What Were You Thinking?Fr. Barnabas Powell
“It is a great achievement not to be attracted by things. But it is a far greater achievement to remain dispassionate in the face both of things and of the conceptual images we derive from them.”
St. Maximos the Confessor
Isn’t that great? The ability to be free from a slavery to desires, but not just desires; to be free from the ideas these desires conjure in our minds! That’s the kind of freedom I long for.
I was speaking to a young man this past week and we were discussing his struggles. I encouraged him to keep watch on his thoughts. You see, the mind deplores a vacuum. It will try to “fill in the missing information” with “what ifs.” Your mind will con you into believing what you fear is real and what you hope for is threatened. This is a power trick of the enemy that feeds all kinds of personal challenges in our relationships with others. Our minds make real what we’ve just “assumed” was the case.
It reminds me of the story of the wife who was furious with her husband one morning. For the life of him, he simply couldn’t imagine what he did wrong. She was stomping around the kitchen, giving him those “I can’t believe you are so insensitive” looks, and generally making it clear this gentleman was in for a long day!
Finally, this poor husband broke down and asked what he did. His wife, in all seriousness, looked at him and said: “Last night I dreamed you were rude to my mother! How dare you speak to her that way!”
The mind is a funny tool, dear ones. If we are to really grow in our relationships and survive to spiritual maturity we are going to have to deal with our own tendencies to resort to mind reading or assuming meaning on others motives. We have to get a grip on our imaginations!
In today’s Epistle Lesson St. Paul writes the Galatians and asks them to battle against wrong thinking. He remembers how devoted they were to him while he was in Galatia, but now others have come and planted other thoughts in the community. And those teachings have now got the Galatians questioning Paul’s Gospel and his intentions.
Listen to the Apostle: “Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong; you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to shut you out, that you may make much of, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?” Galatians 4:8-21
The enemy of your soul wishes to sow confusion and division within any community, family, even in your own heart. Division and confusion are his favorite environments, because that environment stirs our fears of “what might happen” and “am I safe.” He will magnify any situation to make it appear bigger than it really is just to foster this kind of challenge in a family, a community, and a person. St. Paul was “perplexed” at how quickly the Galatians were in throwing out what he had taught them. He had to resort to defending his love for them and his motives for bringing them the Gospel. He was confused because when he was there, they loved him so much, but now that he is gone, they are turning to other teachings opposite of Paul’s. In another place he asks them “who has bewitched you?”
But that’s what happens with “fill in the blank” thinking. All kinds of imaginations swirl, and all fed by our fears, our hopes, our imaginations. And the only way to get a handle on these temptations is by “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5.
Today, get a grip on your thoughts. Stop trying to fill in the blanks with second hand information or, worse yet, imagined ideas. Allow the wisdom of the faith to take precedence over your fears and wishes. Don’t allow your imagination to run away with you in regard to your relationships and your own heart. Through prayer, patience, and giving others the benefit of the doubt, get free from your fallen tendencies to imagine what others think, mean, or say. By bringing your thoughts into captivity, you will set those around you free to be the people they really are with all their gifts, their faults, and their mistakes. And you will be free from the seeds of bitterness and fear that so easily disrupt communion and peace.
Today, take control of your thoughts, and you will have control over your heart!