fast track for honors classes.  Am I doing something wrong?  My kid ate an earthworm last week.”  Suddenly, you’re hit with a blast of anxiety and insecurity that came seemingly out of the blue.  

These thoughts are called ANTs – automatic negative thoughts.  We’ve all got them. They can come at any time, any day, and particularly when we are feeling vulnerable.  Granted, not everyone struggles with the same version of ANTs.  Maybe your negative thoughts are about your job or school performance, about your body, whether people like you, or maybe all of the above.

Our thoughts have real power.  What we think affects our bodies, our feelings, and our behavior, thus affecting our relationships.  Our thoughts affect our very brain structure in the form of neural pathways.  There are billions of neural pathways in our brains, being built and strengthened every day.  The more we think about a subject, thought, or memory, the more we are forming well-worn pathways in our brains.  As we practice new thoughts and habits, new pathways are formed.

A single negative thought may not be too detrimental, but consider what might happen if you continued to think that thought for days, weeks, or even years.

Imagine a 15 year old adolescent trying on a bathing suit at the mall.  She happens to notice (in that awful dressing room mirror and under that awful dressing room lighting) that she has cellulite on her thighs. “Oh no,” she thinks, “I can’t wear this kind of bathing suit.  I can’t believe how fat my thighs are.  I’m going to have to cover up somehow at the pool party this weekend.”  This experience has formed a memory and a  little seed of shame, but otherwise her life is unaltered.

A one-time thought is like walking through the grass.  If you stroll though the grass one time, no one can tell you’ve been there.  But what if the girl continued thinking badly about herself for the next month, following new thigh slimming exercises on Pinterest, and researching how to achieve a thigh gap. Maybe she has started comparing herself to other girls at school or to pictures on Instagram.  

Dash walking through the flower beds

Now, a neural pathway is forming.  My dog walks the same path through my flower beds every day (don’t get me started on that).  He has worn away a little path.  I think this illustrates how thoughts can form pathways in our brains and in our behaviors.  The most traveled paths become the most well-worn and easiest paths for our thoughts to travel. 

Stop coming up ahead!

Now let’s imagine this girl grows up, gets married, and starts a family.  She is now 40 years old. What if those negative body image thoughts have continued for the past 25 years?  It would be safe to assume that these pathways are now super highways.  When it comes to negative thoughts, these superhighways inevitably lead to toll booths – where we begin to pay. Because she is ashamed of her body, perhaps intimacy with her husband has suffered.  Maybe she won’t allow photos to be taken of herself when she is wearing shorts or a bathing suit.  Now her kids have no pictures of their mom from their last  beach vacation.  Maybe she limits the kinds of foods she will let herself eat or the kinds of clothes she will  wear.  Maybe she makes negative  comments about her body, and now her daughter has begun to think similar thoughts.  It’s a slippery slope, isn’t it?

How do we combat these thoughts?  Recognizing them is the first step.  Start paying attention to what you are thinking and choosing to believe.  If you notice there is a particular ANT that shows up frequently, you might prepare to do battle. Gain an arsenal of true statements that you can tell yourself when this thought shows up.  For example:

  • “My thighs have some of the largest muscles in my body, and they provide stability.”
  • “My husband loves my body, and I will try to love my body too”
  • “God made me in His image, and He loves me just the way I am.”

The hardest thing about fighting negative beliefs is that you believe them. Finding someone outside of yourself can be crucial to help discern what is true and what is faulty thinking.  Look for some good accountability and encouragement partners who can speak truth to you when your thoughts are getting the best of you.  Sometimes bouncing reality off of a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor is a very healing thing.  For believers, Scripture is paramount in fighting negative thoughts.  God’s word is our ultimate source of truth.   Find verses that speak to what you are struggling with, and write them down in places where you will see them frequently.  

Spiritually, our thoughts are a real battle ground.   2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought captive to obey Christ.  The enemy would like nothing more than for us to believe and obey the ANTs, because he is the father of lies.  Let’s get ready to do battle and choose to believe what is true.

Pause: Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  Exhale slowly. Contemplate Romans 12:2  (below)  How does it speak to you?

Renew: Apply Romans 12:2 to your thought life.  What is a negative thought that has been coming frequently lately?  Ask the Lord to renew your mind regarding this thought, replacing it with what is true, and good, and acceptable, and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Next:  Spend the next few days examining your thought-life.  What are the ANTs that show up frequently?  Find scripture verses that you can quote back to those thoughts when they come.  Make 3×5 cards of these verses that you can carry with you or put in the dashboard of your car as a reminder.  Get creative!

Learning to recognize truth and speaking it to ourselves is so powerful.  May the Lord help you discern what is true and pure and lovely, and may you meditate on those thoughts this week.

Pause, Renew, Next!