After a long day of work and putting out fires and snow (please, God, no more snow!), I find myself in a reflective mood as I bake my husband cookies. Cookies that are full of gluten, which I cannot eat. Cookies that will never pass my lips and melt in my mouth.
Baking is a mundane task. I have made these cookies what seems like hundreds of times over the years. Measuring and mixing and baking. It’s a task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought or critical thinking. There’s almost an automatic rhythm to the task, and within this rhythm I find my mind wandering. Why am I making cookies at 9pm when I could be relaxing for the evening? When I can’t even eat the fruit of my labor? Why have I given up my entire evening to cook and bake and clean up the kitchen, not once, not twice but three times? Why does my husband sit on the couch watching television, never mind that he put in a full day’s work and just got home from evening classes at a local university? Why? Why? Why?
When I have too much time on my hands and I do not guard my thoughts, my thinking tends to shift toward the negative. My mind goes to all the dark places, the nooks and crannies in my soul that are quick to doubt, quick to blame and slow to forgive. Every interaction I have had throughout the day, week, month is suspect and I start to question actions and words, looking for hidden meanings and disapproval. Especially if those actions and words are from my husband. Cognitive distortions abound between my husband and myself. And it wasn’t until recently that I started to call a spade a spade and started to deal with the scripts that run my life.
I’m a trained therapist. I haven’t worked as a therapist in years, but I have the training, I keep up on the research and, let’s be honest, I know better. I have coached couples on how to fight fair, how to take their thoughts captive before their thinking can grow roots and cause deep rifts in their relationships. I know this stuff. And yet, I haven’t been applying it to my life or my marriage.
Let’s take a look at some of my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), shall we? First, there’s the should fallacy. “Why isn’t he helping me, can’t he see I’m tired? He should offer to at least do the dishes.” He should know I want help. He should just step up, be a man and a partner and do it. Ah, but does he know? How many times have I shooed him out of the kitchen when I’m in the middle of cooking? I’m expecting him to read my mind and understand my wants and needs without having to speak up. This isn’t fair to him, and it sets me up for disappointment.
Then we have my mind reading and jumping to conclusions. He hasn’t thanked me for making the cookies. Or even for making the casserole we will eat tomorrow for dinner. He came home grumbling and growling, slammed doors and drawers, yelled at the dog and then went up stairs and sat down. Is he angry at me? What did I do now? I know I didn’t pull the garbage can down from the garage, but really, is he mad about that? Did I forget to do something he asked me to do? Is he still upset from the fight we had this weekend? Get over it already!
And these are just a few of the scripts that play when my mind plays in the dark corners. When I spoke to a woman at a church we attended about these thoughts, she told me the thoughts were from the Enemy and I should ask the Holy Spirit to take my mind captive and expunge this evil thinking. That was a mind trip, let me tell you. And completely untrue.
Oh, I know the Enemy can influence our thinking, but you know what? We do such a fantastic job of playing mind games with ourselves, the enemy doesn’t need to do it for us. Again, something I know from my training, but I was vulnerable at the time, disavowing my spiritual gifting and desperate to trust someone. So I prayed and asked God to take away these thoughts. To purge this negativity from me.
And nothing happened. Why? I think it’s because I wasn’t doing the work of renewing my mind. I was trying to take a short cut and I was blaming all my issues on Satan and his minions instead of taking responsibility for my own faulty thinking. In the mean time, patterns of thought and behavior have become entrenched in my relationships – personal and professional.
The bad news, these entrenched patterns of behavior have been robbing my husband and I of intimacy in our relationship. The good news is that as I submit to my identity in Christ and embrace my Heavenly persona, all this negative is going to bubble up and, much like an extinction burst, the negativity will end. God’s goodness and my negative thoughts cannot exist in the same place. God is drawing the negative from me. My job in this is to take every thought captive so I am not made captive to the thoughts. This involves recognizing the ANTs and knowing that these negative thoughts are not a reflection of my identity.
How we think has a great impact on how we see our world and how we interact with the people in it. How we think impacts how we behave. And what we believe about ourselves. Taking every thought captive means recognizing ANTs and other thoughts that don’t reflect the reality of who God says we are. It also means rejoicing. This is a hard one for me but I’m learning to find joy and thanksgiving in the every day. It helps with Acedia and I believe it is crucial to the development of our identity.
About halfway through making cookies tonight I called a time out for myself and I named the cognitive distortions that were clouding my thinking. I acknowledged the negative thought patterns and the scripts that were bubbling up within me, working my emotions into a frenzy through self-talk and automatic negative thinking. I called my thoughts up one by one and determined what was true and what was distorted thinking. And I let the distorted thinking go.
I reminded myself why I was making cookies at 9pm after a long day’s work. In looking for ways to streamline the budget and eat somewhat healthier, I committed to making cookies once a week. And I had made the choice to put off making cookies until tonight. And it is an act of love toward my husband. He loves homemade cookies and he lights up like a little kid when he sees a full cookie jar.
As for my husband, he received some news from his college about a course he was trying to petition from taking. It wasn’t the news he was hoping for and he was dealing with his own disappointment, cognitive distortions and emotions. It had nothing to do with me. When I finally acknowledged I was expecting him to mind read and just know my needs, I asked him to help with the final load of dishes, which he did more than willingly. He’s now in bed, after sampling what he calls very tasty cookies. I’m finishing up this blog post while waiting for the casserole to cool enough to put in the refrigerator. And I’m able to find the joy in this quiet moment where it’s just me and the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit reminds me that God delights in me. I can almost hear him chuckle as he tells me I’m catching on to what God wants for me right now and that in this season of divine acceleration, this knowledge is going to come in very handy. Finally, I’m in on part of the joke. And it feels good.
Am I always going to be able to recognize and resist cognitive distortions? No, probably not. But today I have experienced a sweet victory. I didn’t sleep walk through mindlessness, I exercised intentionality in my thinking. As a prophet, I need this in order to truly hear God. As a person, I need this in order to have healthy relationships with others and with myself. With each victory I believe it will become easier to take my thoughts captive. These thoughts, they aren’t who I am. They are a part of my old nature, the nature that died with Christ. Acknowledging them doesn’t give them strength, it helps me to let them go. And in letting go, I reveal more and more of my true identity in Christ. I’m looking forward to seeing that part of myself more clearly.