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I love categories!!! How to think during suffering.

17 Feb

Categories are useful because they let us SEE how something relates to something else.  When I struggle to understand a new idea or concept, if I can SEE what something is NOT, then I find it easier to grasp the new notion when it is described as ‘something NOT X.’  I need that kind of distinction.

For example, a language teacher might try to get me to understand a verb tense like the ‘imperfect’.  She might say, “The imperfect tense is employed to communicate a repeated, ongoing action in the past or to describe the big picture (canvas-like background).”

My question as a newbie to this way of considering verbs would be:  “As opposed to what OTHER kinds of tenses?  What else is in the group called VERBS?”  She would perhaps answer, “Another category would be ‘one-time’ past actions, not the ongoing, repeating actions that happened.”

Let me apply this tool of categories to Biblical thinking.  (I KNOW you know that God calls us to THINK and use our minds.  Recall Paul’s advice to Timothy – Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Tim 2:7)

This morning, I was following Paul’s advice below when he exhorts us NOT to worry.  His wisdom goes like this: After we hand over our problems to Jesus with thanksgiving,  we’re NOT to think about the problems, but about………

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Ephesians 4:8

So which true thought did I take up?  The one above; I started pondering categories of what rests over us.

Consider this distinction from John 3:36:  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever does not obey the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

In this distinction, there are only two groups:

  • those covered by a future of God’s wrath (‘remains’ on him)
  • those who do not have God’s wrath abiding over them but a future of eternal life

That should make us grateful and motivated to share Good News!

Then I thought of other things that could ‘remain on us’.  Here’s the category distinction I REALLY felt drawn to –  2 Cor 12:9. This is the occasion when Paul reports his divinely-inspired insight right after he has prayed earnestly to God to remove his painful ‘thorn’.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

What are the 2 categories here?  The clue is in the verb ‘to boast’.  That word confused me in the context of the above verse until I did some digging on Blueletterbible.org . To boast can also mean ‘to be glad about‘.

Now THAT I get.  ‘Thinking’ further I saw why one can be GLAD about weakness. It’s because of the exceeding greatness of having Christ’s power resting or abiding over them.  So perhaps those who COMPLAIN about their weaknesses don’t stay under Christ’s power.  Just maybe by complaining, they deprive themselves of the grace that could be theirs.

It’s human nature NOT to want or to be glad about sufferings and illnesses and limited ability.  I thank God that we have Paul’s example of prayer, that is of asking God THREE times to heal him.  Jesus does indeed command us to pray.   God, in his wisdom, will either heal us (or fix the situation) or he won’t.  What is our response to God’s answer? Here is the category divide:  accept God’s wisdom and gratefully acknowledge the power of Christ resting on us to LIVE with the suffering.  OR…..complain and not see, call upon, or even DESIRE that power.

Mike and I are in a situation right now where we are weak and helpless.  We don’t know what to do ‘tomorrow’ because there is no light yet for tomorrow.  But this we DO know: that God promises us his sufficient power through Christ when we gratefully look up and accept where we are today.  I am SO thankful for this truth and yes, I AM glad for this problem, this weakness, this suffering SINCE Christ’s power tents over me.

How do I know that I REALLY believe?

11 Jan

“Assurance of my position IN the family of God or OUT of the family sometimes FEELS tenuous.   What if I’m deceiving myself?  What if I THINK I believe what Jesus taught, what the Bible says? But what if I don’t really believe but I THINK I do?  How do I know if I’m sincere?”

Do you know someone who shares those kinds of thoughts?  Do you sometimes go around and around yourself, wondering if you really are saved?

Yesterday for ‘some’ reason that discouraging scenario popped into my mind while driving home.  I turned off what I was listening to and set my mind to figuring out how I would respond to an imaginary friend. Here’s the conversation I had in my head:

Me: You’re not sure if you REALLY believe you are saved, is that it?

Friend: Yes.

Me:  And you would like some assurance so you can put this issue to rest, once and for all?

Friend: PLEASE!

Me: Okay, let’s imagine that you came to me and shared that you were uncertain if you REALLY believed in gravity.  Do you know what I would have you do?

Friend: (a bit puzzled) Ah, no….what?

Me:  I’d say:  Test it out!  Let’s get some evidence for the reality of gravity.  Here, get up on this chair and step out into the air, off the chair and see what happens.

(Friend follows my instructions and lands on his/her feet)

Me:  You now have evidence that gravity is REAL.  Do you believe it is real?

Friend:  Of course!

Me:  Are you sure? Why do you now think that your belief is sincere?

Friend:  Because I have evidence that gravity is real.

Me:  Exactly! So let’s apply the same principle to belief IN God, that is, faith in Jesus’ work done in his life and on the cross, which is SAVING faith.  What evidence do you think would prove that you have been born from above, that you belong to the family of God?

Friend:  Hmmm, maybe if I prayed and received answers to prayer?  Maybe a miracle?

Me:  Possibly, but you might just rationalize them to be a coincidence.

Me:  Here is what I find to be irrefutable evidence:  the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Me: Before I became a ‘new creation in Christ’ I had NO experience of this kind of conviction or heart remorse and prompting.  I might have felt GUILT or SHAME at being CALLED OUT for doing something wrong, but never did I feel GRIEF at hurting a person.

Friend: I know what you mean!  A couple of months ago, I said something offhand, unnecessary, AND self-aggrandizing to a colleague at school. As soon as I was in the car driving home, ‘it’ hit me:  my judgmental tone, facial expression, and remark.  With genuine remorse, I immediately confessed to the Father.  And I could hardly wait for the next day to seek out my co-worker and ask forgiveness for my unkind, unfair and self-righteous comment.  Although not a believer, she graciously received my apology.  I was both relieved and grateful.

Me:  Right!  and before, when you KNOW for sure that you were NOT a believer, did you experience that kind of prompting by the Holy Spirit?

Friend: No!

Me:  There you have it! I think Holy Spirit conviction IS evidence of His permanent presence in your heart.  You cannot deceive yourself about that.  Besides……do you think Satan planted that thought in your head to confess?  or has it always been part of your nature to feel bad about every self-righteous comment you’ve made?

Friend: Fat chance that Satan wants me to humble myself and seek reconciliation.  And I never used to pay attention to my comments to others, the way I do now.

Me:  Okay, then. That settles it.  If you start to doubt again whether you truly are saved, just remember the evidence of God’s Spirit IN you!  His convicting work is called sanctification!

 

 

My brain is pessimistic and negative

31 Dec

I now realize it is a FACT.  I can’t trust my brain. Every ‘to do’ feels like a big deal!  Time and time again.  But ONCE I start, the task shrinks to ‘no big deal’.

I’ve known about this phenomenon for a long time. But for some reason, the reality of this fact penetrated my reasoning last night and I knew it once and for all as TRUE.

My mother would often tell me: ‘Maria – the thinking is the worst part!”

So what kinds of things does my brain lie to me about?  What does my brain try to convince me to avoid doing because it’s going to be PAINFUL?  Things like:

  • getting out of bed to go downstairs and work out in the morning
  • recording a new video for a YouTube channel I operate
  • facing Monday mornings and the start of a new teaching week at school
  • gathering and sorting receipts for our annual tax return
  • solving a sticky tech challenge or other problem
  • preparing a meal ahead of time for tomorrow (for it to marinate in the frig overnight)

I know it sounds pathetic, but when one of the above and many other tasks loom, I start to dread the idea of facing it.

Each and every time.

But once I start, and certainly by the time I have finished, I can say with sincerity, “Well, that really wasn’t such a big deal!  I don’t know why I dreaded it.”

I’ll tell you why, it’s because the brain optimizes for pleasant.  And all these ‘things I gotta do’ don’t feel pleasant to my brain.  My brain casts each in a heavy light, as burdens to bear and ‘get through’. So I dread them.

Here’s what I realized last night:   I don’t HAVE to listen to my brain.  I can use my reasoning skills to silence my brain.  I’M in charge.  Not my brain.

So, here’s to the start of a new year.

I’m no longer going to listen to my brain.  I’m just going to say ‘Shut up!  I’m in charge here.”

By God’s grace, I will exercise the reasoning skills He has given me to silence my pessimistic and negative brain!

I looked up all the proverbs on how to deal with a fool. The one I chose I’ve modified to fit this new discovery about my untrustworthy brain.

Prov 12:15 The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.

In my case against my brain, I will remember:  The way of my brain seems right to it….but reason-based Maria makes decisions that are best for her, ignoring that reptilian pessimist!

 

 

 

You are what you think about

31 Oct

Western 1st-world focus tends to highlight what we look like. So care of our bodies is emphasized.  Ever since French philosophe Brillat-Savarin wrote ‘Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es’, food industries and diet products and plans have promoted the truth that ‘we are what we eat’.  That probably is true when it comes to our physical bodies.

But God has created this version of our bodies to last a century or less.  A blink of an eye when considering eternity.

This morning I read an article written by Lee Webb for the September 2018 issue of Tabletalk magazine where he proposes a more important version of that aphorism:

  • You are what you think

Webb cited the godly man in Psalm 1 who thinks about and ENJOYS his meditation on God’s Word.  In fact, this man loves these reflections SO much, that he continues to think about the true accounts and promises of God all his waking hours.

