Last Sunday the lectionary included a reading from Isaiah 40 – the beautiful “with wings like eagles” passage. In response to that text, Imaging the Word (Vol. 3) included part of an article by Tony Proscio:
"I will go unto the altar of God."
And the monk responded, "To God who gladdens my youth."
"Juventutem meam," he said, distinctly and with feeling. My youth.
He was 81.
To those whose lives are fueled by belief - to people still young at 81 because they're scarcely at the threshold of eternity - there's no corner of life where faith is irrelevant.
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It reminded me of something my coach had said when we were together last month. We were talking about things people can do to take charge of their lives and behavior. One thing anyone can do – with practice and effort – is to reinvigorate our thoughts. To be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
In the seminar we’d been asked:
How do you tell your story?
What things do you find yourself saying over and over?
How do you explain the good and bad things that happen to you?
What kind of God calls and supports you? (And do you preach a different God than you’ve experienced in your own life? Many of us preach a loving, generous God but experience a very different God, the leader had said.)
Some of our thoughts are engrained, the seminar leader said. They’re knit into our neural pathways; they travel the superhighways of our brains. We think those thoughts reflexively and say them often. Sometimes they serve us well. Other times they don’t!
As an example, my coach told me about a man in his congregation who, when asked how he was doing, always said, “Pretty good for an old guy.” My coach found it amusing, until he realized it’s what the man always said. Think for a minute about the implications of living fully into that statement: Pretty good . . . for an old guy. It’s limiting, isn’t it? Especially when you could be thinking: "I will go unto the altar of God . . . God who gladdens my youth."
So . . . the challenge is to identify the thoughts and stories that travel the superhighways of our brains (driving us, really), and to keep the ones we like and change the ones we don’t. Changing the unhelpful thoughts and stories is hard work: it’s like making a path through the jungle. You need to keep thinking the new, better thoughts doggedly and intentionally. Eventually they will become a more powerful force in your life.
I began this blog by saying I’d been feeling overwhelmed in my life and work – that it’s one reason I’d wanted a coach. Recently I’ve realized “I’m overwhelmed” is one of the stories I've been telling – a story that does not serve me particularly well. Yes, I have a lot to do. Some days it’s more than I can finish, and I hate living with unfinished, pressing business. But I’m not falling asleep at the office, with my head on my desk. There is room in my life for rest, and the people with whom I work are patient and supportive. “Overwhelmed” means “buried or drowned” or “defeated completely.” Inundated. Overpowered. There are days I feel that way, but it doesn’t define me.
So I’m going to work on thinking some new thoughts - thoughts I’m hoping will transform me over time: that I’m busy, but making progress (for example) . . . that I’m doing some things really well, and learning how to do other things better . . . and that in all things, the Lord renews my strength. That last thought in particular seems like a good one to repeat over and over and over again.