what’s the busiest place you’ve ever been? have you ever been in a place so crowded or so loud that you can’t think, can’t focus, can’t get everything out of that place that you had planned to or wanted to?
this is the part of the blog where i make a quip about how you’re about to enter the busiest place on earth: MY BRAIN.
i am indeed joking, but let me say this: i am learning that it is our job to keep our thoughtlives managed and under control. because sometimes i feel like my brain is the busiest place that i’ve ever been to. i have one busy, busy brain. perhaps you can relate to this, reader.
let me begin by saying that over the course of the last twelve to sixteen months, i have begun to take things on – in my life as well as in my ministry – and not all of them have been the most wise. where i have let myself down the most is in knowing the danger/potential i have for burnout and exhaustion and choosing to take things on anyway. or, sometimes, it has just been luck-of-the-draw. for example of the former, i decided to try and organize a bible study around the turn of the year. we began it knowing we’d only meet once a month at best, and we met exactly one time. but what’s ironic (and feeding into my larger point, which i will get to) is that although we only met once, that is, it only took up one calendar night, it occupied considerable thoughtspace. i spent time trying to think of how i could alter my schedule to make it work, of everything i could work around, of how many people would feel let down if i just admitted, “hey, sorry guys – i overestimated how much time i’d have for this as well as everything else i have going on right now. would someone else be interested in leading?” (fun fact: this group is still in limbo, and i am still trying to figure out how to make it meet, although it seems that everyone has taken on a lot in their lives.) for an example of the latter, i’d send you to an old post i wrote back in October, when – commitments being made at differing times – it turned out that i had to drive to Columbus, OH for training and arrive the night before heading down to Harlan, KY for a retreat i was leading worship at. i’d committed to retreat first, and then it just so happened that i had to travel for work that same week. not ideal, not for me, but i learned from it.
if you’ve read my blogs lately, it will not come as a surprise to you if i tell you that i have felt tired lately. i say this less as complaint and more as objective fact: my life seems to be – at times – a series of things to react to. (or, you could say, a series of choices to make…since our reactions are a choice.) and/or, a series of things to keep track of. depending on how far back you want to go…i began three new jobs around August/September (with trainings, weekly commitments, and three schedules to keep track of,) moved into a new house in August, began a relationship in October (the decisions made in that would take up their own blog,) took on a new ministry opportunity in January, quit one of those jobs in January, went almost-full-time at one job starting in February, got knocked back down to part time two weeks ago, have had a car with various issues and have been a few hours away from taking out a loan to get a new one (there’s a choice i’m glad i didn’t make,) and am considering the implications of the impending end of the lease i’m currently in.
i left a lot out. but i’m really not writing for sympathy – i promise you. after a lot of prayer and consideration, i’ve contented myself with the idea that this is just a season, and it’s a season i’m learning from. a season of absolute madness which i wouldn’t recommend to anyone, even my worst enemy.
a season which has rendered each and every decision tedious, laborious, and heart-wrenching. forgive my melodramatics – but i’m actually kind of serious. i’ve long joked/lamented how having a day off is such a blessing but also brings a difficult set of choices to make. do you use that day off to catch up on your life? laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc? pay your bills and run your errands? use it to catch up with a friend? get out of town and do something for yourself? spend time with your significant other? sleep in? get up early and redeem the morning? read a book? watch a film? go for a run? a bike ride? rest your weary body? listen to podcasts? think as little as possible? be with people? be by yourself?
in some ways, i hope you can relate to this, reader – in others, i hope you never have to. (if i’m honest, i’m flattering myself to assume i’m alone – i know others go through this, too.) either way, unlike in my posts from the last year or so, i’m not here to write for spiritual consolation or venting or release or anything like that – actually, i’m kind of coming at it from a standpoint of spiritual tactical analysis.
a while ago – and i can’t recall if this is something i’ve covered in my blog or not – i was thinking about being sick and why the heck it would be that Jesus is so concerned with healing our bodies. among other reasons, it occurred to make that when you’re sick, the only thing that’s easy to think about is how sick you are. right? you think about your pain, what you need to do to get better, how long it’ll be until you get better, etc – it just takes up so much of your thoughtspace. that’s part of why i think Jesus likes us to be well – again, among many other reasons – so that our thoughts can be more easily fixated on Him, and on others. i think i’m finding this to be true about our thought life, too.
burnout is a real problem. there are countless books about it, i’m sure there are blogs about it (i don’t usually do a lot of research for my posts, lest i would give them to you) but it is very, very real. and i think burnout is an end-goal of the enemy of our soul, and it’s for a specific purpose: to take our minds away from God.
