Censoring Myself

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I’ve been taking a deeper – much deeper – look at my thoughts recently. Maybe because the COVID pandemic we’re facing has afforded me more time to think. Maybe because of the recent racial tensions in our nation. Maybe because I’ve been praying for God to renew my mind and deal with any biases, prejudices, and judgments in me. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things….and possibly more. Whatever the reason, this closer examination of my thoughts has exposed some things I wish I could say weren’t in me.

Isn’t this the reason so many people avoid thinking too much? I admit that there is a point when deep thought goes too deep and becomes troublesome. That’s a line we must be aware of as we approach it. But there is some degree of self-examination which benefits – and is actually required of – someone professing to follow Christ.

Tucked deep within the crevices of our minds (literally and figuratively!) are a whole host of predetermined opinions and conclusions, based on the things we have each experienced in our lives. Those experiences shape our perspective much more than we realize, and often keep us from accurately judging people and circumstances.

I know, the subject of judging is a touchy one…as it should be. We ought each to judge ourselves, and do so before God’s searching gaze, so that we can be good managers of our own attitudes and choices. But if, and in many cases since, we avoid thinking too deeply, how can we be? And if, and often since, we avoid thinking too deeply about our own preconceived perceptions, we end up judging others unfairly – even while we advocate for a “no-judgment” society.

In recent days and weeks (maybe months?), as I’ve opened my thought-life up for deeper examination, I’ve discovered some judgments that seem almost involuntary, and inconspicuous. They hide behind common perceptions that we have come to accept as “normal.” And they color the way I think about so many things – people, God, church, even the Bible. It’s pretty scary to stop and think about how much my own limited, if not tainted, perceptions can determine my interpretation of even Scripture! Yikes!

It can leave one feeling defeated and uncomfortable, and contributes even more to the tendency to avoid deep thinking. What a cycle!

But what if God wants to break that cycle of denial and defeat? What if He wants to take a giant eraser to the graffiti that decorates our minds, and wants to give us a blank slate? What if He wants to start over with us, giving us His thoughts and His perspectives, and purging our perception of its refuse?

At the beginning of 2020, where I usually receive a word or phrase about what God wants to do in my life over the next year, I heard nothing and saw just one image: that of a large, blank canvas. I can’t pretend to know exactly what He’s up to, because He is always full of delightful surprises, but I wonder if this purging of old perceptions has something to do with it?

To be completely transparent, sometimes that sounds and feels like a glorious thought! Sometimes, however, that feels mortifyingly inconvenient, unsafe and painstaking.

To trade what I have come to rely upon, though often subconsciously, for a blank space of nothing I can assume feels like standing in front of a crowd in just undergarments. Pardon the imagery, but I mean to suggest that it feels very vulnerable.

And we don’t have time for vulnerable….

Or do we?

From where I’m sitting – in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be slowing down – I wonder if clearing graffiti-laden slates is part of God’s agenda? I wonder if He could take something so seemingly out of control, and choose to mark this time with something transformational? I wonder if He isn’t standing before humanity with an invitation that offers freedom from some long-held sources of anxiety and unrest?

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (https://biblehub.com/matthew/11-28.htm)

The junk we carry around in our minds weighs heavier on us than we’d like to think.

And it prevents us from embracing God, ourselves, and each other the way we were created to. It literally isolates and divides us, even while we cry out for supposed connection.

I heard something yesterday that drove this home for me:

“Wash a person’s feet long enough to know why they walk the way they do.” 

It was illustrated by the story of a man who attended a church service and had to fight through the irritation of a woman singing too loudly and too differently than everyone else. She seemed to be singing her own song, and it was distracting to him. However, after the service, a friend of his came up and exclaimed her delight in what she had heart – the same song that had been annoying to him!

The reason that it was beautiful to her, but irritating and distracting to him was that she had taken the time to get to know the worshipper’s story. She had washed her feet long enough to learn that she had been a prostitute for 35 years, and had now been set free. She sang with all she had – and indeed had her own song to sing – because she had a revelation of Jesus that had changed her whole life!

This works in the opposite direction, too.

Once, when I went out with a group of friends to pray for and share the love of Jesus with people in my city, I came across a man I had often seen wandering the streets alone. He appears to be homeless, and he always walks alone. I had been praying for him for several months, because every time I passed him, my heart felt so broken for him. I was sure that God could heal his pain – whatever it was, and I prayed for an opportunity to tell him so.

He always looked so angry, which intimidated me, but didn’t deter me. I normally shrink back in the face of anger, so I know this must have been God’s love compelling me toward him. I asked God one day why he was so angry, and I heard: “You have no idea what this man has been through.”

That was it. There were no details shared. God knew his secrets, and all He gave me was the knowledge that there were secrets that man bore which I could not begin to understand., and which had made him become the man I saw through a limited and biased perspective. Where I saw anger and socially unacceptable behavior, God saw wounds that had scarred his soul, and He was offering me a graffiti-less view of his story.

It didn’t help me get any closer to him, because when I tried, his walls were fiercely held in place. But it did give me a different perspective. It helped me, and still helps me to love him, to have compassion for him, to pray for him, and to try to be kind to him, instead of just judging him for his behavior and attitude.

I recently started simultaneously – though not intentionally – doing a Bible study on renewing my mind, and reading a book on the effects of trauma on the brain. I am ever amazed at how God connects the dots between the things we do as we follow Him!

I work often with populations of people – with men, women and children – who would be classified as “hard to love.” Some days, it’s an easy label to slap over an exhausting, disappointing, and seemingly futile endeavor to get “somewhere” with them. But as I read, I am learning that the difficulty in loving them does not so much lie with them. Instead, it lies within me – and my own predetermined “knowledge” and understanding, which often prevent me from being able to accept and embrace them as they are.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I have a standard by which I measure people. That standard has been shaped by my life experiences, and the conclusions I’ve drawn from it. That standard determines what’s okay and what’s not. It decides whether something or someone is worth pursuing or better left alone. But that standard – if it hasn’t been shaped and continuously evaluated by the One Who created me, will hinder me from the One purpose I’ve been created for: LOVE.

Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  (https://biblehub.com/john/13-35.htm)

It is easy for us to lean on our own understanding, because it has become the foundation by which we’ve learned to run on auto-pilot. If you become intentional and prayerful about examining your thoughts and biases and prejudices and judgments, you will begin to hear the way they color much of what comes out of your mouth. You will also become much more aware of other people’s words, and the biases and preconceived perspectives behind them. It is an eye-opening endeavor. And we are called to acknowledge God rather than continue to lean on our own prefabricated understanding in every situation and circumstance and relationship we face (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%203:5-6&version=ESV).

Having our eyes opened to see things as they are – and not just as we want to believe they are – is intended to lead us to repentance and transformation. The motivation for such a process, which is at best uncomfortable and at worst shattering, is that we would become less segregated and self-deceived, and more loving and like the God Who calls us to imitate Him, Who Is Love.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, while you may not think you have the time for such a deconstruction of your thought life, I want to urge you to consider that you really do not have time to not make time it. As the day of Jesus’ coming draws ever nearer and nearer, we cannot be ready to go with Him, nor leave behind any example worth following, if we are stuck in our own hidden perceptions and judgments. We must be right with Him, and that means making room daily for Him to wipe the slate clean and input His righteous thoughts.

He gave us His mind, so living from that clean, pure, unblemished mind is a real possibility, if we will just accept the invitation.

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, ‘Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?’ But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.” (https://biblehub.com/1_corinthians/2-16.htm)

{Photo Images Courtesy of http://www.pixabay.com}

 

 


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