As a logical gal, for sure I value thinking and reasoning.  And I spend a lot of time reading, journaling and discussing ideas with Mike. Maybe more than some of my friends who devote hours to crafts, gardening, taking care of and teaching small children, tending sick or aging family, working long hours or two jobs to make ends meet, or other activities.

Yet even as a self-professed THINKER…..I allow my musings to focus too much on the physical, the temporary.  I admit that I DAILY allot a portion of my mental resources:

  • to  ‘eating Keto’ and how my stomach feels
  • to fantasizing about other ministries than what God has assigned me this day
  • to judging others and their choices regarding time
  • and on some days….to wallowing in self-pity and discouragement

Being aware of this wasteful use of my thought life is not something new.  I’ve realized this poor stewardship for a while.

But God!

Here’s the good news, fellow logical thinkers.  God does not leave His children to battle sin alone.  He commands us in His Word to ask for divine help.

Paul models this kind of prayer in his second encouraging letter to believers in Thessalonica.  He writes in 2 Thess 3:5:

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

I LOVE words.  As a logical Jane, I always start with understanding and parsing a term. Here’s what’s cool about the Greek word ‘heart’. It signifies:

  • thoughts and feelings of the MIND
  • affections
  • purposes
  • endeavors
  • ideas

So, Maria’s translation of 2 Thess 3:5 is:  May the Lord direct and guide your thoughts to the love that God has shown (in redeeming and forgiving you, in giving you Christ’s righteousness and in promising present provision and constant company topped off with future abundant forever joy) and to the persevering and guaranteed steadfastness by/of Christ at the cross and presently as your Intercessor and Advocate.

Those thoughts, my friend, ARE more than sufficient for every waking hour.

And if Paul is correct in communicating God’s truth to us, then 2 Cor 3:18 is also a fact, that is:  we become what we behold…in our thoughts.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

It really does matter, eternally, what we think about.

When NOT to engage in a discussion

14 Oct

“We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN” 

Thus reads the headlines of the Guardian’s website last week.

A couple of days later,  I overheard two of my middle school colleagues planning a combined 8th-grade science/math unit, designing it to deepen students’ thinking skills and alert them to a ‘real-world’ problem based on this recently released UN report.

As they talked about this ‘climate catastrophe’ I felt the temptation to butt in and question the validity of the data behind the United Nations’ proclamation. But I dismissed that urge.

Why?  because although I had listened to news about this proclamation via Spanish and French news podcasts, I had not read the UN report, let alone absorbed the content and formulated talking points. I realized that in engaging my colleagues, I’d be in territory over my head.

But there was a third option.  To engage or remain silent were not my only choices. The other way could have been to pose questions about the report with the goal of understanding the UN’s position and the reasons why these two teachers believed it was credible.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like investing the energy to do that.  Besides, they were actually doing some curriculum planning and my questioning would have interrupted them.  Nonetheless, the reminder to either ask questions or be up to speed on a topic re-motivated me NOT to neglect my calling as a ‘logical gal’.

I also recognized a presupposition I hold. And that realization subdued me.

My ASSUMPTION is this: Reports like the UN’s are little more than scare tactics, motivated by someone’s concealed special interests or agenda.

It’s a routine practice for each of us logical Joe’s and Jane’s to work at identifying our discourse partner’s presuppositions, ONCE we’re trained to seek them out.  But we must not be blind to our own assumptions. Let me give you an example:

Last week I listened to an hour-long podcast about how Australian Dr. Gary Fettke has been finally vindicated in his researched beliefs about nutrition.  He had been legally silenced by the Australian Medical Board for counseling his patients to follow a low-carb eating protocol for health reasons.

As of last week, this official organ of Australian medical licensing reversed their position reinstated his license and wrote him an apology.  During the interview with Fettke, I learned that the dietician who had lodged a ‘complaint’, which prompted the eventual shutdown of his practice and ensuing legal battles, had been merely a pawn.  The Dietitians Association of Australia and the Heart Foundation together with some of the processed carb major players like Nestle, Kelloggs and others had colluded DUE to decreased sales of cereal over the previous few years.  So…the axiom – Follow the Money seemed to explain Fettke’s experience.

That podcast conversation, resting in my short-term memory, mingled with reports on similar ‘collusion’ within the climate-change-is-a-crisis-focused lobby. So….. when I listened in on my colleagues’ conversation, I automatically ‘assigned’ the same motive to this UN report without investigating the content myself.

