I have a confession to make. Even though I know in my heart that God is in control and He is not worried, I still struggle with worry. "But wait," you say, "I thought this was supposed to be about good news." It is. But sometimes you have to endure the bad in order to completely appreciate and embrace the good and the sweet victory that can emerge from great struggles. So hang in there with me because there actually is good news.
The bad news is as I got older I started to worry more and became less trusting and more cynical. One of the most significant childhood recollections I have of when this began to happen was when my mother died of metastatic breast cancer when I was only 9 years old. Not only did her death turn my world upside down, plunging me into a dark abyss of grief and pain, I also felt blindsided and betrayed by God.
You see I was raised in a good Christian household with 2 parents who loved us and loved God. My father was a pastor and my mother taught Sunday school and was a very devoted and loving pastor's wife. For the most part our childhood was happy and we felt secure. Moved by one of my superhero dad's Sunday morning sermons I can still remember the day I responded to the call for salvation and went to the altar. I was 7, innocent, loved Jesus with all of my heart, and was overflowing with great joy and excitement. I loved the Bible stories my parents and I read together and this Jesus who walked on water, fed thousands of people with just a small amount of food, healed the sick, and raised the dead also became a superhero in eyes as I got to know him more.
So imagine my dismay when some 2 years later, my mother got sick and died, and that same Jesus whom I had desperately pleaded with to heal her and later to raise her from the dead did neither and didn't even hear me... or so it seemed at the time. I did not understand. I had done my best to be obedient and to be a good student. What had I done wrong? Why had this happened? The adults in my life offered no real answers. All I kept hearing from them is that God had taken my mother to be with him which did not make me feel any better. Why would God take my mother away when I needed her here?
Thankfully I still had my dad, and I clung to him as if my life depended on it since he seemed to be the only source of safety and security I had left. However, my father was dealing with his own grief over my mother's death as well as the unexpected loss of his job right on the heels of resigning as pastor from his church. As a result he ended up working 2 jobs just to make ends meet and was gone for long hours at time and sometimes even overnight. When he was home I still felt safe with him; however when he was gone I began to worry that I would lose him too.
And so I decided that I would never allow myself to be blindsided again. Instead, I would mentally prepare for the worst by staying ahead of all of the worst case scenarios. In reality what I was doing was coping with my pain with worry, thinking that if I could play out worst case scenarios in my mind I could control and maybe even prevent bad things from catching me unaware. In a sense it was practicing Christian superstition. As I got older the cycle only got worse and became full blown anxiety resulting in numerous destructive behaviors (another story for another time). Over the years I tried counseling, positive affirmation, inner healing seminars, support groups, life coaching, and variety of self help books, and programs often at great expense. Most offered some benefits and I did experience some results but none of them ever seemed to stick, and before long I found myself almost back to where I started.
It has been said of the physical body, "You are what you eat." This can also be said about the mind/body connection. The Bible says it perfectly in Proverbs 23:7a, "as he thinks in his heart so is he." Our behavior, the people and situations we attract, and our responses to people and situations are deeply connected to our subconscious memory. The subconscious memory (or mind) operates below the threshold of our awareness and also has a strong connection to our autonomic nervous system which causes our bodies to respond physiologically to various life experiences. Some have called it cell memory because, they reason, even if we do not remember a particular event, the memory of it gets stored in our cells and when a sensory input, such as a particular smell triggers that memory, the body and emotions respond as if the event were happening all over again. And even if that event is remembered, a person often does not even make the connection between it and present. These memories create actual connections called neuro-pathways in the brain which can physically alter the brain, and ultimately our behavior and responses to things. What gets hardwired into the subconscious mind and incorporated into these neuro-pathways is determined by our life experiences and the rational thought processes of the conscious mind.
While we cannot control past life experiences and traumas, we do have control over our thought process and what we choose to dwell on. Much research has been done on the subject by neuroscientist, behavioral therapist, and author, Dr. Caroline Leaf who developed the Switch on Your Brain with the 5-Step Learning Process® and the Metacognitive-Map™ learning tool as well as the 21 Day Brain Detox program to name just a few. You can learn more about these programs at: drleaf.com. According to Dr. Leaf, toxic thinking over time can build build negative and unhealthy neuro-pathways that can alter the brain all the way down to the cellular and chemical levels. This can program one for destructive behaviors, repeated failures, addictions and other negative predispositions, and even physical and mental illnesses. Dr. Leaf even goes as far as to say that meditating on toxic thoughts can cause brain damage that can prevent us from becoming our true selves that God created us to be. The Bible calls this type of negative hard-wiring "strongholds" and confirms that once in place, they can block us from fully knowing God. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
After my mother died I decided that God had blindsided and betrayed me. This thought replayed in my mind until I truly believed it and it became a part of me. As a result I became self protective in a negative way by playing out worst case scenarios in my mind (worry) to mentally prepare so I would never be blindsided again. This caused me to become overly pessimistic and trust no one fully, not even God. This in turn brought about a predilection toward relationships that were unhealthy and even abusive in some cases. I was terrified of surrendering my whole self to God for fear that I would be hurt again.
But there is... and I repeat there is good news! Our brains are very neuroplastic (meaning that our neuro-pathways are still very malleable and impressionable). Whatever is wired into the brain can be wired out. The mind can be renewed (See Romans 12:1-2), new positive thoughts can be programmed in, and new healthy neuro-pathways generated in our brains. We are do not have to be permanent victims of our toxic thoughts. One reason so many of the self help and even Biblically based programs may only provide limited and temporary results at best is that applying one size fits all programs and positive affirmations to a deeply damaged mind is like applying a bandage to a broken bone. Using the truth of God's word, positive affirmations and even some self help programs can be very effective, but each person's neuro-pathways good or bad, are as unique as their DNA and so for lasting change one size does not fit all. It takes a deep and specific work of the Holy Spirit to expose each toxic thought one at a time and to reveal to each one of us a specific plan to destroy the roots and build new healthy memories and pathways. It takes much prayer, praise, total openness before God, a listening ear, commitment to change, and time.
For some of us the damage is so deep that it will take some help and accountability. The program that I am doing and one I highly recommend if you do find you need a bit more help is the 21 Day Brain Detox developed by Dr. Caroline Leaf. It is a very effective program and at just $27 per year it is also very affordable.
In the beginning of this post I stated that I still struggle with worry. Well I am happy to report, (on my 4th cycle of 21 days) that I have been very successful at uprooting negative strongholds, programming in new God honoring thoughts, renewing my mind, and moving closer to God and to my God given destiny. By the grace and power of God, I am winning the war on worry. And that is my prayer for you.
"Beloved I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health even as your soul prospers." 3 John 2
What things are holding you back from becoming your best self in Christ? What are you doing or willing to do to get there? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.