Scoring Brownie Points

For the past few nights I have had trouble sleeping- every night I go to be bed with a sense of dread and today, I have finally discovered why. As I pondered what has been troubling me I realized that the root cause is that I am grappling with the fundamentals of who God is… yes I know it is a scary thing to say since I have pretty much gone my whole life professing to be a Christian.

My overall view of God is very similar to what the bible says He is but relationally, I do not treat Him as a loving forgiving father. I have lived a greater portion of my life in a transactionary relationship with God and this has been enforced by church doctrines that overemphasize cause and effect- if you give, God gives back to you more; if you pray hard and loud enough for something, you move God into a favorable response; if you forgive, God forgives you; and if you sin you step out of God’s love and his protection and whatever happens to you is on you… and so on and so forth! I read my bible because I am convinced that as a good Christian this is what I need to do on a daily basis and I am afraid of that if I don’t then somehow I do not score brownie points with Him. Sometimes, I give even though I do not want to because I am afraid that if I am not generous then God will retaliate and not be generous towards me. At the start of every year I pray that no one in my family will die and I hold my breath for 365 days hoping that I don’t screw up so bad that God does not keep his end of the bargain. I walk on eggshells and tiptoe around God waiting for the other shoe to drop because I feel like at the drop of a hat He will take away every good thing He has given me- my life, my husband, my job, my home, my family. Every time my phone rings, my first thought is “This is it! your luck has finally run out and here comes the bad news”. I buy lottery tickets because I am so afraid that the day God decides to take away his provision and providence for my family we will be out in cold. Every step of my walk with God is a transaction- If I do this, then He will do that… If I read more of my bible or post on my blog like I promised God I would, then I earn enough points for the change of another day at life. Certainly God cannot forgive me for everything! He probably will find a way to punish me and so when bad things happen to me, I just need to accept it as God’s way of justice- making me experience the consequence of my sin even though he has forgiven me.

My whole life is filled with the fear of God but not the kind that that is holy and leads to deeper relationship. My fear of God keeps me up at night with dread. Cerebrally, I know God loves me but deep down in my heart I do not believe that God can love unconditionally. Where is the intersection between the mercy, the love, and the justice of God? How do I process unanswered prayers, dreams dashed, and hope deferred in the light of God’s love? I am not having a midlife crisis or a crisis of faith… this is the reality of my walk with God. There are certain areas of my relationship with God I have not been entirely honest with myself and God about. There are questions I have about God and about who He portrays Himself to be that I would like some insights into but have hidden under the Christian phrase “He is an unquestionable God” and so I accept concepts, doctrines and personalization of God that make no sense to me with consolations that I “will understand it better by and by”. In the meanwhile, my walk with God is very unfulfilling, shallow, robotic, and transactional. And you know the sad truth? I am not alone.

Some of you will read this and this will resonate with you right away and wonder what the next steps should be. Others who are farther along in their relationship with God will empathize and feel a need to reach out.. please do… (you can use the comments). Today, after coming to this realization, I decided to do something antithetical to what I would usually do, which is, to silence my thoughts with some comforting scripture or rebuke myself for my unbelief. Instead, I decided to go to God and ask for His help to navigate this. So for the next few weeks and months, I will be listening so closely to God as He helps me deal with this and I will keep you posted on what I hear. If you have some suggestions on great reads that will help me I’d be glad to hear them. If you want to offer up a prayer to God, I’d take that too. If you’ve walked this path before and you have advice, drop it in the comment box below.

George Guthrie, a bible scholar once said, “Your perseverance in the faith will be in direct proportion to the clarity with which you see who Jesus is, and what he has accomplished on your behalf”. I know God welcomes the opportunity for any of his children to want a deeper relationship with Him and see Him clearly for who He is- He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He says:

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God…”

Luke 18:16 ESV

Yours Truly

The Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude, comes from the latin word gratus which means “pleasing, thankful”. It is a feeling of deep appreciation felt by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts. 

Living a life with gratitude means choosing to focus your time and attention on the things you appreciate, are thankful for and find pleasing. It does not mean that one has to pretend that bad things or difficult things are not happening. It is not a wishy washy ‘kumbaya’ lifestyle. Remember the conversation about neuroplasticity? What you focus on your attention on will form neural pathways that strengthen your thought processes and change the way you view life. Gratitude gives us different perspectives to situations- good or bad and helps us to adjust our attitudes towards those situations. Now let us backtrack and situate this topic with our bigger conversation of changing our thought patterns and metacognition.

