When Circumstances are Overwhelming, Remember This
Picture this: You see me, pulling at my hair and rocking back and forth in a corner, a slow-mo of my head banging against the wall. Cue peels of unsteady laughter. You know, the weird kind that teeters, and borders on absurdity.
It’s not the picture you hope to see when you bump into me at Target and ask, “How are you?” But there you have me—head spinning and swimming in overwhelm—on some especially hard days. I share this with you because chances are high that you have been there too. I share this with you because I want you to know that I am with you. In this hard time, I share this with you because we all need the reminder; there is a better way to live.
A Better Way to Live
Jesus came so that we can have abundant life. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Abundant life in Christ includes overcoming the power and rule of this world, as the Gospel of John explains:
Your Circumstances Don’t Have to Control You
Let’s go back to that moment where I’m rocking in the corner, trying to decide how to answer the simple question of how I’m doing. What happened to get me to that point?
I’d like to propose that what happened was a whole lot of forgetting. It happens to all of us. When the waves of stress hit (again) and exhaustion sets in, we like to go on autopilot. While autopilot might be a lifesaver for an actual pilot, it is life-threatening for our spiritual lives. It tells us lies and it speaks fleshly desires. Our autopilot is Satan’s playground.
When autopilot runs my day, my circumstances have the final say. Every changed plan, family stress or pandemic-driven hardship can take control of me. The opposite truth, then, is that we need to cling to 2 Corinthians 10:5. This truth helps us turn off that autopilot, reminding us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Have you ever wondered why? Did know that your brain is constantly changing? Our thoughts create neurological pathways, and by repeating those thoughts it’s like we are laying down concrete and saying “Cool, let’s make this a highway!” Dr. Dan Siegel (a professor of clinical psychiatry) said that “Where attention goes, neural firing flows and neural connection grows…Patterns you thought were fixed are actually things that with mental effort can indeed be changed.” Our thoughts can change our lives. Our thoughts make our lives. It’s no wonder Jesus asks us to give our thoughts to him.
Your Thinking Is Contagious
At first glance, you might think that your thinking is just that—yours. It’s in your head, it’s private and it won’t affect anyone but yourself. However, the Bible tells us that what is inside will come out. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34b). Your thought life becomes a ticking time bomb. Rising waters under the surface will inevitably rain down behaviors that affect your life and the lives around you.
A familiar verse in Romans 12 tells us that our lives can be transformed by our minds. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” In Get Out of Your Head, author Jennie Allen explains it his way: circumstances lead to feeling an emotion; then we have thoughts, behaviors (which affect relationships), and consequences.
What does this look like? Let’s say that virtual education during this COVID-19 time has thrown a real kink in your life. Emotions have risen and you are filled with self-pity. On autopilot, your mind says, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” or “I didn’t sign up for this.” This spirals into complaining, which negatively affects those around you. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that at this point, your friends and family are now very unhappy. That’s a real consequence, and it all began with a thought.
What would happen if we interrupted that thought pattern, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and took those thoughts captive? Your emotions of self-pity are still very strong, and real. But now, instead of stewing in them, you take them to Jesus, asking him to be the pilot. You choose, instead, to think “this is an opportunity for me to lean into Jesus more” or “God is good even when my circumstances are hard.” This leads to behavior that spreads gratitude to your family, and now? There is joy.
There is no way around it, friends, our thinking is contagious.
Our Example Is Jesus
I know you often feel overrun by your circumstances and racing thoughts. Take courage! Yes, it is a battle. Yes, battles are always hard. Yes, we fail and fall a lot. And yes, sometimes we struggle to get back up. I want to leave you with one focus. One thought, One who is greater. He faced the greatest hardship of all time, of all humanity: the cross.
We know Jesus felt great emotion as he prayed to his Father in the garden (Matt. 26:38). He is our example in turning to the Father when circumstances and emotions seem overwhelming. He is our example in choosing obedience when there is no way around the pain. He is our example in all things, and his choice changed everything. Aren’t you glad?
Because of his sacrifice, we can abide by the words of Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”