So I was at a retreat this weekend, a work-heavy retreat, the kind of retreat that isn’t so much a get away thing as it is a jump into the deep end thing.
It was great. And exhausting. And hard.
It was all brainstorming and problem-solving (which I LOVE very, very much). So that was awesome. But also not awesome, because sometimes in brainstorming/problem-solving situations I get too excited and freak out all over everybody with much too much talking and hand-waving and maybe even crying. [I have ideas, people. And I am very passionate about them. Very. Passionate.] As that can be, shall we say…off-putting, I have to exercise a lot of self discipline in these situations.
The last time I participated in a full day of brainstorming I went off the rails.
This time, I prayed about it for a week.
During the retreat we were encouraged to take some time to listen to God. We were told to be completely quiet, even to quiet our thoughts, for ten minutes.
Here’s how that went for Jennifer on the day of a brainstorming/problem-solving marathon:
Inner Voice 1: Let’s think about all the things everyone just said and weigh them and decide which ones are the most helpful.
Inner voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: Let’s brainstorm ten more possible ways to re-imagine that environment we were talking about.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: I think I’ve said at least seven stupid things today. Let’s go over them all and see who needs an apology.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: I am terrible at this. Maybe I’m not made to do this. Maybe I’m just a thinking person. I have so many thoughts. I’m gifted.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 3: Maybe we should count or say a mantra or something.
Inner Voice 2: Fine. 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…
Inner Voice 1 (over the top of voice 2): This is totally going to work. I think this is how meditation works. It’s just like that guy was talking about in that TED talk. I wish that had been a better talk. If only he’d offered a few practical suggestions…
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 3: It’s so pretty outside. Maybe God is talking to me in the sunlight, warming my skin, like a hug…
When we gathered together to share any insight we’d received from God, I didn’t say a word. Because if I’d heard Him, I’m pretty sure the message was, “Shut up.”
My calling is words. And it’s a tricky calling.
Because very wise people have said things like this:
"Many words mark the speech of a fool." Eccl. 5:3
And because I know, when I’m being most objective, that I don’t have all the answers, I have a responsibility to keep my mouth shut more.
Not everything I think is worth saying.
Not everyone needs to know what I think.
And if I’d take a second and think through my thoughts, pray over them and weigh them, I’d realize that.
For me, writer of words, shutting up looks like forty two drafts sitting in a folder, drafts of things I’ll probably never publish, ideas you don’t need to hear because they’re self-indulgent or stupid or not very helpful.
It looks like not writing about the Noah movie (even though it would do wonders for my traffic) because I don’t feel compelled to tell you what I think, because my thoughts are neither original nor informed.
In general, it looks like writing more about what I know than what I think.
I’m not always getting this right. But I’m trying.
Outside of writing, in conversations and discussions and meetings, it looks like counting before I talk, training myself out of reflexive speech.
Like really listening to other people without trying to comment or argue.
Like planning my words instead of letting them rush from my mouth like a geyser, inevitable, forceful and chaotic.
And like realizing that most of my thoughts don’t need sharing.
I am not great at this. But I’m trying.
If today you’re looking for a message from God, I’d be happy to share the message He’s giving me. It’s helpful and simple and re-orienting.
So, I have bad thoughts. Just in case you were of the mistaken impression that I only think about love and rainbows and the lyrics to “Victory in Jesus,” now you know the truth.
No, I think all kinds of things I wish I’d never thought. I think mean and judgmental things. I think pessimistic, faith-lacking things. I think lots and lots of pride-grown things.
[On those BuzzFeed quizzes when they ask which superpower you’d want, I never pick mind reading. I know what’s going on in my mind; I for sure don’t want to know what’s going on in yours.]
Because my thoughts can be so exhaustingly not-what-I-wish-they-were, I can get a little freaked out by scriptures like this one:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
David writes these words like they’re comforting. But sometimes when I read them I can’t help but feel very, very uncomfortable.
Here are some things I know about thoughts:
I know every thing I choose to do, every relationship I’m in, and every emotion I experience is grown in the soil of my thoughts.
