Change Your Mind
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
My body also rests secure....
You show me the path of life....
In your presence there is fullness of joy.
-Psalm 16 (NRSV)
These lines from Psalm 16 have been posted on my bathroom mirror for months. I often tape pieces of scripture and lines from poems there, because I know they'll likely be the first things I read in the morning, and the last before I go to bed. As my day begins, the reminders are helpful. But they're even more important at the end of my day.
I wonder if you're like me. Mornings generally begin well. I look forward to whatever I've planned to do, even realizing that circumstances may change my day. Perhaps like you, since the COVID-19 Shelter in Place order began, I've accomplished lots of tasks I'd been putting off. Cleaning out the drawers in our bathroom cabinet (even my husband's!). Sorting through medications in our medicine chest. (Is it really a good idea to keep Vitamin D supplements that expired two years ago?) Even tackling the basket of unmatched socks, and actually throwing away whatever doesn't have a mate.
Generally, I'm able to accomplish whatever tasks I've set for myself, and I feel good when I see the results.
I've always been a stress cleaner. Clutter and chaos make me crazy, and organizing makes my environment -- and my brain -- feel more peaceful. Being busy with all of those tasks during the day takes my mind off of negative things.
Then evening comes. And along with it, doubts... worries... fears.
Because when dinner is done; and I'm no longer being busy (i.e., no longer distracted), that is when the anxiety often hits.
It's no surprise. The Enemy certainly knows when we're at our weakest. You will remember that Satan didn't show up to tempt Jesus until after he'd been fasting in the desert for 40 days and nights! When we're tired, or sick, or weakened in any way -- when we're at our most vulnerable -- that's when the attacks often intensify.
Evil is having a field day right now, because there is so much to be concerned about in these extraordinarily difficult times.
I don't need to list the concerns for you. We're all too aware of what's happening in our world. And I'm sure that we've all developed coping mechanisms. Whether it's cleaning, doing yard work, watching TV, reading, working puzzles... or any of 100 other activities... we are all finding ways to make our time of relative isolation easier to endure.
At the risk of having you roll your eyes at the "Well, duh..." thing I'm about to suggest, I want to offer another idea. Use the tools we're given in scripture. Not only reading the Bible, but focusing and acting upon passages that tell us what we can do to ease our minds during difficult times.
We probably all have our favorite verses of scripture. I'm most drawn to passages that speak to me of God's desire that I live in peace and joy, regardless of my circumstance. But if God is going to accomplish these things in my life, I need to do my part by being intentional, actually using the tools that God has given me.
Here's an example of what I mean.
I'm sure you're familiar with Philippians 4:8, Paul's exhortation to the church of Philippi to stay strong in their walk with Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things.
I couldn't even guess the number of times I've read that scripture (It's also taped to my mirror!), and I imagine it's the same for many of us. But it has occurred to me that this is an example of scripture intended not just to be read, but to be acted upon. (I know... a statement probably worthy of another eye roll. But bear with me.)
Rather than just reading this verse as a list of good things, what if we use it in a concrete way, turning it into a weapon against fear, unhappiness, and anxiety? What if we actively look for things throughout our days and nights that belong on this list? Something specific that is true. Something that is right, or pure, or noble.
I'd like you to try it right now. What is something that you know is true? Think about it, and be specific. Out of all the things I might point to as true, here is one: The trees are budding; and if I notice that truth -- if I actually look at the buds, maybe even go outside and feel them with my fingers -- I am reminded that there are real, true things all around me. It can even prevent me from focusing on all of the untruths bombarding me in the media.
Because I'm a visual and tactile person, I write it down -- moving it from something I've thought about and experienced, to something I can revisit and use to calm my mind. I've created a page for myself that helps me to be more mindful, and also to actually focus on positive things in my world. It's a simple list that looks like this:
I've found that simply taking the time to notice, and then to write down those eight things, I am encouraged, more hopeful, more aware of the presence of God's goodness in the world.
And friend, that can go a long way towards helping me feel less fear, trusting more in God than in what the world offers.
Starting today, Friday, April 24, 2020, and continuing every day, I will post one of those qualities Paul identifies on the church's Facebook page, First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso. I invite you to respond with your own observations. If we do this in the form of a response to the postings, it should result in a long list that encourages all of us!
Starting on the evening of next Wednesday, April 29, 2020, at 6:00 p.m., I'm beginning a new series of reflections, posted as video on the church's website at www.fpcvalpo.organd Facebook page. I'm calling this series Change Your Mind: Living Peacefully during COVID-19. It will focus upon what scripture tells us about the role the mind plays in coping with the stresses of our lives. If you're interested in learning about other scriptures that you can use intentionally to fight the Enemy's agenda of fear and doubt, I invite you to join us as we gather online for this series.
Blessings, my friends. Stay strong!
Lou Ann Karabel