Do you see how focusing our attentions on things we are grateful for can help us change both our internal and external narratives? It truly takes effort to focus on the positives of a situation but the benefits are so worth it! I recently read the testimony of a husband who practiced this and ended up reaping a hundred folds of peace and joy in his marriage. He started a journal to document every single day for an entire year one thing about his wife that he appreciated with the commitment not to repeat anything. Initially it was hard but then eventually the fighting and strife got less and less. The process helped him to truly experience the tenderness of every moment with his wife as searched constantly for things to appreciate. So how do we show gratitude?

If you like to journal then a gratitude journal is certainly one way to do this. A gratitude journal is the practice of jotting down, each day, things that we are grateful for, which allow us to become more present and aware. But if you are like me and do not like to pen down your emotions but are constantly ruminating on them, then may I suggest trying Phil 4:8. When you encounter any situation good or bad, before you speak, ask yourself, “Is there anything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy about that situation?” If so, allow your mind to dwell on that for a few minutes. This metacognitive activity will help to bring the positive things to focus and give you a reason to always be thankful. It takes work… at least initially… until it becomes a habit to be able to acknowledge the negatives but instead, dwell on the positives. You need to work on your ‘gratitude muscle’ because the attitude of gratitude does not come naturally to everyone. It needs to be an intentional and iterative process which will eventually shape our thinking. If you want to think positively, you have to actively look for positive things to think about and that is what gratitude does.

God in His infinite wisdom and design knows in this life we will face adversity, trials, and some very unbearable times along with the good; and He provides us with the tools we need to safeguard our minds and our sanity. In order to not have our thought overrun with negativity, one such tool He puts in our toolbox is gratitude and admonishes us to:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

1Thessalonians 5:18

So what are you grateful for today? If you cannot think of anything let this scripture set you on the path of gratitude:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all His kind deeds-He who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with loving devotion and compassion, who satisfies you with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-3 BSB

Yours Truly

Changing our thought patterns

Last week, I ended the post with the fact that it is possible to influence our thought patterns and this week I want to share one of two ways I believe we can do this: with the things we say. Lets start with our anchor scripture:

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. 

Phil 4:8 NIV

Have you ever heard the saying “watch your thoughts, they become your words…” This connotes a forward linear relationship between thoughts and words but in reality, it is more complex than that. While it is true that your thoughts become your words, research has shown that words inform our thought processes on both a conscious and a subconcious level. We respond to words not only at a conscious level but also at a visceral, autonomic level. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe how the brain continues to re-invent itself. What we think about actually rewires our brains—for better or worse. Older, unused neural pathways fall away, and new ones, with repetition and focus, are created and words are one way in which we do rewire our brain’s responses. This is true whether we are responding to words spoken by someone else or responding to our own self-talk which what we say to ourselves in our heads. So in as much as your thoughts becomes your words, your words become your thoughts and they become you.

For as he thinks within himself, so he is.

Prov 23:7a NASB

Gary in the Oct/ Nov edition of Focus on the Family gives very sound advice on this topic. He says when it comes to leaning into positive thinking, “talk to yourself more and listen to yourself less.” What do you say to yourself about who you are, how you view the world, what your reactions to situations should be? Your words shape both your internal and external worldview. So a practical way to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy is to surround yourself with words that possess those qualities. Remember, neural pathways are created with repetition and focus and so if we want your thought patterns to be positive then we need to be intentional in speaking positive things to ourselves and surrounding ourselves with positive speech. This is a process known as priming and what priming does is that it triggers the production of oxytocin in the brain which is a “feel good” neurochemical to trigger feelings of wellbeing and happiness. This is one way to ensure that the wellspring of your heart always flows with freshwater (in reference to the question posed in James 3:11-13 when he was talking about being careful what we say).

In summary, if you want to change the way you think, one way to do it is to change the way you speak. There is nothing phony or “new age” about this principle. It is bibical- Solomon told his son, “Above all else, guard your heart; for out of it are the issues of life?” Why? Because one’s thought life controls the rest of his/her life- and the words we speak have the potential to shape our reality (James 3:3-6) as they create neural pathways in our brains which govern how we live and intepret our life experiences. I conclude with a scripture to reflect on:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Prov 4:23-27 NIV

Join me next week as we talk about another way to change your thought patterns.

Yours Truly

Thinking about thinking

In 2021, one of the things I struggled with the most and posted about the most was about my thinking patterns and the things that consumed my brainpower. All my fears and anxieties were housed in the recesses of my mind and from time to time I would take a trip down ‘what if’ lane. Every time I let my thought wander, I realized my anxiety or fears or anger in the situation in question increased exponentially.

