We’ve all had the experience, especially when we are alone for awhile, of our minds playing old recordings and showing us old videos of past failures, regrets, moments that embarrassed us or made us feel ashamed. You know how it goes. And now, more than in normal times, anxieties tend to multiply as our minds are besieged not only by endless loops of television news, but by narratives of fear playing endlessly in our heads.
Someone recently observed that being alone with our own minds running willy nilly is like being locked in a car on a long road trip with the most unpleasant person you can imagine. They just won’t stop talking about all the things that make you feel bad about yourself or worried about the future.
Cabin fever is a real thing. And when we’ve grown weary of reading and listening to music and whatever else we usually do to pass the hours, our minds can lure us into monologues of misery and worry.
What was it that the Christian writer Anne Lamott said? “My mind is a bad neighborhood. I try not to go there alone.”
It’s three in the morning. I’ve been reading a mystery by Anne Cleeves for three hours, and as good as the mystery is, my eyes are tired, but my mind is racing. I got up to look at the night sky. We’re far enough away from city lights here that you can almost reach up and shake hands with the Great Bear. After gazing at the night sky, and drinking a couple of cups of tea, I think I’ll push on through till sunrise. Dawn should be lovely.
But, in the meantime, what to do with this mind of mine?
A preaching professor I had several years ago observed that there really seems to be basically two streams of Christian faith. One is the faith of John the Baptist, fiery and ascetic, a blast furnace of negativity, warning of imminent judgment. The other is the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, compassionate and gracious and celebratory and peaceful. It’s no accident that we meet John preaching an uncompromising sermon in the desert, while we meet Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. I know this picture is simplistic, but there’s something in what my old teacher said. And in these times when I’m left alone with my thoughts, I ask Jesus if he would go with me into that bad neighborhood inside my head. After all, it is Jesus who said, repeatedly, “Do not be anxious.”
When my mind re-minds me of some failing, some guilt, some shame or regret, something I did or did not do, I don’t have to dwell on it. I can face it, but also know that the forgiveness and forgetfulness of the God revealed in Jesus Christ is stronger than anything my mind can come up with.
Likewise, when my mind turns into a 24 hour news channel reporting to me that the virus is closing in, I can remember the gentle bedside manner of the Great Physician who reminds his patients, ancient and contemporary, that our lives rest in the hands of the God who cares for us in this life and beyond the horizon of human vision.
I don’t have to run from my thoughts. But I do not have to entertain them either. Maybe, a little cabin fever is good for the soul, if it can help us train our minds in the peace of Christ.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding be with you.