Humility is good for us!  We are all capable of committing the very same logical errors we spot in others.  It pays to think before I open my mouth!

 

Learning to say NO – a life skill from logic

1 Oct

It was one of those sleepless nights this past week.  During the wakeful period, my subconscious memory united some disparate past experiences into one theme.

The prompt for this sorting and configuring of earlier ‘histories’ in my life must have been the previous day’s unacceptable 7th-grade boys classroom behaviors.  I had been really bothered because 3 boys continue to distract our French class, preventing me from teaching the others.

On my drive home, I spent time thinking and formulating an articulate reason to communicate to these boys about WHY this pattern ‘cannot continue’.

Once I had my argument in place, I knew I would find it far easier for the tête-à-tête talks I planned the next day.  The foundation and strength to say NO, you cannot do this to me or to my class!” rested on having a sound reason.

All that was conscious.  But in the dark quiet of the night, God brought to mind 4 different segments of my past life where I failed to say ‘NO’:

  • in overeating and binging on M&Ms and cookies for 9 years of my life
  • engaging in sex before marriage
  • disciplining a son who continually tested the limits
  • setting guidelines of propriety for a teenage son and his girlfriend at our house

It seems to me that the reason WHY I couldn’t draw a line and say NO in each of these scenarios is due to the lack of childhood training in decision making.  That is –  practice in searching for and settling on strong reasons to hold fast to a position or value.  A belief or decision is pretty weak and indefensible even to yourself if you don’t know ‘your why’.

I AM going to point my finger at my parents and my upbringing in the area of how to make decisions, important moral ones, and the everyday kind.

My mom came late to a true faith in Jesus when I was 16 or so.  Neither she nor my dad taught me (whether from God’s moral perspective or a secular perspective) just HOW to think about values and dilemmas, HOW to arrive at a REASON-based decision.

In short, I did NOT learn how to say ‘No’.

I did NOT learn the rule ‘Always be ready to give a reason for your decision and view.’

Training in logic, that is in language-based THINKING, does furnish the practitioner with specific skills, invaluable for life.

When I taught at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Virginia, I introduced logic to 7th and 8th graders.  It was I who learned the most!  I just wish that I had been gifted with that kind of mental training at their young age.

So for all you like me, who did not receive this early instruction, all you need to know is the format of a basic syllogism.

It works like this:

The 3rd proposition (call it a sentence for simplicity’s sake) IS the conclusion of a syllogism.  We find that in culture, people spout mostly conclusions – naked! – without the rest of the preceding syllogism.

For example:

  • Criticizing my views is intolerant
  • Guns are our biggest problem
  • Americans eat poorly.
  • Most lawyers are greedy

What SHOULD precede each of these conclusions or propositions are 2 logically ordered propositions or reasons that connect, one to the other, leading TO the conclusion. In other words, we need to have reasons for what we do or don’t do!  And the reasons have to lead properly to the conclusion.

When I struggled with binging in earlier years, I can distinctly remember my irrational line of thinking:

I’m bored studying.  I’ll go buy a quarter pound of M&Ms at the sweet shop. Why shouldn’t I do something pleasant?.…..and then as I began to eat them, I can’t think of any compelling reason NOT to finish the entire amount.…and I would.  And feel sick and disgusted.

Had I been conditioned to point to a reason for my decisions, I’m assuming that I could have come up something compelling and rational that at least would have provided a few minutes to ponder outcomes.

For 9 years I accepted this irrational thinking, never challenging my beliefs.  Control mechanisms like diets were my only tool.  They didn’t work.

The bulimia continued until God in His providence enabled Mike and me to conceive our first child.  All of a sudden I DID have an irrefutable reason to stop the binging and purging.  Our baby’s health!

A syllogism might have looked like this, had I been equipped with this particular reasoning tool.

Premise 1:  I should do all that is in my power to eat healthy in order to help my growing baby.

Premise 2: Binging on junk food and then throwing up is not a healthy eating practice.

Conclusion: Therefore, I should avoid this harmful pattern

Although I didn’t go on to practice such reasoning in other areas of my life, God in His mercy DID remove the desire to binge after Graham was born.  That was pure grace.  And I recall this gift and thank Him frequently.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to improving our thinking and reasoning skills. Now that I SEE the practiced pattern of NOT being able to say no for lack of a compelling, articulated reason, I have committed myself, when boundary/decision situations arise, to this NEW practice of stop, consider, articulate a strong reason for a necessary NO.

If you have children still at home or can influence grandkids, then think about helping them acquire this decision-making tool.  Maybe you think it’s an intuitive response or routine.  For some of us, at least me, it isn’t.  I’m still a learner.