Have you ever thought about what you are thinking about? Thinking about thinking is a process called metacognition. Metacognition is a strategy that allows us to organize and evaluate our thought processes related to learning and problem-solving. The more intentional and iterative the metacognitive process is, the better one gets at it. There are many scriptures that speak to aspects of metacognition and one such helpful and revolutionary verse is found in Philippians 4:8:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Philippians 4:8 NLT

This scripture calls for us to take charge of our minds and rather than let our thoughts run off on their own, be intentional in what we think about. A rather apt illustration comes from Gary Thomas in the the Oct/Nov edition of the Focus on the Family magazine. It says if we want to be physically healthy, we won’t eat everything that looks delicious; we’ll exercise self-control. Likewise, if we want to be healthy relationally, we shouldn’t think about everything that demands our attention. We need to exert the same self-control with our minds that we do with our bodies.

We must not dwell and ruminate on things that are distasteful, dishonorable, frustrating, anger-inducing, shameful, or deserving of censure. Instead we should reject negative thoughts and lean more into the positive ones. Metacognition does not come naturally to anyone. It is an intentional process which involves making an effort to rein our thoughts in- making it a conscious part of our lives to think about what we think about and actively reject the negative thoughts.

In the past few days, I have been practicing this and this is what I have learned…a lot of my emotions both positive and negative first start with a thought-often a perception based on my assessment of the situation and then that thought becomes an emotion that leads to a reaction. Let me illustrate: An acquaintance sent me a message about a new business he had started and in my excitement I asked, “Can I share this information with others?” The response back was, “That is why I shared it with you”. Now lets consider that response: My first thought was “wow! how rude- I am trying to be helpful and I get attitude back?” In that moment, I equated that text with sarcasm and disrespect and then I got angry at the impudence. Then I remembered Philippians 4:8 and decided to put it into practice so instead of reading the text through the eyes of impertinence, I decided to imagine that there was good intention and joy behind the message and with that in mind, I interpreted the text as “Yes, that is why I shared the information with you because I knew you would be kind enough to pass it along”. Two different reactions to the same message because the starting thought processes were very different. And you know the interesting part of this, I would never truly know if the text was sent with sarcasm, excitement, or indifference and frankly that does not matter. What matters is how I reacted and in the moment, I reacted negatively to the text and developed resentment-this is why we must exercise control over what we allow ourselves to think about.

The act of thinking is not a passive process at all, we can influence our thoughts more than we realize and in my next post ,I will explore how we can do this more. In the meanwhile, stay tuned and try practicing Phil 4: 8 and take control of your thought patterns- be intentional about thinking about your thinking!

Yours Truly

Hell0 2022!

Dear readers, we made it to 2022! At the end of every year, my husband and I set aside 3 days to reflect on our year, pray, and then set goals for the new year. 2021’s end-of-year reflections led to some encouragements from the scripture and my commitments which I would like to share with you:

God has started me on the course of this year with a mandate to be intentional about my thinking (Phil 4:8) and to be intentional about being holy and walk a spirit-filled life (Isaiah 4: 2-4; Isaiah 6: 5-7). He does not promise a problem-free 2022 but what He promises is to be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain (Isaiah 4:6). He promises that his grace will be enough and his strength will prevail through the uncertainties. He encourages me to bring my doubts and fears to him and not allow my experiences to shape my beliefs but rather that my beliefs shape the lenses through which I view all my experiences in this year (Isaiah 7:9). And finally and more importantly, He gives the blessing of His presence- He is the God of 2022.

“Do not be afraid, be strong and courageous, do not be dismayed, be careful and keep calm and do not lose heart. For I will be with you wherever you go. I will be your Emmanuel” (Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 7:4)

My anchor scripture for you for this year is from Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging

PSALM 46:1-3 NIV

Now regarding my commitments to you- last year one of my goals was to write and post at least one blog/ week and frankly, I failed woefully. This year I want to take on that goal again but also be intentional about my writing and posting schedule. What you can expect to see is at least one post every week on Mondays. I will also be launching a complementary podcast titled ‘Intentionally Me’ to accompany each post in the next few weeks- this way, this post can come to you in whatever manner you find convenient. Remember you can also subscribe to this site so that every post is delivered to your email on schedule.

I look forward to a fruitful 2022 of sharing my walk with God and together being intentional in living our our faith. Be encouraged! The Lord your God is with you!

Yours Truly