Sunday, October 31, 2010

What Are You Thinking?!

(Read John 9:1-12)

Whose fault is it? That’s what the disciples want to know. A man is born blind, so the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Essentially, what they are asking is: whose fault is it? Who is to blame?

The first person many of us blame when things go wrong is ourselves. We get sick, and we ask God, what did I do to deserve this? We get laid off at work, and we think, “I brought this upon myself. I’m not good enough.” We go through a period in our life when nothing seems to be going our way, and we say, “I’m cursed. I can’t win.” We might even go so far as to think, “God hates me.”

This sort of thinking is detrimental to our spiritual and emotional well-being, but very often, we aren’t even aware that we have such negative self-talk. That’s why its important for all of us to examine the unconscious thoughts or beliefs we hold. It’s important for you to ask yourself: “What am I thinking?”

Rather than encourage negative thinking that blames and finds fault, Jesus steers the disciples in another direction. He gets them thinking in a new way. When asked whose fault it is that the man was born blind, Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Instead, he explains, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Then, Jesus heals the man. Rather than seeing blindness as a punishment, Jesus says it’s an opportunity for the glory of God to be revealed.

The way we perceive ourselves, situations, and relationships in our lives greatly impacts how we feel on a day to day basis. It affects how we experience life. And we have a choice to make. Will we let our minds run wild with negative self-talk, saying, “I’m not good enough. My life is cursed. It’s my fault” or will we develop healthier ways of thinking that are more constructive?

In his book, Happiness is a Serious Matter, Dennis Prager writes about the importance of having helpful, rather than destructive, philosophies on life. To illustrate, Prager tells the story of a man named Joseph:

One freezing winter night, Joseph got a flat tire while driving to deliver a speech. He did not have time to call a tow truck so Joseph tried to change the tire on his own, but to no avail. For hours, he worked on the tire until finally help came to him.

Not only did Joseph miss delivering an important speech, he also disappointed an audience, lost money and had a miserable evening as he failed to put on a spare tire. One would think that this experience would greatly anger Joseph and cause him to blame either himself or God or someone, but he didn’t. Joseph really wasn’t as upset as one might expect him to be.

Why? Because Joseph had a perspective on life that helped him deal with his bad night instead of making it worse. He said, “I am convinced that each of us has a flat-tire quota, and I’ve never had a flat tire before.” (Prager, Dennis. Pg. 114. Happiness is a serious problem). Just that thought, that everyone has a flat-tire quota, saved Joseph from compounding his misery. Many people would have been more unhappy given the circumstance but Joseph had a philosophy of life that provided him with perspective. It made him able to deal with the situation.

If that was you, what would you have been thinking? A negative philosophy, such as, “This sort of thing always happens to me” or “God is trying to ruin my career” would have created more turmoil and exacerbated the situation. But a healthy understanding on life and a philosophy to accompany that understanding prevented the situation from becoming too big a deal.

So what are some more constructive philosophies to live by:

1. Instead of thinking, “I am cursed” or “I can’t win,” realize that even good people have bad things happen to them because life is filled with suffering. Now you might be thinking, how is “life is filled with suffering” a more positive philosophy that’s going to benefit me? The reason is, because it doesn’t make suffering personal. All people suffer and experience trials and tribulations. Life is filled with suffering. In the Gospel of Matthew, it says, “For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil (Matthew 5:45). When we make suffering personal, we compound it and increase our misery.

2. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never make it through,” or “I’m sick of waiting” realize that “this too shall pass.” Time is a tricky thing. The good times seem to fly by while the bad times seem to drag on forever. But life is in constant motion and even our worst days pass. We just have to be patient and take a longer view on life. Instead of seeking immediate gratification and help, we just have to take it one day at a time knowing that over a period of time, things will change. This too will pass.

3. Just as much as suffering is a product of the mind, so then can great happiness be a product of the mind. Instead of thinking, “I’m never going to be happy” or “the grass is always greener somewhere else,” realize that happiness is a choice, and it is available to you right now, right here. Always, there are many conditions for happiness that are present, but it’s a matter of recognizing them and focusing on them. Enjoying the autumn leaves and the changing of seasons can be a condition for happiness. Focusing on the love you do have, as opposed to the love you don’t have, or the work you do have, as opposed to the work you don’t have, or the health you do have, as opposed to the health you don’t have, are conditions for happiness. When we limit our happiness with our thinking, we do just that, we limit our happiness.

Our minds are beautiful things, gifts from God, but oftentimes, we don’t even know what we are thinking. And we let our thinking negatively impact our lives. So its time to ask yourself, “What am I thinking?!

Jesus would have us steer clear of the blame game and negative self-talk, and instead, have us focus on how God is working in our lives to reveal his power and glory. For every bad thing that happens to us, good is coming out of it. For every ill that we suffer, healing is occurring. For every moment we feel lost and broken, there come times of hope and well-being.

If anything, what we should be thinking is not how we are at fault or God is to blame, but how God is helping us and preparing us for the goodness about to come.

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