I know what Marcus Aurelius said, “The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” And I know he was right.
I know God wants me to think about lovely things, pure things, noble and true things.
I know God destroyed the earth when human kind’s thoughts were “only evil all the time.”
And I know my flesh has thoughts I cannot stop from coming.
So, when I have thoughts that are not lovely and pure, when I have thoughts of a color I do not want my soul stained, what can I do?
A lot, actually.
Over the past several years I’ve spent a lot of time working on my thoughts. I’ve realized I can’t stop myself from thinking certain things, not completely, but I can dramatically adjust the way those thoughts affect my actions, attitude, speech and sense of self.
Today I want to share four ways you can purify your thought life:
1. Be inhospitable.
In Matthew 9 Jesus interacts with “teachers of the law.” He heals a man and offers forgiveness of sins, and the teachers don’t like it one bit.
"Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’”
Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Why do you have evil thoughts?” He asks why they “entertain” them.
The first step to a better thought life is to stop welcoming evil thoughts in. Sure, you’ll have them, but don’t let them stay. Don’t ask them questions. Don’t throw them a party or give them a room. Don’t give them a coffee, a seat on your couch, and a warmly-spoken “Go on…”
If you think something bad about a co-worker don’t allow that thought to bloom into a laundry list of things you dislike about him.
If you think something off-limits about a woman on a magazine cover, don’t invite her to stay for a while.
Evil thoughts are your enemy. Kick them out.
2. Take captives.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
For Paul, evil thoughts were not something to be treated lightly. Thoughts were for forcing into obedience.
That means every time your mind says something that isn’t true you correct it. You treat it like a slave. You humiliate it with truth.
I do this every day.
My mind says, “You are so talented and amazing and better.” And I say back, “Not nearly as talented as you think. There are lots of people more talented than you are. Stop being so proud and stupid.” And then maybe, “Anything good about me is from and of God.”
My mind says, “That (insert something bad for me) would be so good.” And I say back, “You’re an idiot. That would be terrible.”
My mind says, “She looks bad in those pants.” And I say back, “You’re stupid. And you look bad in your pants. Get over yourself.”
I am not kind to evil thoughts. They do not deserve nice-ness.
3. Be proactive.
It’s easier not to think bad thoughts when your head is full of good ones.
Paul says, “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.”
It’s much, much harder for a bad thought to take over when you’re in the middle of thinking something love-ly (literally “like love”).
You don’t lust after the girl on the magazine if you’re thinking about how best to love your God or your wife or even how best to love that model.
You don’t make a laundry list of dislikes about your co-worker if you want what’s best for her and fill your head with ways to help her.
You don’t plot revenge against your ex if you’re actively praying for him.
Good thoughts have a way of stifling bad ones.
4. Attend to your heart.
Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts.”
Pastor Andy Stanley says every time we have a bad thought and wonder, “Where did that come from?” we should say to ourselves “Your sick heart.”
Perhaps the best way to purify our thoughts is to purify our hearts.
This looks like praying. Like asking God to do His best work in us and welcoming that work in whatever form it takes.
It looks like pulling weeds, wading into the dark places in our hearts, identifying lies we believe about God, about living, about ourselves and ripping them out by the roots.
It looks like being careful about what we plant, what we watch and read and hear.
Thoughts are heart-born. So when we have bad thoughts, we must evaluate and cultivate our hearts.
I read something today I think is beautiful. It speaks to the work of sorting and shaping our thoughts. I pray you’d watch the way this mother lingers over her child’s thoughts, and I pray you’d linger the same way over your own.
I’ll leave you with it:
“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.”
Today’s title comes from my dad.
I spent a week in Alabama recently and as soon as he and I sat down at the dining room table, my bags in the floor by the door, he told me he had a blog post for me.
To be honest, I wasn’t excited to write about television. I didn’t want to write the same finger-pointing, culture’s-in-a-handbag-to-hell post I’d read or heard a hundred times. And the title, the one my dad recommended, the one I ultimately decided to use, seemed like that.
