I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
With over 20 years of working with youth, I’m always interested in what makes teenagers do what they do. The influences of family, friends, media, and experience all play an important part in development, and if I’m honest; I do this work partly because I want to know why I do the things I do.
Why do I have such a sarcastic cynical nature?
Why do I fear the things I can’t control?
Why am I so pessimistic towards other people without taking the time to know what they think?
The other day, I’m in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. I’m not in a rush. I’m just picking up a few things for my wife, and on to home. There’s no imminent danger. No threat to my being. I’m just pulling in the parking lot on a Colorado blue-bird cloudless sky. I shouldn’t have a care in the world.
I notice at the front of the parking lot there’s an open space, so I whiz around the parking lot to get it so I can top off my perfect day. All of a sudden, right before I’m about to park, out of no where, this little Toyota Prius darts in front of me and takes my spot. Are you kidding me? I’m thinking under my breath. Did you see my big black suburban coming to take that spot?
The driver got out, looked in my direction, put her head down, and walked quickly through the front door.
I just sat there.
What in the world? I thought.
And then the cynicism began.
Where is the common courtesy today?
Who does that?
She Obviously knew where I was going?
Maybe she needed it more than I did. She’s so old anyway?
And in an instant I find myself judging this poor lady without any regard to what she needed. I didn’t take any consideration to the fact that maybe she was looking at the parking spot on the other side of the lot. I didn’t allow myself to think Ladies First. I was just angry. FOR NO REAL GOOD REASON.
This is why I want to take some time to explore why we do what we do, why we think how we think, and why we often find ourselves in places we don’t want to be. Sometimes those bitter angry thought just pop in our minds, and take us far away from the people we want to be.
There’s something intrinsically valuable about training our minds to do what we want them to do. Sure, there’s a plethora of reasons why we let those nasty little thoughts enter our brains; and much of it has to do with what we dwell on.
When I was growing up, my Mother used to say things like, “Garbage in–Garbage out. What you think about is what you’ll become.”
As I young man I thought this was one of those lessons to make sure I did what she said. As a Teenager, I just knew she was trying to control me; and I hated that. But as I start to mature, raise my own family, and see the world through a different place I think she was right.
If I want to be kind and compassionate to other people, I have to take care of what I think about.
If my daily conversation is full of sarcasm, pointed jokes about people, and always looking to put people in a place that makes me feel better about myself; of course in moments of weakness I’m going to notice those thoughts come in my head. It’s what’s in there.
There is a section in the ancient Hebrew Scripture that says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7)
Your mind isn’t that different from a muscle in your body. If you want to be in shape, you have to work it out. You have to feed it. You have to pay attention to it.
Anybody can sit on the couch and just let their physical body turn into mush, but it takes someone who is disciplined to go to the gym and work out, pass up those Oreos in the kitchen, and say NO to the Ice Cream bucket in the Freezer.
Your mind needs to be trained.
St. Paul wrote about the training of the mind when he said, “…we take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
There’s something about setting up for success by training your mind.
If you want to be a person that is kind and compassionate towards others, you have to begin taking captive those strange sarcastic thoughts, and really start giving away thoughts of compassion.
When the lady pulls in front of my at Wal-Mart, I’ll still have those thoughts like She must be from out-of-town, because NO HUMAN would do that here in Durango. and then I have to replace them with Thank you for allowing me to serve you today.
I know it sounds cheesy, but if our minds are full of simple trite cynical thoughts, it won’t be long that we will become that person.
Next time it will be a co-worker that acts in a way you didn’t expect.
Maybe it will be a family member who disappoints.
Or maybe it’s another parent at your kid’s school who does something you want to just scream at the top of your lungs ARE YOU NUTS??
Training your mind to think the best of another will begin to curb the times you fail.
And When You Fail
When you have those thoughts come and go, and all of us do, don’t let guilt start to permeate your being. Guilt, Shame, and Failure are enemies to mentally training yourself to see people in a good light.
Take some time.
Speak goodness over the people you struggle with.
And go back to training.
Nobody goes to the gym once or twice and has a fit body. It takes time, it takes work, and it takes discipline. You have to eat right, think right, and commit to it. You have to commit to thinking about people in a good way, and when you find yourself tired and failed again, just get back to training and move on.
It may take a while, but you’ll be on the road to wholeness.
Next time, we’ll explore what you believe about people and why we find a deep void between loving and criticizing.