Have you ever had a thought or an emotion control you to the point of becoming a disability? I have! For instance, I was once told by a loving and well-meaning person that I would never be happy doing anything but “full-time ministry.”
What they meant by this, because I’m from Texas and definitely the Bible belt, was that I would find the most fulfillment in my life if, and only if, I was speaking regularly behind a church’s pulpit and/or on staff at a church as my main profession. I was 19 years old when this was said, and I quickly put my emotional stamp of approval on that thought because it was exactly what I wanted for my life at that time. Also, at that age, it’s hard to foresee your mind ever being changed or your desires being shifted from the emotionally and hormonally driven state that they’re in. In other words, I was a typical 19-year-old. Passionate, full of zeal, and I just knew that my future was to be on staff at a church.
Because of this certainty, I didn’t question at all the well-intended declaration which was lovingly spoken over my life. I accepted it as absolute truth and moved on in pursuit.
However, life, as it so often does, was not as certain of my future to become the next in a long line of pastors that had come from my family.
My journey is one of twists and turns, and up to this point has not had me regularly occupying a pulpit although I do enjoy preaching, teaching, or any form of public speaking. I’ve grown to recognize that there were many people along the way who saw something about me that seemed one thing, but because of their paradigm for church, ministry, and the charismatic Christian world in general, they were unable to see exactly what God may have been doing in my life. What’s most interesting about this one statement is that I am very much involved in a lifestyle of ministry on a full-time basis, but it doesn’t look like what my culture dictated to me at 19 years of age.
I could continue by telling you about the rest of my journey, but for now I want to focus on the words that we, or those around us, speak over our lives. They are powerful. They can form us, transform us, encourage us, or oppress us. Just like many other things in life, words can have a positive or a negative impact.
That statement made to 19-year-old me wasn’t untrue, but it wasn’t exhaustively true either. So, while I wasn’t being lied to, a certain course of identity was set in me that I’ve had to spend a generous portion of my adult life learning to understand and in some cases overcome.
Have you ever believed words spoken about you that led to a negative pattern in your life? Perhaps you’ve heard lies about yourself from influential people in your life that have set you on a course of poverty or abuse?
I often encounter people who, upon telling me their story, will readily admit that their current circumstances have been shaped by lies or truths that they’ve believed about themselves. Sometimes those are internal voices and emotions, and other times they are external voices. Voices from parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters or friends.
Who we are today is shaped so much by who we’ve allowed to have influence in our lives. If we’ve had positive and empowering influences or leaders, then we most likely live a life that is on a positive course with a good future outlook. Sure, we all have problems, but positive influences shape a positive future and help set healthy mindsets for us. However, if we’ve lived through abusive relationships then it’s likely that we have struggled intensely with self-hatred, a poverty mindset, self-worth, identity, fear, and a myriad of other things.
The good news about this is that no matter our background we still have the same level playing field and that is the one of the mind. Our past might dictate our current abilities or circumstances, but it doesn’t have to dictate our future. There are many steps that we can learn to take right now that would begin to form positive patterns for our lives to help us overcome fears, failures, hurts, and move past our negative emotions.
You can begin, right now, living a life full of peace and joy no matter what your background is. I’ve come to grips with this very thing in just the last couple of years of my life and I’ve never been more at peace within than I am right now. It took a lot of introspection, forgiveness of self and others, and ultimately I had to make the choice that I would move forward no matter what come.
Here are a few of the techniques that I employ to ensure that I’m not bound by old mindsets or by the thoughts that others may have for me:
- Begin to fill your mind with thoughts that are affirming to who you want to be, not just who people have said that you are. As cheesy as it may sound, there is true power in positive thinking. The more we fill our mind and thoughts with positive interaction the more we have built a system of protection against negative patterns that have been formed over years. How do you defeat negative patterns? Form new, more positive ones to replace them!
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. – Philippians 4:8
- Much like the first item, this second one is relatively simple: Guard your heart! Which really means to be picky about what you allow to influence the way you think. Any of us that have tried to live a healthy lifestyle physically knows that when your dieting and exercising that you must be selective with what you do with your body and what you put into your body. The same goes for our minds. Our minds are like the central command for our entire life, therefore anything we do or say is dictated from the lenses controlling our minds.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. – Luke 6:45
- Be careful what you say. Rather we like it or not there are power in our words. The old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie! I would rather have sticks and stones thrown at me than harsh, abusive, and negative rhetoric. At least I can run from sticks or stones! What we say about ourselves, or others, is an overflow of how we think about ourselves. Just as the scripture directly above (See Luke 6:45) would tell us, the things we say are an outpouring of what we’re continually allowing our mind to be influenced by.
The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. – Proverbs 18:21
- Practice gratitude! If you’re not naturally a grateful person it’s ok. Most of us aren’t! Especially here in the U.S. we have a real problem with this ancient practice of peace. Our culture dictates to us that the quickest way to fulfillment is by gaining more. More money, more power, more friends, more. Practicing a lifestyle of gratitude is completely subversive to our current cultural practices. It’s one that seeks to find contentment in the here and now rather than always looking to the future for more. Begin looking for moments to practice gratefulness with intention and you’ll be surprised at how many of your negative thoughts simply go away. There will be no room for them!
A merry (grateful, praise-filled, rejoicing) heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones. – Proverbs 17:22
I hope you’ll be challenged and encouraged to try these practical steps to begin practicing a new way of thinking. Give it a try. Not just a passing glance, but an actual fair shake. I promise you that if you do, then you’ll wake up a month from now thinking differently about yourself. I know I do!