I was in my minivan outside of a church, unable to move, paralyzed by anxiety. And I was supposed to speak in less than fifteen. (And, yes, I own a minivan. I drive it unashamedly, in fact. It has 17 cupholders. Seventeen. How many cupholders does your vehicle have? Exactly, so put down your gavel and stop judging.)
In my thirty-two years of existence, I’ve yet to experience something like this. I was frozen as if someone hit the off switch on my body. I tried to will my body. I tried the pep talk thing. “Let’s go, Frank. Get those feet moving. C’mon. Giddy up. Stop talking to yourself like that. You’re not a horse. Gah.”
You might chalk this up to a public-speaking phobia. That’s fair. Except that I’ve done this dozens of times, in front of larger and in more intimidating audiences. I always feel that tinge of anxiety when I speak. But nothing close to the temporary paralysis overwhelming me in this moment.
So, with a few minutes before I was supposed to speak, I knew something had to give. That’s when I heard a small voice, the Spirit, echo the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5. “Take captive every thought.”
In that moment, something awakened in me. The negative, evil thoughts arose from their slumber first. “You can’t do this. Your message sucks. Some will be critical. Others offended. You can’t handle that. Just stay in the car.”
It was these negative thoughts that sent my body into shock initially. This time, however, I put them on trial. “Why can’t I do this? Have I not done it dozens of times before? What if my message resonates with some people, even one person? Is it really possible to control what other people think, anyway? Even if some are critical or offended, does that change anything? Will I not still have family and friends who love me? Will I not still have a great job and my health and a place to lay my head tonight?
The more questions I asked, the quieter the negative voices became. This awakened the positive, reinforcing thoughts. I felt my body wake up as well. Ahh, movement in the extremities. I walked into the church with enough time to exchange hugs with a few good friends and make my way up front.
I’ve probably read 2 Corinthians 10:5 fifty times. For the first, however, the Scripture came to life. You can preach that “the word of God is alive” all day, but it’s largely empty rhetoric until it’s baptized in reality.
Back to capturing thoughts. Most of my life, I thoughts Paul’s words meant something, other than what they actually suggest. That night in my mini-van I realized thoughts can actually be called into question.
God began reshaping my attitude about thoughts several weeks ago, however, at the Mayo Clinic of all places.
I was in a class for folks with chronic illnesses, hoping to gather a few techniques that might improve my quality of life. Positive thinking was the first technique mentioned. I listened as the instructors told stories and introduced us to the latest findings on the brain. They called it neuro-plasticity.
Neuro-what? Yeah, me too.
The brain is malleable, in essence.
The brain can change, okay. The catalyst for this change? (Watch this) Identifying negative thought patterns and replacing them with positive ones.
Eerily similar to Paul’s words, eh?
So, I went home and tried it. Friends, you will never understand how freely negative thoughts run in your mind until you set out to corral them. I was stunned. And though I didn’t wrangle ‘em all to the ground the first time, I did begin to see that pointing them out minimized their power. It’s hard to fight an enemy you can’t name. I’m convinced many of our negative, destructive thought patterns are the result of our operating on autopilot.
My thoughts don’t hold ultimate power over my life. Neither do yours. Right now, I know many of you are plagued by crippling thoughts, ones that impact every facet of your life. And I want you to know self-defeating narratives do not have to write your story.
You can take your thoughts captive.
“But, Frank. I’ve tried that. It didn’t work for me.”
I tried it too. But I didn’t stick with it.
Breaking the pattern requires consistency and sticktoitiveness. It requires weeks, maybe months of showing up and catching the same thoughts. We’re not conditioned for this. Our microwaved culture expects everything five minutes ago. I mean, crap, I’m fightin’ mad if my 4G LTE takes longer than 3 seconds to load my Twitter feed. In certain parts of the country, Amazon guarantees 1-hour shipping. One hour. We know nothing about change that takes time, which is problematic considering spiritual change needs lots of it. God never, ever gets in a hurry.
I’ve practiced this capturing thoughts thing for over a month now. Some days I suck at it. I battle many of the same negative thoughts. But where they used to run hither and thither as they pleased, their comings-and-goings are less frequent and not nearly as chaotic.
And then there’s this.
Capturing thoughts also requires reflection and contemplation. Your thoughts will enslave you as long as you navigate life in the fast lane. Without intentional blocks of time for prayer and meditation and silence, you have no shot. This presents a problem for many of us, right? We have too much to do. There’s no time to slow down. Got to go, go, go.
I fear many of us are stuck in destructive thought patterns because we’ve accepted the lie that we’re too busy. Or that busyness is somehow a sign of godliness. It’s not.
If you pursue the calendar and honestly conclude you have not a free moment, then you’re negative thought pattern (one you don’t even know exists) is that your worth is directly tied to what you accomplish.
Look, here’s the point. No matter who you are, you can capture your thoughts. You can change your life. Not overnight, but over time.
Maybe you start by identifying just one negative thought. And that’s it. You do nothing except identify it. Then, you come back the next day and do it again. Every day you do this, probing deeper into its reason for existence. Over time, you will spot it instinctively and replace it with something more wholesome.
This is the power of Scripture. It truly is transformative.
Grace and peace, friends.