Dwelling on negative thoughts. Surely that’s not the best use of my time.
I had crawled out of bed at an early hour to go to the gym at the local community center. I left my semi-fussy toddler with my husband so I could get in a short workout before he had to leave for work. I didn’t have much time to spare, so I arrived at the gym promptly at 6:45 a.m., only to find a note on the door, saying they’d open at 7.
A similar thing had happened the week before, except that I saw the note earlier in the week. This time, they did not post the note in advance. The woman at the desk said that the building usually opens at 6:30, but the person who normally did this was on vacation, so the maintenance person would be opening the building at 7.
I only joined the community center a week or two before and hadn’t initially realized that they opened so early. I thought, “Great! I can go to the gym early in the morning while my husband is home instead of having to get a sitter.” When I arrived at 7 a.m. two days later, the door was firmly locked. Another patron and I commiserated for 10 minutes until the maintenance man arrived.
The maintenance man arrived around 7:15 or 7:20. The same thing happened a few days later, at which point he informed us he wasn’t scheduled to work until 7:30, but he had been coming early because he knew we’d be waiting at the door. He also informed us that the 6:30 person was on vacation for three weeks, and to expect the same issues to arise the following week.
I spent the next half hour, running on the treadmill, and writing a letter in my mind to the people who are in charge of the community center. If the door can’t be opened until 7:30, write 7:30 on the sign so that people aren’t standing out in the freezing cold on a winter morning.
In fact, create a sign that says this is the case for three weeks, not one week, and post it before the person goes on vacation, rather than changing the sign each week and then forgetting to post it in time. I am a paying customer, after all, and my feelings should be taken into account.
I continued to write this letter in my head all day and for several days to follow.
* * *
I’ve always wondered if I might have a mild version of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s quite common in people with a history of eating disorders or some forms of depression. No, I don’t have an official diagnosis, though I’ve read the criteria and I’m fairly close to meeting it. I don’t wash my hands excessively or worry about germs, and I don’t have rituals I feel I need to complete — common things we associate with OCD. I don’t have an extreme need for orderliness, although this is something I used to struggle with and have now swung to the opposite extreme. I’m not overcome by strange urges.
But I do overthink things. And then think about them again. And then think some more.
Compared to some of the manifestations of true OCD, my problem with thinking may seem small. I definitely don’t want to minimize the very real illness that OCD is. True OCD, like depression, something I have been diagnosed with and have struggled with most of my life, is a life-controlling disease that often requires counseling and even medication.
Honestly, though, if you lived in my head for a day, you might conclude that I’m only two steps away from it being truly life-controlling. If I know I have to have a difficult conversation, I will rehearse it in my head over and over again, imagining every variation and trying to find the perfect words. If I’m not careful, I will think about it all day long and get more and more worked up and angry.
* * *
I never did write the letter to the community center higher-ups. I decided I not only needed to get over myself, but there are much better ways to spend my time. In fact, there must be better ways to use my brain space. This Scripture came to mind as I was struggling to find some way to push this thought process out of my head:
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
I often think about what I say and whether or not it pleases God or is acceptable (as another translation says) to Him.
In fact, most of us can probably quote several similar verses, such as Jesus’ words: “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36) or one of the many places in Proverbs where we are admonished to be careful about what we say, like “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
But above and beyond trying to follow Jesus’ commands not to look at someone lustfully and not to harbor anger against others, how often do I think about what my heart is meditating on?
My dictionary translates the verb “to meditate” as “to focus one’s thoughts on: reflect on or ponder over,” “to plan or project in the mind” or “to engage in contemplation or reflection.” The word translated in Psalm 19 as “meditation” occurs only 4 times in the Bible, and this Psalm is the only time that it’s translated as “meditation.” It is also translated as “resounding music” or “whispering.”
My heart is often filled with hopelessness and a sense of helplessness. Just yesterday, I had several unexpected expenses arise, and I found myself feeling very discouraged. As the day went on, rather than focus on what I know and have seen to be true — that God, not myself or my husband, is the provider, that He was not surprised by any of these expenses, and that He has always provided for my family (and He will continue to do so) — I continued to find more and more reasons to be discouraged.
Is it really the best use of my time to choose to dwell on negative thoughts?
I think back to the community center. There was an infrequent opportunity that I had to be still (as still as one can be while running on a treadmill) with no toddler vying for my attention, no music or kid’s TV shows playing in the background, no meals waiting to be cooked or dishes calling out to me. They don’t even play music in the community center gym. Yet I chose to use that time to meditate on a totally unproductive train of thought.
How differently would my day have turned out if instead, I had taken Paul’s advice: “Finally, brothers, 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” (Philippians 4:8).
One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” It reminds me that part of the transformation process, becoming a new creation, is allowing God’s ways to infiltrate my thought patterns.
I have to ask myself: What is whispering to my heart today? What resounds in my soul? Is it something that would be pleasing and honoring to God — something noble and true and pure? Or am I allowing myself to dwell on things that are not only unacceptable to God, but are simply not beneficial to me either?
Did I have a better day because I let my worries over finances blur my knowledge of God’s goodness? Did I improve my life at all by writing a letter in my head to show how I could run the community center better than those in charge?
That would be a resounding “no” on both counts.
After a day of allowing worry to weigh me down, I woke up this morning and made a conscious decision to choose to believe that God was going to take care of me. And, of course, He has. I’ve had a far better day because instead of grumbling, I’ve sought to please Him with the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.
Copyright 2009 Brenna Kate Simonds. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Brenna Kate Simonds, her husband, their son and their cocker spaniel reside in Boston. Brenna Kate is a songwriter/worship leader at her church and director of Alive in Christ, an Exodus Member Ministry. She enjoys running, cooking, blogging and spending time with family.