“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true,
the best, not the worst;
the beautiful, not the ugly;
things to praise, not things to curse.
Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
Philippians 4:8-9 MSG
A few weeks ago, I received a communication that led me down a road called jumping to conclusions. I presented the words to Carl, he grabbed a backpack and joined me on a joint trek towards despair. Our thinking was faulty as it lacked the full context. A few hours later, our assumptions proved incomplete. What has remained with me, a constant reminder of sorts, is how quickly and easily it was to heap insufficient evidence onto an already difficult reality. I moved from a place of sorrow to wading in the depths of despair because I was poised to leap. Because my mind was weary and fragile, it was easy to assume the worst. Even more baffling to realize how much relief was derived when we were able to back up to our original source of grief. The mind is incredibly powerful and can lead us astray if we are not vigilant in what we allow it to contain.
Assumptions are easy to make, based on what is heard or read, but even information beyond earshot can follow this same dangerous pattern.
At the beginning of the year, I spent time reading the Gospels. When I arrived at the parable of the Prodigal Son, I couldn’t help seeing new aspects. For those not familiar with this parable, a man has two sons. The younger son decides to ask his father for his inheritance in advance, which the father relinquishes. The son sets out on an escapade of wild living and squanders his inheritance. He is destitute to the extent the pigs’ food looks appetizing. He returns to his senses, realizes his foolishness, and that his own father’s servants are living better than he has found himself. He decides to return home, beg for forgiveness, admit his unworthiness to be called a son, but instead his father’s servant. When this scene plays out, the father will have none of this scenario, embraces him, puts a ring and robe on his son as befitting his position, and calls for a feast.
As the feast is ramping up, the older brother returns and hears the sounds of merriment and inquires about the happenings. He is informed of his brother’s return and the father’s call for a party. The older brother is furious and when his father finds him to discern why he has not joined the festivities, the brother lays into this father by pointing out his brother’s poor behavior in contrast to his own. He is irritated his father never let him celebrate even in a small way with his friends. The brother calls the prodigal, “this son of yours”, distancing himself. The father explains to his eldest son how everything he has is his “but how can we not celebrate because this brother of yours was lost but now he is found.” He draws the sons closer.
What occurred to me while reading this parable was considering the point when the older brother entered the scene. One might say he was late to the party or more importantly, late for his younger brother’s entrance. He missed his brother’s harsh world living appearance, confession, and request to be considered a servant, no longer a son or a brother. It makes me wonder if he might have also been moved to compassion had he witnessed his brother’s state and contrition? But instead, he responded with the evidence he had been mulling over in his mind since his brother’s departure.
I wonder how often I am prone to a tirade based on long-held beliefs that no longer prove to be accurate?
I am endeavoring to pause before I wander down a road paved by my own imagination. During this particular time, my mind can quickly move from hope to despair, from life to death, from peace to fear, and from truth to falsehoods. Most importantly, when ugly and evil words are uttered, I will not allow them a corner of my mind, heart, or soul. Even when they are fact-checked and deemed as truly spoken.
Questions for this week:
What are you allowing to fill your mind?
Are you meditating on what is true?
Who or what is the dominate voice in your life?
What pieces of information are missing to complete an accurate picture?
What tools could you assemble to help your mind land in peaceful places?
May we make it our aim to fill our minds with what is true and beautiful.
May we stop, look and listen before we leap in a faulty direction.
May we ever be in awe of all we don’t know or see, but yet God does.
Two tools helping me daily: