In the Silence of the Mind: October 25, 2013
Thinking/Over/Thinking – Part 2 – Thinking about Ourselves
“I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
– Morpheus in The Matrix
In part 1 of this series, we opened the door to the Indian Cupboard of our minds. We started thinking about what we think about and how what we dwell on shapes our spirits and our path towards our Savior. Be sure to check it out if you missed it. Now, as promised, I want to take us on a hunting expedition to find those thought patterns that set us on a path towards everything from a simple case of the weepies all the way to full on warfare with God in idolatry.
Now, I’ve chose the word “hunting” very carefully. I am not a hunter. I have never hunted big game or even a rabbit. But, I have hunters all around me. My step-father is a hunting guide. Many of my best friends are hunters. And, even though I am not a hunter, I am convinced that the analogy of hunting is the best one to use for what we are called to do in our minds. We must form a hunting party and track down those patterns (paths) of thoughts that set us against God and keep us moving on the path away from fullness in Him.
Thinking about Yourself
I’ve noticed in my life that there’s a direct connection between what I think of myself and how well I do in fighting off further temptation. When I’m in a bad mood and dog myself consistently I find it becomes harder to make the right choices. When I beat myself up inside, I tend to weaken in my defenses and start manipulating my mind to continue down worse and worse paths. I open myself up to any attacks the devil throws at me because of my attitude about myself. This makes perfect sense, if you think about it. It would equate to having a rebel spy in your camp. You may think he’s on your side, but really he’s just a leak of vital intel.
That’s what we tend to do to ourselves when we have a negative self-perspection and allow negative thoughts to attack us, personally. In our battle over what we think (see part 1 again), how we think about ourselves has a critical role. As I mentioned, thinking that leads down the wrong path can end up in idolatry. Most people equate idolatry with elevating themselves, but the irony is that having a wrongly negative view of yourself can also lead to similar evils. God calls us His beloved children and accusing ourselves of being gutter trash is mocking and defying what God has said. There is a delicate balance at play. We cannot elevate ourselves above others, but we cannot lower ourselves below what God has created us to be.
This was an especially important message in my early years. You see, growing up, I was the fat kid at school. Not just a fat kid, I was the fattest kid in my elementary school. I was the one that was most often called things like “porker” or “fatty”, and to a little kid these names can be devastating. I was made fun of and ridiculed by most of the other kids, and because of their jeering I developed a very low self image. Because of this, I convinced myself I was incapable of doing all the cool things that the other kids could do. I told myself that I wasn’t worth as much as the other kids, and their words seemed to back it up.
During my eighth grade summer, I was on a student exchange trip to Taiwan and I began to see just how bad this aura was. We were on a large 757 plane that would afford plenty of room for me to distance myself from anyone that had come on the trip with me, but unfortunately we were given assigned seats. I got seated next to a cute blonde girl from our group that seemed to think that I was a carrier of the black plague.
At first we were totally silent. She didn’t talk to me and I didn’t talk with her. But there’s an interesting phenomena about traveling on a twelve hour flight over international waters where after a while even a lioness and a wildebeest would begin to talk in order to stave off the boredom (there were no iPhones back then… even GameBoy’s weren’t “color”-ed yet). I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I clearly remember what happened after.
After we talked for a while I decided that it was time to get some sleep. As soon as it looked like I was passed out, which I wasn’t but I wouldn’t let her know, this girl began to write a letter (on paper… again, no iPhones) to her long lost best friend who was stuck three or four aisles over. Now I didn’t mean to be nosey, but at what seemed like just the right time I looked over to the note and saw her writing about me.
“You know, he’s really not all THAT bad. After you talk to him for a bit, you can kinda enjoy it.” That was all that I could see. I was not really all that bad, hmmm.
That trip to the land of The Golden Sun changed my life in many ways. Primarily, though, it all centered around the fact that I rarely ate. And this was directly because most of the meals presented before us had one common thing about them… they had all once been swimming in one of the near by bodies of water. I hate sea food. I can’t stomach to eat the stuff at all. So I rarely ate.
That summer I lost almost fifty pounds and gained almost six inches in height, due to a nicely timed growth spurt. One of my best friends always refers to this as “the time they sent me to Taiwan and put me in a stretching machine.” However, even though the weight problem began to lessen, my self-image was damaged for what would seem like the rest of my life. I was no longer fat, let alone the fattest kid at school, but I still had plenty of leftovers in my head of a negative self-image to munch on. It was still a challenge to see myself as a value to society. Often I still wished I was someone else. The battle for my self-image had yet to begin. Negative thoughts still abounded.
