One of the reminders I find myself repeating to the children over and over again is “Change your thoughts!” The idea comes from Charlotte Mason’s idea that we need to strengthen our wills to take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) because thoughts and attitudes are habitual and if we indulge the wrong ones we will slip into sinful and destructive behaviors. As Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Recently a friend and I were discussing how people apply a filter to their thoughts. Everyone thinks mean or ugly thoughts sometimes and our filters (usually, ideally) keep those from coming out of our mouths in what we say. My friend opined that the strength of a person’s filter was a better indicator of that person’s character than the actual thoughts, because the filter is the person’s self-control and caring enough to make good choices about words and actions in spite of what the person actually might think.
In some ways, I agree. Certainly none of us would want to be subject to a neurological disorder or something that allowed us to utter or act on every thought that flits in and out of our brains. And yet, at the same time, our habits of thinking, where our minds wander when left alone, things we repeat over and over again to ourselves do have a way of impacting who we are. For example, if you constantly think about how annoying someone is, you’ll start to react differently to that person. But if you determine not to think that way and instead when the person annoys you think of that person’s positive traits, your interaction won’t be as negative.
As I heard myself tell my kids “change your thoughts” last week, to remind them to be kind, to have good attitudes, to stop pouting over not getting their way, I found myself feeling increasingly convicted about my own thought patterns. What thought habits do I have which, if my filter were removed, would hurt others? Which patterns of thought are making me see my situation unrealistically? Where could my own attitudes use adjusting?
It strikes me that if my goal is to be more Christlike, I need to follow the example of 2 Corinthians 10:5 and take every thought captive – to hold up every thought to the standard of Christ. That’s heavy lifting, but worth pondering.
So how do we change our thoughts? In my experience, it’s not enough to rebuke yourself for thinking something or other, and simple denials don’t work either. You have to replace the thought with the equal and opposite good thought.
For example (personal experience!) perhaps you mutter to yourself every time you clean your kitchen floor. “I hate cleaning the kitchen floor. This linoleum is so wretched. What on earth possessed us to choose bright white linoleum? Ugh, this is so horrible I hate this floor.” Now you could go all Pollyanna and chirp to yourself, “On the contrary! I love cleaning this floor!” But you’d be lying to yourself and it wouldn’t last long. Instead, you could acknowledge the truth in your complaint, but then replace the negative pattern with a positive one. “I hate cleaning the kitchen floor. Truly, white linoleum is a dreadful invention. But I like for my kitchen to be clean to keep my family healthy and to show them I love them enough to care for our house. I am so grateful to have a house to care for and a family to live in it with me. I would rather read a book than scrub little dirty footprints off of this floor, but I’m glad to have those six cute and tiny feet running around here.”
That’s a simplistic example, but you see what I mean.
And so I’m working on taking my thoughts captive, and thankful that I have a filter in the meantime since I’m still a work in progress! It’s always interesting to me that whatever issue I’m working on with the children winds up being a means of conviction for me too.