Navigational Notes from Nancy Chapter 3
In early March the clergy gathered via Zoom to discuss how we could support the people of Saint Barnabas to “Be the Church” in the uncertain days ahead. Rev. Karen asked me to write articles of a pastoral nature and thus my notes on navigating these troubled waters. This week I will make simple suggestions to maintain healthy thinking. I am using the work of Noam Shpancer, a Purdue University trained psychologist.
Imagine you are going shopping for shoes. You don’t buy the first pair you see. You walk around the store, comparing the size, the fit, the style, the price. You look for evidence, information, that helps you decide consciously which shoe is the best for you.
We must use the same method to choose our thoughts. Our brains are “thought” stores. Every time we feel anxious or down, the feeling stems from a thought we have bought. An ill-fitting thought, like an ill-fitting shoe, will hurt us. That is why we need to monitor our thoughts, our interpretations of events.
We need to think about our thoughts. That’s hard, but living in fear and suffering is also hard. The choice in this life is not between easy and hard, but between kinds of hardship, between a hardship that gives birth to wisdom, compassion and mercy, and the hardship that keeps on replicating itself to no end.
Thinking habits are like posture habits. If you sit in front of the computer for hours with a hunched back, at some point you will feel a backache. To get rid of it, you will have to learn to sit up straight, with good posture. Incorrect thinking habits cause mental pain and they too need to be changed. Accurate thinking is a habit you can develop, but only through daily practice.
Habits that have worked before cease to work as time and place change. (And we are living in the midst of significant change!) Think about a boy growing up with an abusive father. Every time the boy tries to express himself, to speak his mind, the parent slaps him and ridicules him and tells him to shut up. The child learns to keep silent. The thoughts that cause him to be silent are “my opinion is not important” and “speaking my mind is dangerous,” After a few years those thoughts become automatic, like language. Suppose he grows up and goes to college. He is at a different place and time but he carries his habits with him. Sitting in class, the professor turns to him and asks him a question. His first thought is “don’t talk. Danger.” He will stay quiet or say he doesn’t know. Behavior that used to prevent a beating now works against him. He needs to speak his mind.
Thoughts that will lead to a change in his behavior are: “My opinion matters. Speaking up here is ok. It is not dangerous here.” He must accept this thought, which is accurate, and use it repeatedly. He must say it to himself in his head, and act from it, until it becomes automatic, a new healthy habit.
How about you? What recurring thoughts are hurting you, impeding you from living in a compassionate, merciful, trusting relationship with God? Stop taking those old negative and fearful thoughts out of your “Mind Store.” Replace the thoughts that hurt you with thoughts like “God is love,” and from the 15th chapter of Romans: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Each day pray that for yourself and for individual names going down one column a day of the parish directory. We will move mountains of dirt from our souls!