How Do We Stop Anxious Thoughts? It’s Simpler Than You Think.
We've learned a ton about dealing with anxious, destructive thinking thanks to Jennie Allen's book, Get Out Of Your Head- Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts.
Allen gives us many tools, but they all hinge on a singular truth.
WE HAVE A CHOICE.
We started our series with this verse from the book of Joshua.
"…choose for yourselves this day…." Joshua 24:15
This is just part of the verse. If we finish the Scripture, it says,
"choose for yourselves this day who you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
The point of this Scripture is that we have a choice. Joshua knew it. And we can know it too.
Every toxic thought can be redirected with the truth, "I have a choice."
We do not have to be slaves to our anxious thoughts. Instead, we can choose another way to think, another way to see the world, and another way to see ourselves.
In the past six weeks, we've learned powerful variations of the different ways we can choose.
#1 We can choose to be still with God.
As Allen stated, "In the stillness and quiet, not only do we connect with God, but we are also able to more clearly identify what is wrong. Recognizing our spirals and naming them is the first step in interrupting them."
#2 We can choose to be known.
We talked about many ways to move toward connection with other people and how important that is, but we also learned this:
No matter how many friends we have or don't have... no matter how authentic our relationships are or are not... as believers in Christ, we are already in community.
You and I are at this very moment in community with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the context of this community, we are each fully known.
#3 We can choose to surrender our fears to God.
Allen says that one of the greatest tools the enemy will use to get us to spiral is to trap us with the words "what if." The antidote is found in two more words "because God." God's goodness and faithfulness force our fears to bend the knee and admit they have no place in our lives.
#4 We can choose to delight in God.
Here we learned about the dangers of cynicism. Allen stated, "Cynicism puts our minds on things of this earth, and we lose hope. Beauty points our gaze toward the heavens and reminds us of hope. Cynicism crumbles in the presence of beauty."
When we choose to delight in God, cynicism and its bedfellow's negativity and unbelief run out of air. Feelings like that are squelched when we are captivated by God.
#5 We can choose to serve God and others.
Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking of ourselves less. Humility allows us to focus on what God asks of us and what others need from us.
Allen says, "The lie we believe is that the more self-esteem we have, the better life will be for us. But the truth is this, the more we choose God and others over ourselves, the more joyful we will be."
#6 We can choose to be grateful.
Last week we were reminded that this is not our permanent address. Our Master is coming, and our heavenly home awaits. This knowledge changes our perspective and can spark gratitude within us even when it doesn't make sense to be thankful.
A great quote by a Jesuit priest says, "It's not joy that makes us grateful, it's gratitude that makes us joyful."
We can practice thankfulness. We can do it by remembering what needs to be remembered (God's goodness, His faithfulness) and forgetting what needs to be overlooked. We don't want to get stuck in past failures.
Feelings of gratitude nurtured by practices of thanksgiving can lead to a joyful life even when life is hard.
Jennie Allen has one more choice she encourages us to make.
#7 We can choose to seek the good of others.
Allen says, "We desperately want to be set free from the chaos of our minds–– but set free to do what? Our culture's idea about freedom is often that we are set free to do whatever we want. The irony is that when we go through seasons of doing whatever we want, those turn out to be our least content season. We were not built to live for ourselves."
I'll be darned if some days it isn't just plain easier (and seemingly satisfying) to think more about ourselves than someone else.
Allen shares this quote from a theologian (a college professor):
"People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance, we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom, we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."
Seeking the good of others is not for the faint of heart. It is a lie to believe that we can do whatever we want. The truth is that God has set us free to serve others, not indulge ourselves.
There are plenty of obstacles that can get in the way of seeking the good of others. One is that we get tangled up in our failures, past or present. We park there, and the spiral of our thoughts have us believing the lie that we're just not in a position to look out for someone else.
I read an article that resonated with me more than I wanted. It talked about how important it is to silence the inner critic.
Many of us hear THAT voice. The one that, despite our best intentions, tells us we don't have the talent. We don't have the knowledge or expertise. We don't have anything to offer.
Sometimes it's not an inner critic that makes it hard to know the best way to seek the good of others. Sometimes we just need to grow in self-awareness regarding our gifts and talents.
If that is the case, there are two very concrete steps we can take:
First, we can utilize tools to determine how we're wired and our strengths.
One such tool is a spiritual gifts inventory––surveys that may help us determine if we have:
Gift of Administration
The one who steers the ship.
Gift of Discernment
The one who can distinguish between good and evil more readily.
Gift of Teaching
The one who communicates what the Bible says to others.
These are just a few of the many spiritual gifts anyone of us may have.
Another step to uncovering increased self-awareness is to ask someone else what they see in us. Sounds like a vulnerable thing to do, doesn't it? That's why we choose someone we trust but also someone who will be honest with us.
And then there's the potential obstacle of trust. Or, more accurately, distrust! Do we trust God with our endeavors?
Can we trust that He will provide what we need?
"God, I need time."
We can't even imagine how we would find the time to do whatever it is He's put on our hearts on behalf of someone else. Sometimes, just like the Israeli priests, we need to put our feet in the water first, and then God will part the figurative river.
"God, I need confidence."
Perhaps we're just not convinced we can do it. That's when we learn the great irony. We can't. NONE of us can.
None of us is truly equipped to do whatever deed we hope will make an eternal impact. We're not supposed to be able to. If we could, we would get the glory, not God.
A lack of confidence doesn't need to be a detriment. Instead, it can make it abundantly clear that God, not we, is the Great Provider.
Can we trust Him with the outcomes?
In recent years, Jesus has liberated me from thinking I'm responsible for outcomes. So today, I hold outcomes far more loosely.
I think I was trying to play God in those early years (without meaning to).
If I reach out to this person, I bet this may happen!
If I help this family member, I'll bet this will be the result!
If/Then thinking entwined itself with my acts of caring.
May I tell you something? It's exhausting. It can be really disappointing. And often, it's self-sabotaging.
If things don't turn out the way we think they should over time, we can become filled with doubt and discouragement… to the point of quitting.
But what if outcomes are none of our business? What if the only business we have is to tend is whatever He's asking us to do.
We do it. And then we GET to let go.
We've come a long way in this series. But I believe we need to. If we don't struggle with anxious, worrisome, or angry thoughts, it is likely that someone we know does.
Thanks be to God; we have a choice.
Would you pray with me?
"God, sometimes our minds do not mind well. And yet Lord, You have not abandoned us, nor will You ever leave us to our fretful, spiraling minds.
Jesus, You said that You had to leave for the Spirit to come and that we would need Your Spirit. So, we ask for Your Holy Spirit to rain on us… to wash over us… to remain with us… so that He can remind us of every good and powerful tool You have given us to live free from toxic thoughts. In Jesus' name, we pray, Amen."