“How could you be so stupid? You’re worthless!” These thoughts were my continual companions prior to 2018.
Fear and shame finally tipping the scales, I decided “I’d rather check out than continue pushing through.” Swirling around my brain like an eerie, green mist, thoughts mounted against me as the mist masterfully conjured each lie.
I had no idea my mind was captive to these destructive thoughts. Way past the point of hope, I contacted a Christian counselor. Mechanically sitting through the first sessions, I took copious notes with blurred vision.
How did I not know any of this stuff? Slowly, the mist cleared, hope reemerged, and the lies began to lose their power.
I’m discovering my thoughts drive emotions and behavior, creating the lens through which I see life—my worldview.
Jesus has much to say about this.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Phil.4:8
Understanding the power of our thoughts first-hand, Jesus desires us to live in freedom and joy.
Nothing is more mind-transforming than contemplating Jesus and His beauty, goodness and truth.
And we’re not without powerful tools:
“…Since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God… We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” I Cor. 10:3-5
Taking every thought captive looks like meditating on God’s truth and practicing presence, which is simply “being fully present.”
Jesus practiced perfect presence with others and His Father. It was one of His greatest gifts—His complete with-ness, and He still offers it today.
How can we dismantle the lies we believe and give the same mindful presence to others, and ourselves? God beautifully designed our brains with great capacity for resilience, and scientific research is catching up with God on the subject.
To begin—a little background regarding our brains. A network of interconnected brain structures called the default mode network is mostly off when we’re completing a task or paying attention, but when in thought, is switched on.
*Studies show links between overstimulation of this network and issues like depression and anxiety. And it turns out presence quiets its influence, providing copious benefits:
- Increases the thickness of areas of our brain promoting positive thinking
- Decreases the size of the areas associated with the amygdala—the flight or fight center
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Promotes emotional health
- Improves sleep
- Controls pain
- Decreases blood pressure
- Lengthens attention span
- Reduces age-related memory loss
- Enhances self-awareness, recognizing destructive thoughts, helping us understand ourselves and how we relate to others
- Increases kindness
- Improves relationships
- Increases productivity 30%
- May help fight addictions
Whether it’s a conversation, task, or being aware of our surroundings, presence quiets the constant hum of our thoughts, which research shows is mostly negative and almost exclusively self-focused. Mindfulness helps us detect our thoughts contradicting God’s truth, absconding our emotions.
With a resume like this, who’s in!? How can we begin practicing presence?
First, upon my counselor’s recommendation, I began noticing my emotions and the thoughts driving them, journaling without editing or reading. Utterly shocked at the lies I believed about myself, others and God, I began meditating on God’s Word, replacing the lies with His truth.
Next, I paid attention to conversations. My husband was right! My thoughts occasionally wandering as he spoke, practicing presence has curbed misunderstandings.
I also observed my surroundings on walks—listening to birdsong, studying the sky and trees, inhaling the fragrances—focusing on God and His Creation.
And, I started talking with Jesus more—I began practicing His presence. I’m discovering the sweetness of being near Him and hearing His voice as never before.
This process has been messy and muddled. My mind wanders a hundred times a day. But without a doubt, this (re)training has been the most transformational step to healing and peace.
What next step can you take to abate anxiety and regain peace?
- Observe your emotions and the thoughts driving them? Are there lies you need to take captive with God’s truth?
- Practice presence in nature, observing the good and beautiful gifts God gave for our enjoyment?
- How about time with Jesus? When we seek Him, He avails Himself to us. His presence is what our anxious mind most craves.
“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:20)
*Research from Professor Craig Hassed and Dr. Richard Chambers of Monash University, healthline.com and NIH.