Every Monday we’ll post something about maintaining your sexual integrity. Hope it helps.
Default to Darkness
God’s blessings flow this month like lava. My client load has nearly doubled in the past few weeks; I just spent the weekend in Roanoke with 540 awesome students from Young Life and Inter Varsity discussing sexuality and holiness; my beautiful wife is looking lovelier than ever; my oldest son’s career is forming; my youngest son is getting more paid gigs for his Christian band; our new roof just went up; I have a new book coming out this June and am finishing the first draft of yet another book project this week. As I write this, I’m flying home from Virginia to California in First Class, a section I normally creep past with the other peasants, because due to a flight mix-up I was upgraded. We’re even getting a dog soon, which ranks high on my list of “Yes!” items. So by rights, my mind should be a symphony of praise.
Why, then, when I’m alone and at loose ends, do I keep mentally dredging up the bully who made 2cd grade a misery? Or the pedophile who violated my eight year old body? Or the countless jerks – co-workers, professors, associates – who’ve insulted me over the years for no good reason? During this season of abundance, shouldn’t I instead be mentally relishing all that God’s provided and planned?
Obviously yes, and I do, I really do. But when my mind drifts, too often it defaults to the darkness, replaying scenes of pain – relationships that went wrong, or decades-old cruelties leveled at me or people I cared about, or humiliations. As the recipient of an abundant life, my focus should be on the abundance. Strangely, though, it instead veers to the negative, and even now I’m pondering why.
Partly, I think, we mentally replay old and unpleasant scenes from our past because we fantasize how we’d like to have handled these painful situations, in contrast to the way we really handled them. Instead of getting beaten up by the elementary school bully, I visualize my 7 year old self pulling an Uzi out of my lunchbox, pulverizing the tyrant, and riding a limo in the parade President Kennedy schedules for me and my adoring public. Instead of trembling in silence while a stranger exploits me, my 8 year old self kicks him in a strategic area, then lectures him on the destruction his behavior creates, leading him to abject repentance and a life of sacrifice in the Peace Corp. Remembering past traumas can be a way of envisioning how we wish we’d handled them, a rather childish but understandable mental exercise in memory revision.
But maybe there’s more. Maybe some weird part of me wants to give up, give in. If I concentrate on the amazing grace I’m shown so irrefutably, I can’t possibly justify throwing in the towel. But when I think on all that’s gone wrong in my life, whether self-inflicted or “other” inflicted, I’m given a pseudo-excuse for caving. And I’ve come to think that strange tendency, that illogical but noisy voice that keeps saying “Life’s futile, people are irredeemably cruel, I’m hopeless” wants validation, a validation I give it when I dwell on the ugly. It takes no exercise of faith to look at what is, and despair, so when I’m feeling too lazy to move my feet, much less mountains, and when I’m tired, bored or generally burnt out, thinking about how awful everything is provides me with some justification for quitting. I haven’t yet, nor do I plan to. But the thought pattern I am seeing clearly this week – the pattern of dredging up horrible memories and swimming in them – seems like an almost unconscious attempt at sabotage.
So in the interest of keeping it clean, I need to also keep it focused. What I dwell on today is going to largely influence my attitude, decisions, relations, everything. I have a choice to decide which channel to watch, so to speak, which movie to revisit and which one to delete.
Which is, I’m sure, a prime reason Paul tells us to think on “whatsoever things are pure, lovely, and of good report.” Purity is, after all, about more than resisting lust. It’s about purity of thought and focus, a decision to keep our minds fixed on God’s best rather than this world’s worst. And with a commitment to right thinking firmly in place, I can trust, with good reason, that however hard it might get, this is indeed the day which the Lord has made, and I will rejoice, and be glad in it.