“Raindrops on roses. And whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings. These are a few of my favorite things.”
For those who didn’t watch a certain movie repeatedly during their childhood, those words are lyrics from “My Favourite Things” sung by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. And whilst I am not going to go into their significance straight away you might be able to guess why I mention them. And I know that right now you are probably singing the song as well, go on enjoy it.
So I have mentioned once or twice before that I have struggled with anxiety, suffered panic attacks and also suffered depression and I mention them again partly because I believe we should not hide these things away, it is sweeping them under the carpet that can lead to years of built up issues and a lot more work to deal with when you finally confront them.
I also write about them now as a while back I decided to attend a church prayer meeting and on that day I found myself dealing with that familiar inner voice which firstly tried to persuade me that I shouldn’t bother and I would be happier staying at home instead. Then when I wouldn’t listen to that voice it went on the attack, reminding me that I was going to have to mingle with people I might now know and would end up feeling uncomfortable and inferior. And then for good measure it tried to make me feel like I was incapable of being part of it, that I would embarrass myself and would come away feeling depressed. This inner conversation went on until a couple of hours before the meeting started when I responded yes to a text offering me a lift and it was then that this inner voice all but gave up the battle. It did return to take a couple more swipes during the evening when we broke up into small groups to pray for each other and my thoughts of embarrassment as to praying out loud and saying the right thing were causing me to suffer sweat inducing dread.
Now there is some thing else I don’t think we talk enough about as Christians and that is the devil. Maybe we see him as a horror movie creation which if you say his name three times he appears behind you, if that is the case then he has fooled you. I hate to tell you this but the devil is real and the minute you said yes to Jesus the devil was on your case; he is looking for ways to drag you down, to cause doubt and he is on a mission to cause you to stop believing. For me one of the ways he attacks, and I am not alone in this, is that he likes to drop suggestions in my head, drag up old memories of past failures and people telling me I am useless so that I start to have doubts, he wants to use those thoughts to make me feel mentally weak, incapable and that it would be better not to bother.
Not only does he cause me to bring up those memories of bad experiences to make me think about the worst case scenario but he does it so much that he does two more things. The first of which is that he tries to wear me down till I give in and believe those anxiety generating thoughts because I can’t take any more of the back and forth conversation in my head and air of unease he is instilling in to me, causing my heartbeat to quicken. When someone says “it is exhausting being them” they could be right because there are days where this battle going on in my mind, this constant onslaught of doubt and the raised stress levels can leave me more exhausted than if I had been to the gym.
But the other thing he does through this constant onslaught is to try and make me forget that I have a God who loves me, who wants to help me, who won’t leave me alone, who wants me to rely on him and who doesn’t want me to fight my battles under my own strength. I am by no means giving the devil any praise but for many years he has pulled my strings, tricked me, suggested things to me and in doing so caused me to think I wasn’t strong enough and smart enough all to the point that I ended up taking God out of the equation and focused on dealing with these negative thoughts on my own and unsurprisingly failing by doing so. So it is all praise to God that I write this now and that I am not some hermit living a life far away from the rest of the world unable to cope with society due to anxiety. Not that I can boast that I have fully beaten my anxiety but I am not only in a much better place than I was but I am moving in the right direction every time I answer a negative thought with God loves me and he will help me.
So what is my answer to this battle with the devil and my mind?
Well it starts with reminding you, and myself, that we have a God who wants us to rely on Him, wants us to give Him our worries, stresses, and anxieties. I also want to remind you what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength“. It is so important to remember this because that is exactly what the devil doesn’t want you to do, he wants you to forget that it is God who we turn to for our strength, that we have the Holy Spirit in us, and it is the devil who wants you to feel abandoned, isolated and believing you have to deal with things on your own through your own knowledge and power. He wants you to focus on yourself because that is when he can use the power of suggestion to weaken you.
But here is where Julie Andrews comes in to the equation as the song goes “When the dog bites. When the bee stings. When I’m feeling sad. I simply remember my favorite things. And then I don’t feel so bad” the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”
He also says in Romans 12:2
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”
Do you want to know what the biggest truth is right now – God Loves You. He not only loves you he says he won’t abandon you, you are his workmanship, he knows the number of hairs on your head, and you were created in his own image. I could go on because the Bible continually tells us how much God loves us and the fact that Jesus died on the cross for our sins because he loves us surely is the end of the argument if there ever was one, we have a God of love. When those negative thoughts start appearing think about this love, use it to start transforming your mind and thinking about whatever is right, is pure, is noble because until you start transforming your mind the old ways that the devil uses to suggest things will keep on happening and you won’t have the peace which God promises.
You see what I have come to realise is that what Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9 and Romans 12:2 is surprisingly easy to do when you “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” – Luke 10:27. When you focus not on you but on loving God completely you find yourself in this continual conversation of thanks, of prayer, and singing praise songs. Maybe it is me but I simply cannot get tired of praising God even when it feels like He is being silent because I know that not only has He done so much for me but is putting things in place, waiting for the right time to answer a prayer. Remember God’s timing is perfect every time even when in our own understanding and impatience it doesn’t seem like it.
Now I am sure a psychologist might read this and say well think positive thoughts and you will change your mind, self help books tell you about the power of positive thought all the time. But I have read those self help books and followed the advice and every time I have sunk back to negative thoughts because it was all about me, thinking about how me can help me and if me was any good at helping me I would not need someone telling me how to help me. But because my focus has shifted from me to God, to His will, to His love, to worshipping Him from dusk to dawn the devil is struggling to find a crack to get in. Yes there are times when he finds a crack, someone does something which momentarily shakes me but I remind myself as quick as I can that God loves me, I give Him the problem in prayer and get back to worshipping Him knowing that he is in control.
It is funny because back in 2017 if someone had told me I would be writing this and saying what I am saying I would not only have thought they sounded crazy but I would have become bitter and depressed. In fact I might have told that person that it sounded more exhausting to keep giving thanks than it was dealing with anxiety. Yet I never want to go back to how I felt and I know that by praising and loving God, whilst relying on his strength is the way to go, when you can’t stop smiling and you just want to shout hallelujah surely that is a sign of good things.
I am going to stop here although I am sure one day I will write more about this because having been a slave to anxiety for many years I want others to find freedom from negative thoughts. But I will just say that when you think about God all the time, praising Him, loving Him, relying on his strength you can find joy in some of the simplest things. As such the other day, as I walked to town, I found myself singing “If you are happy and you know it shout Amen”. I hadn’t sung that song for over 35 years, since my Sunday school days and yet here I was singing it and do you know what, it made me even happier.