 

 

Am I a good thinker?

11 Aug

Logical minds are those that operate clearly and rationally.

So, it pays to check, from time to time, the state of our minds.  Are we thinking rationally?  Are our premises true?

Examining my notions and beliefs has preoccupied my thinking this summer!

My conclusions about thinking fall into 2 sections:  How God is cultivating my thought life and worldly truisms that contain wisdom and help in pruning one’s beliefs.  First, the Master Gardener’s work:

Through a series of trials, God has pressed on me the need to abandon worry…..completely!  In a post on my other blog site, I wrote about pulling my thoughts back (numerous times in a day) from the constant pattern of worrying or daydreaming what-if situations.

The night after writing my post, I fell into a different kind of thinking – the quicksand variety that pulls one down into an endless do-loop.  Not ACTUAL thinking but ‘stewing‘!  It all started after that wee-hours routine stumble into the darkened bathroom.  Back in bed, I simply stayed awake and segued into pondering several situations.  Not problems, not trials, just specific issues like:

  • teacher workdays starting very soon and the need to plan lessons
  • researching more portable hiking snacks that fit our Keto lifestyle
  • the need to prioritize and streamline activities during my non-school hours

I couldn’t fall back to sleep.

Can you relate?

When I finally arose and headed downstairs, coffee in hand, for my time with God and His Word, I was saying to myself, “Maria, you are such a mess!  Look at what you wrote in your blog yesterday and look at you now!”  I flipped open my Bible to the section in Philippians where Paul addresses worry:

Philippians 4:4-8 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Square in the head, it hit me.  The problem with ‘stewing’.  It has no purpose, it has no endpoint.  It can go ON and ON!  Most importantly, it doesn’t fit the definition of a REQUEST to be handed over to God.

So, what is the solution?  A grid to sift my thoughts, a form of triage or consideration whereby I evaluate thoughts, draw distinctions and dispose of them:

  • I already have a category set up called:  Sinful worry or meditations on what-ifs, positive and fearful.  Solution?  Stop it and repent!
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 1:  can this concern be formulated into a succinct prayer request to hand over to God to take care of?  Yes? – cast it on Him.
  • Nighttime Stew topic, Step 2:  what remains from that which canNOT be reworded into a prayer?  If anything, then just stop the thoughts. How?  By God’s power for those who are worshippers of Jesus. AND by substituting new thoughts.  Per Paul’s formula, as follows.
  • Alternative meditative topics for the middle of the night: Think about what is praiseworthy and beautiful and true.  And what is the noblest of subjects, if not Jesus and His death and life for us?

Second, from the category of sources other than the Bible, I have heard two new messages.  Each has caused me to question the accuracy of my mind and my brain:

  1. What I think about me might not be true!

My pattern up to now has been to accept this: I AM my thoughts.

I take for granted that what I believe is true.   Okay, maybe not about political issues or even some difficult cultural controversies.  But when it comes to what I take as TRUTH about me, I rarely doubt those conclusions. What I think about me IS me. What I think about me IS true, for who knows me better than me?

I began to doubt my mind’s ability to be accurate about Maria when I heard a gal on a podcast say we are to verify or authenticate the content of our self-talk:

  • How do I know that ‘I can’t change X about me because I’ve always done ‘it’ that way?  What are my reasons? Where is my evidence?

That startled me because I had never applied Logic to what I believed about me, who I am.  The next day, a surprise guest, a ‘motto’, came to lodge in my mind: Be Flexible. I am NOW practicing doubting and questioning my thinking about me.

The other message that has challenged me positively and been a REAL help is this (again from a podcast):

2. The brain seeks ‘pleasant’. 

I see evidence for this EVERY morning. When my alarm sounds, I GROAN inwardly because my routine is to exercise first thing. BEFORE coffee and Bible.  I have battled conflicting desires for years.  But now I know – that’s not me who paints an unpleasant scenario blocking my morning pleasure.  It’s my brain. That bodily organ whose goal is to organize fight or flight to avoid PAIN.

Obviously, but falsely, my brain views 15 minutes of weights plus 15 minutes of yoga as PAIN.  However, with my mind, I can remind my brain of our reasons why health takes precedence over ‘pleasant’ right now. Thank you very much, Ms. Brain, but Maria’s mind is running things, now.

So…..these new thoughts about nighttime churning and limiting beliefs are the fruit of reading, listening, meditating and openness to new ideas.

To sum up, consider how God reveals truth about Himself through the prophet Jeremiah in 11:20 But, O LORD of Hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and mind….

Since we are made in God’s image, shouldn’t we as well test our heart and mind to know if what we are thinking is true, good and helpful?