Thoughts about yourself
Thinking these negative thoughts about yourself has severe consequences. If you’re constantly down on yourself then you are opening up your life to skilled and trained attacks from the enemy. When you don’t have healthy thoughts about yourself then you’re more likely to cave to temptations that come your way. In the movie classic The Matrix, when Neo is first introduced to his computer generated avatar, Morpheus tells Neo that how he looks in the matrix is what is referred to as “residual self image.” The message that is displayed there is incredible to what I am going to say next, so let’s look at the imagery used and expand on our own residual self image.
In the real world Neo is hairless and has computer terminals installed all over his skin and at the back of his neck. He is pasty and his muscles are about as large as those carried around by a nine year old girl who has just joined the school hockey team. But in the matrix Neo has long black hair, he’s in great shape, and after a while he learns that he can punch through walls and leap tall buildings in a single bound. He finds that he is Superman locked in a digital body with limitless possibilities.
Our lives are like this. Many of us walk around with a residual self image that is low and unhealthy. But this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. In reality we are given limitless possibility by God. We see ourselves as pathetic and wriggling little worms that are on a hook. We see ourselves as worthless beings that will never amount to anything. This is exactly what the devil wants you to think. Why? Because he knows that you are dangerous and that, through God (and God alone. This is not some heretical self-empowerment message), you can be a threat to his kingdom of darkness. He also knows that if he can keep you thinking that you are worthless, he can convince you that truer pleasure can only ever be found in what he has for you. This is where temptation becomes especially effective.
If the path to purity is like a trail that leads towards the feet of God, then the path the devil will try to lead you down will be one of self destruction through either senseless aggrandizement (loving yourself too much) or through allowing you to simply defeat yourself in pity. You’ll be able to see the right path, but you’ll keep getting further and further away from it. You’ll stretch out your arms to it in desperation, but it will sink into the distance and shrink in your vision. This is the ultimate danger of having a low residual self image.
We must fight against this. How we view ourselves can affect the effectiveness of the enemy’s temptations. When the self pity of our lives is replaced with a warrior’s heart we begin to see that we can resist the devil and he will flee. This is why we are tempted to think of ourselves in such negative ways so often. When we think with a negative spirit and a downcast soul then satan is able to keep us from claiming God’s promises in our lives. We must begin to start thinking correctly about ourselves. We are not self-empowered cocky fools, but we are children of the Most High who loves us just as we are with all of our imperfections and serves as our source of power towards becoming more like Him.
Really applying this to our mental world is incredibly hard to do; I will be the first to admit that. Because of my past, I still worry about how my body looks, how I come across to people, and whether or not they like me. I still struggle with keeping my mind positive about what’s going to happen and I still sometimes lack the utter trust that God will come through and give me a wonderfully full life. In my weaker moments I struggle with these things, but God has begun to initiate me. He has begun to show me that I am loved and that I need nothing more than His love. The more I focus on His love, the more everything else just seems to fade to the background.
The Bible is not silent on this issue, either. It lets us know that we have value and that we have worth. Once we begin to believe that and “dwell on these things”, then we will start to live like we are valuable and we have worth. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the author of Psalm 139:14 proclaims and 1 John 3:1 adds, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” We are called children of God. If you have nothing else to look to, you can begin there. God is crying out from the pages of Scripture to a lost generation who just needs His Love. He offers His heart and power to each one of us, all we have to do is ask.
The ultimate display of this love was when God came down to the earth as Jesus the Christ, Messiah to all, and allowed Himself to be beaten mercilessly and then hung on a Roman cross for the very sins that we have committed. He took our place, and He would have done it if you or I were the only one that He was doing it for. He died in our place, so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. This is truly where our hope is found. It is not our own efforts, but because of His mercy that we will live again. We don’t have to think that we are anything less than what we are, because God thinks that we are worth dying for. We are His beloved children.
How do we improve our residual self-image? What about that whole “not thinking more of yourself than others” thing? These will be the next couple issues we’ll tackle in In the Silence of the Mind – Thinking/Over/Thinking. Has something in this article jumped out at you? Something you want to discuss about it? Speak from the silence of your mind in the comments section, below. Then, be sure to check back next Friday for more.
Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible.”
– Saint Augustine of Hippo