Think about it: all affection must begin in the brain before it can go to the heart. think about a flower – you don’t see a flower with your heart. you don’t smell a flower with your heart. you don’t make the “mmmmmm” sound after smelling said flower with your heart. no – we actually process all of our emotional experiences first through our heads. your brain processes the visual stimulus and categorizes it as “beautiful.” your brain processes the olfactory information and categorizes it as “pleasant.” your brain then responds to that olfactory information by sending it to your speech center, which asks for a response: “mmmm, what a beautiful looking and smelling rose.”
So the brain takes the first step of affection. and it aids along the way in the process of affection. i’m not necessarily going to get into all of that here and now, except to say that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)
Let me say this: God is not (or, is not meant to be) peripheral. i’ll tell you how i got there – if you’re anything like me (and i – with deep regret and no self-flattery whatsoever – consider myself above-average in my thought activity) you think a lot. the sheer number of thoughts going through your head is astonishing. you think about a lot of things, and then you think about what you’re thinking about. no thought is an island – there always seems to be a connecting thought. no issue is stand-alone. right? thinking about summer vacation is also thinking about how much money you have saved up, it’s thinking about how much time you have, it’s thinking about when you need to plan on getting back, it’s tons of planning what to do while you’re there, it’s thinking of who you should invite, thinking of whether you should drive or fly, when you’re going to look at airfare, when you should take the car in for the oil change, calculating prices and costs, etc. it’s a lot of thinking. we put in a lot of work thinking to do a lot of not-thinking (which is ironic in and of itself.)
so, you think a lot. i think a lot. i think of this issue of God’s non-periphery like trying to capture a photograph. your thoughts are like that – a picture. and there’s a lot you want to get into that picture – maybe it’s relationships or ministry or trips or books or your hobbies or movies or food or vacation or responsibilities or what have you. and God is there in the middle. what we tend to try to do is take a bunch of little snapshots – we categorize our lives (i do it too) and each shot we take has a little bit of God in it but you never quite see Him fully. and each shot is disappointing and not quite what we thought it was going to be. still a nice shot, but not quite what it ought to be.
let me suggest that in the picture that is our lives, God provides the perfect subject: the perfect central object that brings everything else into perfect balance – all the colors and contrasting things seem to work together somehow, everything is the size it’s supposed to be, everything is in proportion as it’s supposed to be. i wonder if that’s the suggestion of the very first of the ten commandments – because after all, God wrote them for the good of His people – that your life and your plans just won’t work right without God in the center. it’s actually for you that God wants to be in the center.
i’ll give you some anecdotal evidence of this. at present, among my biggest desires is to be full-time at one job, and be able to quit the other part-time job. i have a clear, obvious, logical leaning as to which one i’d prefer. i have a lot of thoughts on why it’d be great to be full-time: better pay, more vacation time, less competition in my schedule, i’ve practically already worked full-time at it, it looks great on a resume, a chance to network, etc. if i were currently full-time at this job, it would save me some stress in my relationship, as it would empower me to be more financially prepared for a trip, which is something near and dear to my girlfriend, who is near and dear to me. (it would also give me a more preferable answer to her family when they’ve asked me what i do for a living, but that’s beside the point.) so, the process of becoming full-time is something i want, and i think about a lot. the one small problem with this is that it’s not something i can do until i’ve hit a year, and that year comes in mid-September.
NEWS FLASH: thinking harder doesn’t speed up time.
this hit me the other day in my prayer time, when i realized how much stress i give to this thing i can’t control yet. i realize how much energy is taken up by me worrying about whether or not September will get here next week. there’s literally nothing i can do about it.
and this, i believe, is where the battle lies and everything connects: if our affection for God begins in the mind, then the enemy’s tactic is to cut off our supply lines. in other words, the enemy gets us thinking about everything else so we have no room to think about God. the enemy wants me wasting time thinking September closer, instead of putting my mind on the God who invented and lives outside of time. to return to the analogy of the photograph, i have snapped this from every single angle up close and haven’t gotten any of it right. it’s not in focus, the colors don’t look right, the subject is bad.
worship begins in the mind. it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our thoughts are proportionately set. that is, the things we can’t control should (and i say should knowing how easy it is for them to not be) be a small percentage of what we think about. the things we have a choice in should be a little bigger. and ultimately, God should be in the center of what we think about. remember what Jesus said: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (provisions) will be added to you.
additionally, Paul talks about the mind multiple times throughout his epistles. two specific instances come to mind: Paul tells the Colossian church to set their minds on things above, where Christ is; and Paul tells the Philippian church that whatever is pure, noble, and lovely, we should think on those things.
i’m just going to wrap up by saying that there is a mental, thinking element to worship. and i’ve experienced first-hand the number of thoughts that can run through one’s brain. thoughts of the future, of the past, of planning for something, of responding to something, anticipating something, wanting something – all of that goes through our mind. do not be surprised when your mind is ambushed and flooded, but i would encourage you to seek God in how best to manage those thoughts. all of those thoughts are important, but they have a time and a place, and “right now and everywhere” is not the answer – i can tell you that much. take care of your brain. God loves it and you need it to love God.