I started this post earlier in the month, thinking that I finally had a quick word to share. (It’s been a while since I wrote.) I had an amazing breakthrough at Sunday service and I was eager to sort it out on here. Ironically, as I started to compose this post about anxiety, I became anxious. This happens to many of us, so when I happen to mention this irony to a close friend, I was comforted to know that he was working through something similar. I felt even more strongly that this post was worth finishing. So many thanks to him for helping me overcome. Though this short anecdote is my intro but also the exact process I want to illuminate. Meta, right?
Identify the truth.
Do the thing – even if it hurts.
My pastor has been helping me with the spiritual work I started in therapy two years ago. (James 5:16) Primarily, we are getting to the root of my struggle with rejection. Coming out of a long battle with depression and anxiety, I took much solace in the fact that Jesus suffered and comforted the suffering. I fell in love with passion and fervor of John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, who saw the mission to spread the gospel greater than anything in this temporal life, including their lives. Count it all joy, I concluded. I looked to many early saints and Martin Luther (only recently, a saint) as examples of how a true and fully-devoted christian life should be.
Early when I started attending a church, I wanted God to love me and I wanted to show Him that I was grateful that he saved me. I felt that I was dirty and unworthy as a sinner before God. (Rom 5:6-8) I believed God was too sacred to like who I expressed myself to be. I started to believe that who God created and developed me to be was “not right.” So, I began to stop doing many things I enjoyed. But, I held on to the belief others could never understand me and would never truly accept how I thought and expressed myself.
Coming out of a belief system which valued asceticism*, I looked for any biblical justification of my former practices of severe self-discipline and abstention. Dying to all sense of self and deflecting any attention given to me is rightfully my goal as a Christ follower. (John 6:38) I was deceived in thinking that I was serving the Lord in my suffering, but really a spirit of self-mutilation had just followed me in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15).
One major false belief: Because I was working hard to change my mindset on worldly values and perspectives. (Eph 4:17-24) But, because I was led by my flesh and not God’s Spirit and His love for me, it also created a cognitive dissonance (Rom 7:18). I began to believe that because what I enjoyed at that time was worldly and not spiritual, that enjoyment itself was worldly. (1 Cor 11:3,4) No one preached this to me, but somehow, I interpreted every scripture to support it. (Luke 17:10) I was blinded to see how this was a form of pride. (Rom 8:7) I believed that Jesus’ sacrifice was not good enough. (John 3:16-19, Romans 5) I believed I was so unworthy of God’s restoration and salvation, that God needed my sacrifices, too.
But, we are to be Holy Spirit led so that all that we own and all that we do give honor and glory to the One who deserves it: God, our awesome Father -the creator of the whole universe! (John 16:13-15) Now, a year later God is bringing me around to lose me of that harmful spiritual pattern and be free to be truly selfless and balanced. I am changing my thinking – renewing my mind (Rom 12:2) and bringing those thoughts under subjection (2 Cor 10:5)! Having just finished Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind [WorldCat], which I believe is a seminal text in any study on cultivating the Mind of Christ, I am now working on re-calibrating the cognitive distortions. According to cognitive behavioral therapy, these distortions are commonly presented when our perception becomes unbalanced.
So, I am sharing them with you. Here’s 5 ways to get a hold of yourself:
- Journaling: “gathering data” about our moods and our thoughts. This journal can include the time of the mood or thought, the source of it, the extent or intensity, and how we responded to it, among other factors. I personally love gratitude journaling, which I mentioned in an earlier post is something I learned from Oprah’s What I Know for Sure. [WorldCat]
- Imagine the worst case scenario: Letting this scenario play out can help the individual to recognize that even if everything they fear comes to pass, it will likely turn out okay.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) & Relaxed Breathing: relax one muscle group at a time until your whole body is in a state of relaxation. You can use audio guidance, a YouTube video, or simply your own mind to practice this technique, and it can be especially helpful for calming nerves and soothing a busy and unfocused mind.
- Exposure and Response Prevention: This technique is a little challenging and likely to require some very good self-care as a reward, but it is very effective for those who suffer from (OCD), panic and anxiety. Essentially, it calls us to face our fears carefully and in a controlled manner in order to investigate the bodily sensations, unhelpful beliefs, or compulsive behaviors. The practice is to get better and better at doing our best to refrain from the habitual behavior we have associated with the triggers and maintain the sensations without distraction or avoidance. With practice we are able to allow new learning about the sensations that come from our triggers to take place. We often find that the symptoms of our panic are more so uncomfortable than dangerous. I like to pair this technique with gratitude journaling and ice cream or yin yoga! (This 8-min practice is from fellow AYC graduate, Carrie Schuler)
- Last but, not least – Unravel & Restructure: Recognize and challenging harmful automatic thoughts generally categorized by the 15 “Cognitive Distortions” identified by psychologists. This helpful info-graphic is from Positive Psychology Program. The goal is to learn how a certain destructive or harmful belief took root and why you came to believe it. Then, you can begin to challenge it. As I discovered on the phone with my friend:
Identify the truth.
Do the thing – even if it hurts.
Finally, I leave you with these 3 scriptures for any struggling to receive the Mind of Christ. Be gentle with yourself. It’s a life’s journey. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
#1 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. Isaiah 11:2
#2 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid. John 14:27
#3 For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us fearful; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
“The adjective “ascetic” derives from the ancient Greek term askēsis, which means “training” or “exercise”. The original usage did not refer to self-denial, but to the physical training required for athletic events. Its usage later extended to rigorous practices used in many major religious traditions, in varying degrees, to attain redemption and higher spirituality.”
(Clarke, P. A. B., & Linzey, A. (1997). Dictionary of ethics, theology, and society. London: Routledge. WorldCat.)