"...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...
and the God of peace will be with you."
Philippians 4:8 NIV
This verse has been on my mind all week long, and for good reason. Sometimes life just gets a bit heavy and we just need to stop; we just need to get back to our center--and think about all that is good. Sometimes we just need the peace of God to be with us.
This past week in particular I have learned of so many very serious needs just within my own close circle of friendships--needs that I have been praying about daily. And not even counting the many needs I've read about on the blogs I've visited. While I do believe we are called to help bear one another's burdens, we also need to guard our hearts at the same time so that we don't get bogged down into a mire of negative thinking which can lead to unproductive living. For my part, I'm trying to do a little tweaking here and there in my life so as not to be tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind.
One thing that really helps me is being careful of what I fill my mind with. What wonderful instructions St. Paul left us with, as quoted above. By following this directive alone, we would be well on our way to renewing our minds which in turn makes us more able to discern what we really are supposed to be doing with our lives.
Here are a few of the areas I have identified that tend to "pull me down" instead of "build me up" in my spirit and attitude:
*watching too much of the evening news*
It was getting to the point where my husband and I were sitting in our chairs, night after night in front of the TV, and getting more and more upset at things we really have no, or little, control over. When you hear false or negative things being repeated over and over again, one of two things tends to happen. Either you start believing them, or you are in a constant state of being upset over something you can't do much about. So we have chosen to pretty much leave the TV turned off. We only have a few precious hours together in the evenings, and this just wasn't a good way to be spending them. It makes no sense to fill our minds with all the negative things going on in the world, and then try to go to bed and have peaceful, renewing sleep. duh.
*reading too much of the newspaper*
This was an area where I was more of a die-hard. My dad always read the local newspaper from cover to cover each day, and wouldn't put it down until he had completed the cross word puzzle. My mother-in-law is the same way...she even reads the stock pages. So we always subscribed to the paper and we were interested in keeping up with the local news. But here again, the papers today do much more than report the news. They have gotten to be political and social battering rams, and tend to be extremely biased in reporting or even "creating" news. We were finding that more and more, we were taking a paid-for-but-unread newspaper out to the recycling bin. Not too smart, is it?
One day last January I read a national award-winning local community commentator's column because it had been brought to my attention at a ladies bible study. The title of the column was "In defense of internet pornography". Say what? I read the column twice because I couldn't believe it. On the community page of our local newspaper, this guy was actually giving "facts" to argue that sex crimes have gone down due to the proliferation of internet pornography and the like. Without going too far down a rabbit trail here, we personally know several families whose lives and careers have been decimated because of internet pornography. There is nothing good that comes of it. I had an email exchange with this journalist that went back and forth but got nowhere. We ended up canceling our 30+ year subscription to that paper. More space in my brain was freed up to be filled with things that are lovely instead. We decided to send the amount of money we were paying for the paper to a local Christian counseling center.
*not paying close attention to what I'm reading on the internet*
It goes without saying (hopefully!) that you can't believe everything you read on the internet. Or that just because it is accessible, it is helpful or good for you to read. This includes blogs! Being a fairly new blogger, I am learning, as my husband likes to say, "by the braille method". I'm fumbling around, trying to learn a new computer at the same time I'm trying to learn about the blogosphere. I'm discovering that people blog for all kinds of reasons, and personally it has opened up a whole new world for me. For the most part, I have "met" some amazing people (mostly women) through this incredible technology...women who through sharing their stories and gifts have blessed me daily and have encouraged me and built me up in my spirit. I hope my posts do the same for others. It truly is a social network, especially for someone like me who has been out of the work force for 16 years, and many of my days now are devoted to babysitting a couple of my grands as well as helping my mom since she is still newly widowed and no longer can drive.
I've also run into some blogspots that I've noticed have the opposite effect on me. Reading some blogs is like associating with people whose personalities or attitudes just seem to leave you feeling heavy and weighed down, instead of encouraged and built up. Sometimes I come away feeling like that blogger wants to make me their personal project and try to fix me. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally open to learning and interested in other people's perspectives and interests. But if it's not a two-way street, and if you can't make a comment without feeling personally judged by someone who really doesn't even know you, then it's not a good place to hang out. Life is too short. There are hundreds of blogs out there written by kind and gentle souls who understand it's often not what you say, but how you say it that might just make or break a reader's day. I'm learning that I can control what feeds my spirit by controlling what I read both in the blogosphere as well as other places on the internet. Just because something is purported to be "truth" doesn't always mean it is.
*not being careful of what I read in books and magazines*
We have very few magazines that come into our home. Just a few that we enjoy and have the time to read. We both do love to read books. Reading books and magazines can take your mind to all kinds of places. They can be a great escape from reality. This can be a good thing. Books can allow us to travel to places we never otherwise might be able to visit, and meet people we otherwise would never have a chance to know up close and personally. We can learn about people and cultures we would otherwise be unfamiliar with. We can delve into history or even peak into future possibilities if we are so inclined. We can be encouraged by the stories of others. What we need to be mindful of is how powerful a book or magazine can be in terms of what gets imprinted onto our brains...or suggestions that are transplanted into our hearts. I didn't understand this so much when I was a young teenager, but looking back now, I can only be thankful for a pastor's wife who saw me reading a less-than-desirable popular novel, and called me on it. She took the time to explain how filling my mind with "trash" would influence my thought processes, and my thoughts would eventually influence my actions. I've never forgotten that. Sometimes when I'm in a doctor's waiting room or at the beauty shop or checking out at the grocery store, and glance at the magazines, I'm appalled at the kinds of stories that sell. Do I really need to know all these personal details about the lives of people I would never have as my role models? Do I really need to see all that skin? The "beautiful" people of the magazines don't live in the world I live in so why should I be tempted to compare my looks, or money, or whatever with theirs?
*not taking care in choosing who I spend my time with*
We all have people in our lives who we don't necessarily click with and are not like-minded. They can be relatives, work associates, or other women in organizations we belong to. A good friend of mine--a soul sister who is much wiser and a whole lot more spiritual than me--helped me understand how I can co-exist in a Godly way with people who I wouldn't choose to be my best friends. She said that "love" is really an action verb, not a feeling. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (I Cor. 13:4-7). If I have true love in my heart, specifically the love of the Jesus Christ who I claim to serve, then I have the ability to love even the "undesirables" in my life the way this verse tells me to. It does not mean that I need to associate with them on a regular basis or in the same intimate way that I would my close friends who have my best interests at heart. But I can be kind and helpful and Christ-like toward them.
But if I want to fill my mind with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, then I need to be spending a great amount of time around people who ARE true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. These are the people who really care about me, who know me because I feel free to be myself when I'm around them, and who I know they will love me in spite of any shortcomings I may have. These are the people who I know will pray for me if I need them to. They give me the benefit of the doubt. They want me to succeed in my dreams. These are also people in my sphere who I look up to because they have some wisdom that I need. They model things in their own lives that I need to learn. They challenge me to become all that I was created to be in a way that spurs me on--or like one excellent blogger said this past week, helps me "turn the page".
I need to guard my self from people who would suck up my time, energy and resources, yet with no intention of making needed changes in their own lives. I will be, and always want to be, the first person in line to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it. But I need to maintain a proper balance; otherwise I will become a dystunctional and useless person.
"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7