“What are you feeling as you say that?”
Bob’s question briefly pulled me back to the moment. He always asked that question when my voice would quiver, the closest I ever came to tears in his office. My mind raced for the answer… what is the right answer? What had I just said?
We were discussing how I feel about God being all powerful and all loving… it seemed that He didn’t think the most loving option was for me to have parents. That’s what I had said… but what had I felt? It was gone now, suppressed by an iron will that I could not control.
“Do you feel sad? Angry?” Bob prodded, seeing my discomfort and trying to help.
“Maybe both?” I mumbled, more question than answer. Mental clarity had returned but with it the emotions had evaporated again.
Bob and I moved on to other topics and he reiterated his hope that I would find people that I could cry with… that someday I would feel comfortable crying. I told him that I don’t think I will ever be comfortable with tears… but I may one day learn to stop suppressing them.
But I did cry.
Hot, angry tears poured forth the next morning as I scribbled in my journal as fast as I could write. For the first time, I laid out the hurt I felt toward God for His unwillingness to save my father from dying and for letting my mom die so shortly after.
I trust You to hold the whole world. But caring about me personally… well it just seems like You’re busy being God.
So, there it was: the truth I felt. It looked nothing like the truth that I knew but it had come to the surface at last, fighting it’s way through years of “Barrett’s Don’t Cry” and bursting out to the surface in painful anger.
I know that the truth is that God doesn’t cause pain and that He doesn’t owe me anything. I can provide the theology and the texts that prove God has never let me down or allowed me to be abandoned. But this morning was not about the logic or refuting the beliefs; I was just letting them come to the surface.
Every autothought has a belief that stands behind it and that belief was often formed in times of strong emotion, not logic, often in our earlier years. The third step in taking thoughts captive, then, begins with understanding what belief is driving that autothought.
When my community group came to an end, the reality was that my shepherds were moving out of the country. But my reaction was to close into myself: “I have failed to keep this family together.” This autothought has no basis in reality so where does it come from?
There is a deeper belief: I must take care of myself and everyone around me. This belief was grown in me through emotional experiences where I was left to fend for myself. The responsibilities placed on me in helping raise my siblings in a season when both my parents were working full time. The project I worked all night to complete because my classmates knew I would score them an A without their help.
These events and others grew in me a vine of self-sufficiency that goes beyond responsibility into isolation. It’s a self-sufficiency that is rooted in fear of others letting me down, not faith in my own ability. And it’s a belief that has caused me to take responsibility for what is not mine to carry.
But the third step in taking thoughts captive does not end with recognizing the beliefs that drive our autothoughts. The second half of this requires that we identify the truthfulness of those beliefs. Truths are based on facts and evidence, not positive thinking or hopeful idealism.
So for the week after that tear-stained journal, I sought out the truths that align with those beliefs:
As I meditate on these truths, the other two steps in the process (which I’m still learning so I can’t write about quite yet) transform my heart and reshape my beliefs to the truths. As my core beliefs change, my autothoughts change and my mind is renewed.
So, it begins with a disruption that allows me to realize that I have responded on “auto pilot.” Then I question those decisions to uncover the autothoughts that drive them. Digging deeper, we find core beliefs and we hold them up against facts and evidence.
Some, loosely held beliefs will be transformed at this point. Others will take more work. When gardening, some weeds can be pulled with your fingers and others require we dig them up with tools. But diligence and perseverance will create a garden that is free of weeds… for a time.
Our minds are no different. Careful, deliberate cultivation keeps the weeds out of our minds and allows us to live the lives we were created to live.
*Bob is the name I give my counselor in these writings. I can thank my cousin, Mindy, for the name as that is what she insists on calling him.