“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJ
There was a time in my life when I believed that I did not have a sound mind yet a troubled-chaotic out-of-control mind. That was over 10 years ago. God has brought me through. What has changed my life and walk with Christ, I share with you. The format that I have chosen to share is a daily devotional. I have chosen this format because I believe going from a troubled mind to a sound mind takes time each day.
Throughout my life, I have read and memorized many verses in the Bible about worry, anxiety, and stress but so often I found myself on a sleepless night or wasted day worrying about something I said or was done. How do I obey Christ by not worrying? How do I think about “what is good, righteous, lovely….” How? What does it mean to “take every thought captive” or “transform my mind.” What does that look like? How do I do that?
Over time, I realized that my mental health was physical, spiritual, emotional, and social. It took combining the scientific reasons and the Biblical teachings together to find my journey out of anxiety, worry, and fears. This is how I did it. It is what I did and still often implement each morning to keep my mind clear of the clutter in order to best serve Him.
This journey began years ago but the journey out began most recently. I had spent years struggling with my anxiety and panic attacks which inevitably led to depression. I had strategies to calm myself but found it very disruptive to my life and holding me back on many days. My most common strategy was to use medication prescribed to me by a doctor. This reaffirmed the idea that I had a “disease” in which I had little to no control over and needed medical treatment. Then, something major happened to me. I watched my young daughter endure her first of several panic attacks. As she was curled up in a ball on her bed sobbing uncontrollably, I knew I had to figure the way out of my own anxiety, without the use of medications, if I were to help my daughter.
I prayed harder than ever before and opened up to friends who also prayed for me. God used these friends and Godly wisdom to bring me the resources and truth into my life and destroy the lies that I believed for years.
God showed me that there are 2 verses that I had to un-package and apply in order to be free:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 1 Timothy 1:7
The first key truth is that God has given me a strong, healthy sound mind that I lead. Not the other way around. With confidence, His power, and love, I can turn my thinking around.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV
EVERY thought captive. Even those beliefs I held on to about myself; ”I’m lazy…I should be working instead of resting…they don’t like me…I’m too emotional…I’m weak.” And those beliefs about my life; ”Our marriage has problems…this environment is not good for my kids…if my child is injured there is no one to help.”
This is what was causing anxiety! Not some disease or chemicals in my brain but me! These thoughts that I was allowing led to the chemical imbalance in my brain worsening the fears and anxiety. I was choosing the thoughts or they were there and I was doing nothing to rid myself of them. Once I realized this, I took a turn and was able to help my daughter take a turn for good too. From then until now and for the rest of my life, I will be practicing the “changing of my mind” in the morning for good mental health, to be ready to receive from God, so my heart is ready to embrace others with love, So I will grow more Christ-like, so I can be happy and free, so that I can be the best me that I can be.
In this process, God taught me several important things. First, was my need for peace of mind. I came to realize even more that God’s desire for me is to experience peace. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you….” (John 20:21a), awareness of our thoughts “…take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and mental health in order to grow in His likeness. I was created in His likeness. I will become more and more like Him.
Secondly, I learned that my mind and brain are separate. I control my mind; my mind controls my brain; my brain controls my emotions and physical responses. This is where our choices and unique responses come to play.
Third, my thoughts take up physical space in my brain. They look like branches on a tree. Each one is complex and individual and helpful or harmful and knowledge about how this works helps decrease anxiety. Because I realize God will accomplish His plan for me for good! I came to realize that the more mental health skills I gain, the more confident I am and in control of my mind instead of my emotions and hormones controlling me. I have a choice, that’s free will.
Here is the following process I followed and hope to walk you through it over the following days.
How to make long-term changes in your mind and break toxic thinking habits:
When you focus and study a topic for many days it becomes a long-term memory. There is physical brain growth during this time. It takes repetition over days to prevent denaturing of new thoughts, and truths, that replace a lie which is a toxic thought. Your mind does control your brain which affects your body. Mind over matter. You make proteins with your thoughts: good or toxic. Our brain does not control us. Our genetics are only a piece of who we become. By intentional thinking, we can become who we want to be. It’s your thinking, feeling, and choosing that gives you mental health. This is the freedom of choice that God gave us: free will. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6.
This is lifelong: life management. Unless something is a habit, it can’t change your thinking. It takes days of a new thought (just a few minutes a day) for this new thought to replace your old toxic thought. Spend time each day to make it a lifelong habit. Similar to learning to ride a bike. Now, you can jump on a bike and ride it no matter how long it’s been. This is also true of our thoughts. Over time of purposefully changing our thoughts, we create new ones that become habits. Then, in a time of stress, instead of thinking fearful thoughts, we can have a new pattern of confidence and positive self-talk which becomes easier over time and with practice.
I hope you experience what I have. I have gained a clearer mind which is able to listen and receive more from Christ without the feelings of guilt or shame I had in the past. My mind is clear and I desire to learn more about everything! My relationships with all around me are stronger as I am able to go deeper with them and not be overly concerned with myself and my feelings. I am also sleeping better with way more energy each day. I realized this: “It takes more energy to keep toxic thoughts than it does to deal with them. Dealing with toxic thoughts will make you a better person. It can increase your energy, healthy relationships, joy and happiness, and help you make better choices” (Leaf, 2013).
Thinking – Feeling- Choosing
I wish all the world would know that all painful toxic thoughts and memories can be restructured!! You can learn how, anyone can. This is God’s grace that anyone can change for good with His power. Essentially, you will be doing your own brain reconstruction. Adding new positive thoughts and allowing the lies to go away.
These are simple ways anyone can learn to take any and every moment of anxiety and or a stressful thought or decision and reconceptualize it and use it for good. Here are the steps we will learn and practice:
Remember: you do not have to let a thought control you but God gave you a sound mind to un-package the thoughts and make action. Each following lesson will help you understand this process and get better at it. So let’s get started!!
If you missed my blog post, written several years ago, about my struggle with depression, you can find that post here:
Adapted from Leaf, Dr. Caroline. Switch On Your Brain. Baker Books, 2013.