I knew it was coming, but to see it confirmed in the headlines sent my anxiety spiraling once again. My kids had already missed four weeks of school due to COVID-19. Now, our governor was shutting down schools across the state for the remainder of the academic year. Part of me felt relieved, I must admit. Life seems to be filled with so much uncertainty right now, and it was almost comforting to have one area of life that I knew wouldn’t change in the coming weeks. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t help, but feel overwhelmed.
This current season has been so much more complex and challenging than I thought it would be. Complex and challenging to have my three kids home with me each and every day. Now, don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love having my kids home. I’m the mom who looks forward to summer vacation. But, this is different. I have three kids who are now participating in online learning. They’ve done beautifully with it, and I appreciate the technology we have that makes it possible. But, honestly, this mom finds it all a bit overwhelming some days. Three different kids with different assignments, different projects, and very different learning styles. Balancing that and keeping up with my own work has been challenging.
I also wasn’t prepared for the grief this season has brought. Grief over not being able to spend time with family and friends. Grief over the fact that my kids will be missing out on the fun end of the year school events. Grief over not being able to go to the grocery store and simply being able to find basic items like flour or bread.
My kids are grieving too. They miss their friends. They miss school. They miss interacting with other adults besides mom and dad. They miss being able to go places. They are grieving the fact that we’ve had to step back from “normal” life. Me too.
So, as I try to navigate this season with my family, I’m finding that though I’m doing fine overall, the simplest thing can quickly send me into a spiral of overwhelm. One child complains because we are eating out of the fridge again for dinner – spiral. One child is in tears because she accidentally deleted part of an assignment – spiral. Trying to meet a writing deadline and constantly being interrupted by a child – spiral. Do you see a common theme here? Can you relate to this at all?
In her book, Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen says that our emotions are actually a by-product of the way we think. We average about thirty-thousand thoughts in one day, and according to researchers, 70% of those thoughts are negative. How do these negative thoughts impact us? In the book of Proverbs, it says,
“Guard your heart (mind) above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)
Our thoughts affect the decisions we make each day. Those decisions we make determine how we behave, and how we behave affects our relationships with others. Negative thoughts can lead to poor decisions. Poor decisions can lead to poor behavior. Poor behavior can lead us to having a “Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”. Is this the type of life we’re after? Are we after a life that is based on just surviving the bad days, or are we after a life where we are thriving and living to the full? Is that type of a life even possible?
It is possible. It’s possible to interrupt the spiral of emotions we may find ourselves in and shift our thinking. Jennie says,
“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds.” – Jennie Allen
“The battle for our minds . . . “ In Corinthians 10, Paul writes,
“Although we live in the world, we don’t fight our battles with human methods. Our weapons that we fight with aren’t human, but instead they are powered by God for the destruction of fortresses. They destroy arguments, and every defense that is raised up to oppose the knowledge of God. They capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (CEB)
As believers, we’ve been given the authority and power from God to take every thought that enters our mind captive and filter it through the truth we find in His Word. You and I have been equipped to destroy the lies that try to dominate our thought patterns. Yet, though we’ve been given the power and authority, we still have to make the choice to use it. We have to choose to shift our thinking.
So, how do we do this? How do we shift our thinking? First, we need to identify the thoughts that we have allowed to settle comfortably in our brains.
Take a moment and think about an emotion that you have felt recently. For me, it’s “overwhelm”. Maybe you’ve felt fearful, angry, or disappointed. What is something you have been feeling these past few weeks?
Next, ask yourself what factors are contributing to that emotion and why are they causing you to feel that particular way. For me, there are several areas that are contributing to my feelings of overwhelm with kids, work, and COVID-19 being the top three.
If I were to focus on just one at the moment, I’d have to go with COVID-19. Because of COVID-19, schools are closed and my kids are now doing online learning at home. In addition to the normal things I do each day to keep our home running smoothly, I am now also responsible for making sure their learning experiences go smoothly. So far, this has taken up more time than I anticipated, and I feel overwhelmed. Because of COVID-19, we have to practice social distancing. I lead a ministry that is based on relationships and making connections most of which now must happen online. This change from the “normal” way we do things feels overwhelming. What about you? What factors have been affecting the way you feel and why?
Now that we’ve identified the thoughts that have settled in our brain, it’s time to take these thoughts captive and hold them up against the truth we find in God’s Word. Ask yourself if this thought you have is based on what God says is true or if it’s based on a lie that Satan would have you believe. For example, I’m feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19 because I believe that I’m not strong enough to lead my family through this and lead them well. What does God’s Word tell me, however?
“But the Lord can be trusted to make you strong and protect you from harm.”
2 Thessalonians 3:3 (CEV)
“The Lord gives strength to those who are weary.”
Isaiah 40:29 (CEV)
“Christ gives me the strength to face anything.”
Philippians 4:13 (CEV)
“If we want to stop our patterns of toxic thinking, we must notice what’s happening and take action . . . Taking every thought captive is . . . choosing to believe that God is with us, is for us, and loves us even when all hell comes against us.” – Jennie Allen
Taking every thought captive is choosing to take those negative thought patterns within our minds and rewriting them. It’s taking our negative emotions and the reasons behind them and choosing to view them through God’s truth.
For example, instead of focusing on how overwhelmed I feel in the midst of our COVID-19 quarantine, I can choose to rewrite my thought pattern. Instead of thinking: I am overwhelmed and I can’t balance everything that is expected of me, I can rewrite that to say: I am overwhelmed, and I have so much to balance right now, so I will choose to remember that God will never leave me and He will fight for me. Deuteronomy 20 says,
“He will say to them, ‘Listen to me, all you men of Israel! Do not be afraid as you go out to fight your enemies today! Do not lose heart or panic or tremble before them. For the Lord your God is going with you! He will fight for you against your enemies, and he will give you victory!’”
Deuteronomy 20:3-4 (NLT)
Do you see the difference there? I acknowledged the emotion and the reason behind it, but I also chose to filter it through something I know to be true. If you were to rewrite your thought pattern, what would it say?
Lastly, Jennie reminds us that,
“We need to walk by the Spirit, not be jerked around by our swirling chaotic thoughts.” – Jennie Allen
To walk by the Spirit is to spend time in His presence. Psalm 46:10 tells us to,
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
The NASB translation says to, “Cease striving . . .” The Street Bible says to, “Shut up . . . Shut off . . . Shut out . . . and in the silence . . . sense God: connect!” To spend time in His presence is to be still, turn our focus completely on Him, and listen. It is in His presence that we shift our thinking. It is in His presence that our minds can be transformed. Romans tells us,
“Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to Him.”
Romans 12:2 (CEV)
It is also in His presence that we can experience the peace described in the book of Philippians.
“Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours].”
Philippians 4:6-7 (AMP)
“Shifting our minds from flesh to spirit is an ongoing work of the spiritual life . . . it’s not a one time decision, but a day by day moment by moment choice to move from chaos and confusion toward the peace of Christ in various areas of our thought lives.” – Jennie Allen
That is my challenge to you. Move from the chaos and confusion this world offers us and move towards Jesus. Move towards truth. Move towards the peace that only He can provide.
Allen, Jennie. Get Out of Your Head. Waterbrook. 2020.