March 7, 2015

Thinking Biblically About Overthinking, Part I

When worrying becomes unproductive, excessive, or difficult to control, it is considered pathological (or diseased) thinking. Surprisingly I have read studies that up to 25% of the American public suffer from some form of it. That means that 25% of the Body of Christ struggles with it too. It is also referred to as obsessive or orbital thinking. It is essentially good people that can initially start thinking things for productive or purposeful reasons but quickly the mental apparatus goes rogue on the user like an AWOL soldier. It is the difficulty controlling worrying that distinguishes pathological worry from the normal kind of anxiety that most people experience when they prepare for an important event or challenge. Obsessing is intrusive and mostly nonsensical thinking, images, or compulsions that a person tries to control, resist, or eliminate. 

Additionally, I personally have found that repressed feelings-particularly uneasy or unpleasant emotions such as sadness or anger underlie the "drive" of obsessive thinking or dwelling repetitively on thoughts. For me these stemmed from physical and psychological abuses in childhood. The sources may vary from person to person but the end result is usually just as tragic. Unhealthy emotions are the fuel for the raging fire. In truth feelings should never fully sway how anyone acts. Feelings usually make poor decisions without first matching them against Scripture. That’s because feelings and emotions although they are created by God…they're tainted by the Fall and the imputed sin of Adam.

Anxious thoughts that orbit and replay.
Anxious thoughts that orbit and replay.
Anxious thoughts that orbit and replay.

It goes something like this. My mind is racing. Consuming feelings of worry and guilt are heavy on me like a lion on its prey. I feel as if I am only a hair’s breadth from catastrophe. The attack is on and it’s a load too onerous to carry. I worry I’ve disappointed God, wife, friends, or even bosses or coworkers. This then progresses to self-condemnation. To make matters worse, my mind makes imagination into reality. My body now crosses a psychological/physiological line that my true physical reality hasn’t. Because of the anxiety and stress to my physical system (worrying over nothing) my body now begins to exhibit the physiological symptom of dying (or at least disease) due to stress. Where my mind leads my body has now followed suit due to anxiety. A self-fulfilling prophecy from an over-thinking prophet.

I’ve found these thoughts can be completely against my real personality. I have found that I am often able to think one thing and do another. Though I bitterly hate the constant replay of thoughts being replayed on the mental film projector screen in my brain, they continue to pop up in my mind and compulsively force themselves on me. It is here that I realize that something is being foisted on me and in truth…I can reject them and refuse them but there is still something more going on. I have a choice in this torment. The minute I stop saying I have a choice is the minute I cop-out and fail to take responsibility for my own actions. Conversely, there is a spiritual element at work here. I need to recognize that fact. The help I receive will be the work of the Holy Spirit.

At its root, it is spiritual bondage. It is this specific bondage of sin that Jesus came to free me from. It is my fallen nature and faulty sinful thinking that keeps me trapped in it. It is bondage that is interlaced with fear and shame. It is a need to control (so to avoid perceived abuses that haven’t even occurred yet). I believe that the orbital thinking is a product of both chemical factors brought on by stressful burdens and spiritual burdens that are brought on by the powers of darkness alluded to in the Scriptures. Many in the secular world will attribute the unusual psychology to purely chemical issues. Conversely, Christians will attribute them to purely demonic. In my opinion, both of these views discount the influence of the other. We are both physical and spiritual beings.

Matthew 11:28-30 ~ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ~ For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.

Ephesians 6:12 ~ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

We probably do not think of worry as a form of idolatry, but it is when we allow it to take our eyes off of Jesus. We substitute despair, hopelessness, or fear in place of God and turn to our own efforts at trying to control our environment.

Are demonic spirits involved? Probably, but to purely blame demons for how I think is to take the onus of responsibility off of myself and blame-shift which ironically is exactly what the forces of spiritual darkness want me to do. I therefore never take accountability for my own actions and never take ownership of my own sinful behavior. I have choices to make and I've found that some of them will be excruciating.

I have often sat thinking…"Why can't I stop thinking like this? Where are these thoughts coming from? What has happened to my mind? Am I going nuts?” It is then the Holy Spirit that intervenes and lays it on me that I’m not nuts but, it is my sin and demonic influence that aids in keeping me in these pointless cycles and rotations of thought. I am literally a cerebral dog chasing its mental tail. On the surface the thoughts seem important but deep down inside (when I dig like a dog for its bone) it is a worthless mental cacophony of barking that diverts me from what is really important like loving my family and spreading the Gospel. It also destroys all the relationships around me.

I’ve found that the aforementioned fear and shame comes from either past abuses commit on me as a person or past sins committed by me the person. Either way it is a Spirit of Fear. The Bible tells me that this fear is evil and I am to understand it in this manner.

2 Timothy 1:7 ~ “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

1 John 4:18 ~  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

It is in love that this Spirit of Fear is overcome. Romans 8:15 is even more specific. We need to intently and meaningfully turn to God spiritually and mentally.

Romans 8:15 ~ “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 

Some fear is healthy, pointless rumination is not. That is why the words “fear not” or “do not fear” are one of the most used commands by God in Scripture. What God is really commanding in the "fear nots" is for us to have faith. Fear finds its root in the unknown and the unknown is the territory of faithlessness or a lack of faith.

To overcome this fear we must love. But whom? Starting with God would be a good place to start. Then love yourself. Why? Because, the fear is interlocked with shame. Shame plays a big role in obsessive orbital thinking it seems. Guilt, when meditated upon, brings shame. Guilt is when you see the problem, but shame is when you feel as if you are the problem. Obsessives don’t distinguish between the two. To avoid being wrong and opened to further abuses, obsessives mentally take on all the responsibility...even the stuff that isn’t theirs. The subsequent shame brought on by perceived failure, inability to live up to a perceived standard, forces an obsessive person to beat themselves up. 

Shame therefore arises when someone has not forgiven themselves even though God has. This is especially troubling when the person took on responsibility for something that wasn’t theirs to take. It is an endless and merciless trap. Being unforgiving, even of one’s self is an insidious demonic trap. Take the responsibly for your sin…but realize you’ve been forgiven. Stop carrying the pointless burden of sin that has been forgiven by God. Otherwise it becomes a perpetual torment and a mind game perpetuated guessed it...Satan. Just as it's important for us to forgive others, it's also just as important that we forgive ourselves.

Matthew 18:34-35 ~ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Here is the root of my spiritual bondage: I must always be perfect to overcome the shame. This my friends is impossible. The fear of not living up to the impossible standard is self-defeating. It is then hard to let go...not only of the real mistakes but even the perceived ones. I end up carrying what amount to empty or hollow guilt for non-issues that I’ve made up in my head. This pointless fear and anxiety can lead a person to eventually become outside themselves. They obsess so much over fears and perceived fears that these anxieties begin to crowd out the true person.  this of course
 inevitably destroys all interpersonal relationships. It can literally drive one out of their own mind. So I ask the obvious questions again. Am I crazy? No. Am I spiritually vexed and burdened? Absolutely.

[Concluded In Part 2]

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