It’s Not All in Your Mind
The problems in our mind often lead to bad fruit, but the root of our problems is often not in our mind at all, but in our heart.
We often have this false idea in the Western world that the battle’s all in the mind, that it’s all about how we think. If that were true, why do people smoke, do drugs, drink excessively, eat excessively, and do all sorts of things they know is bad for them? There must be something else going on.
So often in the church we minister to people’s behavior, because that’s the low-hanging, bad fruit. It’s visible. It’s obvious. It’s clearly a problem. But that just leads to sin management, not real transformation. We have to minister to the root.
The root is often at the heart.
In Western culture, in our arrogance, we’ve exalted our intellect at the expense of our heart. Yes, our thoughts are important, and we want to develop the skill of taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). There is a battle in the mind for sure. But that’s the effect, not the cause. The foundational battle is in the heart, and often it shapes our behavior and our thinking more than our mind does.
Jesus agrees with me.
He says in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
You catch that? Those are all behavioral problems he just mentioned, and he didn’t say they came from bad theology or wrong thinking. They come from the heart. The bad theology and wrong thinking is just our brain rationalizing what’s already in our heart.
And again, Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Jesus thought the heart was pretty important.
A Mile of Reaction over an Inch of Offense
Ever have a mile’s worth of negative reaction over an inch of offense?Ever been like, “Where’d that come from?” And then we’re all embarrassed and ashamed because we reacted so strongly when we know that strong of a reaction wasn’t merited? I’ve done that, been there, got the tee-shirt. That’s a clue there’s a heart issue going on.
Often when we’re hurting, or addressing bad fruit in our lives, the most important conversation we can have is with our heart. We have so played-down our hearts and dishonored our hearts, while they are so wounded. A good way to start healing is to honor our heart by learning to listen to it.
So how do you talk to your heart? It may look different for you, but this is how I do it.
I ask these four questions:
- Heart, why are you afraid and hurting, what wounded you?
- Heart, how did that make you feel?
- Heart, what did you come to believe? About yourself? Others? God?
- Ok, Heart, then what did you vow to protect yourself?
I put my hand over my heart, just because it helps me focus. Then I say (preferably out loud if I’m in a safe space like my car or some other private place), “Heart, why are you afraid?” or “Heart, why are you hurting?” And then I listen.
This is listening, so you have to protect the quiet. My brain, always trying to help, jumps in with all sorts of answers, “because of this,” or “because of that.” I have to tell my brain, “Shut up, Brain, I’m not talking to you.” Then I go back to quiet, listening to my heart.
Sometimes answers are immediate, but sometimes I have to wait anywhere between a few minutes or a few days. Sometimes even a few weeks, but I keep asking. It’s not that my heart’s not answering, it’s that I’m hard-of-heart-hearing. Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear my heart. For some of us, this is a completely foreign concept.
To talk to our heart, we have to unlearn a bunch of stuff we’ve learned. Like, “all meaning can be expressed in words.” Not! Our heart learned to talk a long time before our brain did. And when our heart learned to talk, we didn’t have verbal language yet. That’s why 90% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s heart-speak.
So our heart doesn’t always talk in words. Sometimes a memory will pop up. Your heart is telling you the answer is because “this” happened.
Finding the Foundational Lie
Our brain can help if we train it to. For example, I’ve dealt at various times with different levels of self-hatred. I had a very good Christian childhood and my parents loved me. And my siblings, two brothers 10 years older than me, also loved me and were very good to me. I had no trauma growing up. But because of a deep-rooted self-hatred I didn’t even know was there, I made some poor choices in my life because I didn’t think I deserved any better. So I recently was trying to figure out where that came from.
So I asked my heart, “Heart, what’s your wound?” Crickets. I was having trouble hearing my heart. That’s not a question it necessarily wants to answer, and hearing your heart is hard anyway. So I let my brain help, giving my heart a multiple-choice question instead of an essay question.
“I was bullied.” Nothing. Nope that’s not it.
“My parents weren’t proud of me.” Nothing. I know that’s not true, that lie has no power over me.
“I was a mistake.” Sudden strong emotion! Where’d that come from? I had to fight back an audible cry in the car. Bingo! That’s the wound. My two brothers were 10 years older than me, and I thought I was a mistake.
Now I was onto something. So I probed deeper, and now the answers came quickly. “Heart, how did that make you feel?” Unloved.
“Heart, what did you come to believe?” No one will love me.
“Heart, what did you vow to protect yourself?” I will make everyone happy so they love me.
That explains so much! My mom told me as a baby I’d cackle or coo or do whatever made the person holding me smile.
My dad told me, as a 2-year old, they only had to tell me once to not touch the expensive figurines on the coffee table, and I wouldn’t. He said he’d never seen another child like me.
These sound like good things, but they were a child trying to earn love because he believed a foundational lie. It lead to some bad choices later on.
Since I’ve learned what the wound was, what the foundational lie was, it’s been much easier to deal with. Now when I have thoughts of self-hatred, I call out the lie and replace it with God’s truth. “No, I’m not a mistake. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (That’s Psalm 139:14, BTW. If you struggle with self-hatred, internalize Psalm 139. It’s the anti-self-hatred psalm.)
So what about you? Talk to your heart lately? Do you need to? Try this out and let me know how it goes. I’d really love to hear from you. And please share this if you think it would help someone else.