If you’re a fan of classic Broadway musicals like me, you may remember the famous show South Pacific. There’s a song titled, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair”. The main character sings about how she’s going to rid herself of this man and any feelings of love just as easily as washing her hair. The theme of the song is that if it’s not working out, dump him. Spoiler alert: try though she may, she isn’t able to merely shampoo, condition, and towel dry that love away. Life is usually more complicated than a simple declaration. It often takes more than platitudes and verbal affirmations to effect change, especially where matters of the heart are concerned.
It can be particularly challenging if you have the tendency to overthink to the point of distraction. If I added up all the time I’ve spent in almost obsessive thought about a situation or relationship, I’m fairly certain the sum total would be a few extra months…or years that I’ve wasted. I noted in my first book I’m Not Crazy; I’m A Christian that one of my good friends pointed out that I need to stop trying to write everyone’s dialog. Call it an occupational hazard. As a writer, I am inclined to envision the “right” way things should go. When they inevitably go a different way, or I don’t get the outcome I desire, I’m devastated.
Let’s suppose I’m having a disagreement with someone. There is the actual argument which may only last a few minutes. But that’s not where the story ends. Oh no, the party is just getting started. I will then spend the next several hours…days…weeks parsing over every detail. In my mind, I will review the exchange as if I’m the head coach studying game day footage. I’ll use slo-mo, freeze frame, and hit rewind so much that the button takes on the exact contours of my fingertip.
In essence, I perform a complete forensic examination of the corpse of the conversation. I may even call in reinforcements to evaluate my findings and see if they concur with my assessment. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post “Where Did I Leave That Lasso Of Truth?”, I have this overwhelming, sometimes paralyzing need to understand why. I am not one who can easily accept that I may never know, and move forward with or without that information.
I get stuck.
Have you ever been there? You’re dissecting every sentence, every word trying desperately to remember every subtle tonal inflection or other non-verbal expression. It’s exhausting! What’s worse is that it rarely, if ever, adds anything valuable or helpful to the situation.
On the contrary, after this thorough investigation, I usually come away more upset or amped up. I do believe there’s a time and place for venting. The problem is that sometimes all this venting doesn’t take the pressure off; it just turns up the heat. As I retell the saga to someone new, I’m immersed in it again. My anger or hurt grows instead of shrinks. I often end up feeling worse than I did at the time the event first took place. Not helpful. I need to get rid of these feelings. Venting didn’t work, so clearly the next logical step is to take some time and process everything. Do my best to put it aside and come back to it after a day or more. Give my emotions time to be tempered. That makes sense, right?
Except, I hardly ever do that.
Once I’m fired up, there is a high likelihood that I’m going to retaliate. I need that last word. I need that “closure”. I need that person to know the full extent of what he or she has done. This is the day of their reckoning. Self-control has left the building.
These are the times and moments when I find it hard to lean into my faith. Why? The Bible says this:
The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7 NIV, biblegateway.com)
What does that mean? Well, put simply, if I’m permitting my emotions and feelings to run the show, I’m in trouble. I devoted a whole chapter to this subject in my book. But as I always say, I am a resident expert on absolutely nothing, so I encourage you to not just take my word for it. This is why I include scripture. Another verse states this:
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:8 NIV, biblegateway.com)
A classic image is that of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel is trying to steer the person to make the right decision. The devil is trying to lead them astray. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the principle is still valid. Many times we are in a kind of mental war. The phrase the battlefield of the mind is used to describe it. We are in conflict between satisfying our immediate desires for revenge, retaliation, etc., and choosing a different, healthier path. This alternate path often requires some sacrifice or denial on our part. It typically will not give us that instant release or temporary gratification. It may mean showing forgiveness where it isn’t deserved or simply letting go. Let me be clear, I am not advocating for giving anyone a free pass if they’ve done harm to you. You do not excuse, but you choose to separate and move forward. This may not be easy. This probably won’t happen in a day. It takes work, but your mental health and well-being are worth the time. You are worth it!
As a Christian, I am learning how to activate self-discipline in this area. The Bible says:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, biblegateway.com)
With the help of the Lord, we can get a hold of ourselves. But we must be willing to do that. If I’m being honest, I fight back. I want to run with my thoughts. Overthink. Overreact. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It’s never because this particular formula produces the best results. Absolutely not! If anything, it complicates the complicated and escalates a minor issue into a full-on conflict. But there is something in me (my flesh) that will rise up every single time and try to take control.
I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made. I thank God that though I still overthink, I am learning to not always go to that next level and overreact. We’re all works-in-progress. We should appreciate that the Master Builder is patient with us. He sees the beauty in us, despite our flaws. He will nurture that in you, I promise. It is a process. It will take time. You may not get immediate satisfaction, but that’s a temporary, fleeting thing. It’s often later replaced with regret or a feeling of emptiness because it wasn’t what you really needed.
I’ll leave you with this verse:
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3 NIV, biblegateway.com)
Perfect peace when your mind is focused on trusting God. It’s easier said than done. But it is possible. I encourage you to give it a try. What have you got to lose? Plus, zero chance of getting shampoo in your eye.
Until next time, stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know.
Look forward to hearing from you.
Are PHD’s awarded for this activity?? Because I’d own a few of them, for sure.
The biggest enabler of such activity in my life is playing Spider Solitaire and Bubble Shooter at night. For hours. The games are great for background noise while I overthink everything relationship and plan – except the book I’m supposed to be working on!!
“My God shall keep my mind in perfect peace if I stay off the compute games and trust that God has those people in my life he wants to be there for my good and edification.”
Nancy, Thanks so much for your comment. I hear you. I often say that I could see myself on the podium accepting the gold medal in the Mental Gymnastics event at the Olympics. The struggle is real! But. God.
We can get through this as Christ strengthens us! I’ll pray for you, and you pray for me.