But after he and I talked I decided this post was important to write. Because things are not going well with television. And because, well, a lot of it’s our fault.
I figured I’d have to start this post by convincing you of the problems with TV programming, but after looking at the statistics, I doubt that’s necessary.
You watch a lot of TV (the average American watches almost seven hours a day). So you know it’s getting bad.
In 1994, twenty years ago, eighty six percent of Americans thought television was responsible for a “decline in values” (That’s before reality TV even existed). And yet, ninety nine percent of people owned a television. Today, sixty six percent own three.
Studies show that girls who watch reality television have a significantly distorted view of realty, caring more about appearance and accepting gossip and mistreatment as normal aspects of “healthy” relationships.
Studies show that kids who watch a lot of television are more prone to acts of aggression.
They show that people who watch a lot of television aren’t as happy as people who don’t.
There are so many studies. And almost none of them advocates for television viewing as a path toward a better life.
But we watch anyway.
Forty nine percent of people say they watch too much television.
So, if we actually believe television is messing us up, and if we actually believe it would be better for us to watch less, why don’t we turn it off?
When my girls were babies my husband Justin bought me a small TV with rabbit ears. I watched three shows: “Live with Regis and Kelly,” “The Bachelor,” and “Dancing With the Stars.” That is a very embarrassing list to publish on the Intenet.
Anyway, I really liked “The Bachelor.” But there was this thing inside me that didn’t like “The Bachelor.” Every time I’d watch I’d feel vaguely guilty. And then one night, watching some poor girl cry in a limo, her heartbreak spilling all over my TV set, I decided I had to stop watching. It just seemed wrong.
So, I decided for myself (not for you or anyone else) to stop watching.
Except I didn’t. I tried to stop watching. I mostly stopped watching. But then I’d have a really hard day and my kids would puke everywhere and cry for three hours straight. And when I finally put them both down for a nap, I’d binge watch half a season.
And probably eat a whole box of Nilla Wafers.
I think there are a lot of us out there who do this. We get convicted and make resolutions and then fall back into the same destructive behaviors.
We decide it’s not that big a deal. We need a break. An escape. We’re not getting drunk or having sex or yelling at anybody.
No. We’re just watching real people get drunk and have sex and yell at one another on TV.
My dad first started talking to me about TV back when the “Duck Dynasty” thing happened. We talked about how it made sense that the gay community was offended and about how they had every right not to watch the show. But we were confused about the call for it to be cancelled.
Because we were offended by all kinds of shows on television and no one seemed ready to cancel those.
Dad said maybe we just hadn’t been vocal enough. Maybe if we spoke up we could clear TV programming of misogyny and hatred, greed, anger, sexual abuse, the mockery of good and the glorification of evil.
At the time I wondered if he was right. Was the problem that we hadn’t spoken up?
Today, I’m not so convinced and here’s why: “Duck Dynasty” is still on the air.
And it’s not on the air because it was just too good to cancel or because so many people spoke up for the Robertsons.
It’s on television because people watched: 8.5 million the first episode after the controversy.
You see, television caters to viewers. If you’ll watch it, they’ll make it. Regardless of the complaints.
Nobody thinks “Jersey Shore” is quality programming. But people watch “Jersey Shore.” And it’s cheap to make. So producers and networks make more “Jersey Shore.”
The practical application is simple: If you think television programming is bad, broken, busted, or contributing to “a decline in values” but you choose to watch it anyway, that’s on you.
If you want TV to be different, your first step is to stop watching.
Television is what it is today because for too long, Christians have watched what they knew they shouldn’t watch.
Now, I’m not in the business of legislating what that is, not for you. That’s your job. But I suspect that if you’re watching anywhere near the daily average of television you’re probably watching something you know you shouldn’t watch.
I know it’s hard. I know it’s much easier to just complain about how bad it is. But that’s not going to do much, not so long as you keep tuning in.
James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
You know what you need to do. Pray for strength, seek out accountability and (pardon my crude but accurate language) stop watching crap.