As a child, I remember talking to myself. I remember thinking through conversations with myself in my head and sometimes even mouthing them out with my lips. I would replay conversations that I had earlier in the day, or I would try and act out and anticipate upcoming conversations that I knew I would be having in the future.
At some point I remember noticing that it was a little weird that I would mouth out conversations and I stopped doing it. However, I never stopped carrying on conversations in my head. In a non-schizoprhenic way, I still carry out conversations in my head. Sometimes they are totally subconscious and other times intentional and thoughtful reflections on what I’ve said or need to say. I continue to engage in self-talk, and sometimes these conversations have a powerfully formative effect on my future attitudes and behaviors — they frequently shape the decisions I make and the way I live.
I think we all do this. They can be thoughts about things like, “I need to hurry up and get out of work before traffic gets to busy” causing us to get anxious and short with people as we try and rush out of work. Or it can be thoughts that happen as the result of a misinterpreted look from a friend that causes us to think, “Why did she look at me that way. Is she mad at me?” This thought may replay in our head over and over again making us feel insecure about ourselves or angry towards this person. Or, maybe it’s a thought we have about ourselves as we walk past a mirror and think “Wow, I look heavier than I remember looking last time!” This causes us to feel despondent and defeated at our deflated self-image.
Over the past week, I’ve been working hard at paying closer attention to these thoughts. They pop up quite a bit, and many of them are destructive to my attitude and resulting behavior. The Apostle Paul talks about this saying:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5–6 ESV)
When thoughts of self-loathing, indulgence, anger, or judgment come into my mind I’m working hard at recognizing these as coming from the flesh. They aren’t true statements, and the faster they die the better. The longer they linger the more pronounced their effect. They kill my sense of identity, confidence, and squash my desire to love others. When my mind is set on the flesh it does bring about a sort of death. It’s a death of me and all that God has made me to be.
The contrast is a mind set on the Spirit. A mind set on the Spirit is rooted in the gospel, and it filters all my thoughts through the love of God shown to me in Christ. If I struggle with feelings of inadequacy about my work or my weight, I can submit those thoughts to the Spirit. Even when I struggle at my job or pack on a few extra pounds, God’s love for me is unwavering. There is nothing that can separate me from his loving care and concern. So instead of letting these thoughts sabotage my life and bring about a sort of “death,” I let the Spirit reign in my mind and enjoy the fuller life and peace that comes as a result.
I don’t think I’m alone in letting my thoughts get the best of me sometimes. I’m keeping myself accountable right now by engaging in a spiritual discipline called the Prayer of Examen. It’s a journalling exercise that I do at the end of the day where I spend some time journalling about my day. As I go through the different parts of my day, I imagine how God saw me in each setting and situation. I’m asking myself the question, “Was I walking by the flesh or by the Spirit in that situation?” It’s been really helpful for me in identifying how my “fleshly” thoughts tend to wreck my soul.