Happy New Year to all readers of Tosin’s Bible Blog!
The first post of 2013 is on a subject that I have been thinking about for a few months. That is, “you are what you think”. This might come across a little ambiguously, especially as it follows a post saying that God calls us all to greatness in His Kingdom. In this particular post, when I say “You are what you think”, I am not talking about what you think about yourself, or your level of self-esteem. Rather, my point is that your true, true self, sometimes successfully hidden even from those who are closest to you, (but never hidden from God, no matter how any of us may try), is determined by the thoughts and attitudes you cultivate or allow to grow in your mind.
Many times in Christian circles I have heard people say that “Who you truly are” is a matter of what you do in the dark, or in private, “when no-one is looking”. After thinking about this for a while I would go one step further. Sometimes with the thoughts that you cultivate you may never actually act on them, either in private or in public. However, you might nourish these thoughts and cherish them and derive a kind of comfort from them. And this is what defines your true, true self. Remember that at any time God can see right into our hearts, just as He can see right through darkness. Psalm 139 says “Both the darkness and the light are the same to You”.
In a way, this should be so obvious to a Christian, not least because the Bible talks about this endlessly. However, it has only been within the last year (2012) that the truth of this has really struck me. I used to unconsciously think that my heart (or my mind) was my own property, available to me to use just as a I wished. I used to think that what mattered was what I actually said, or did, and I used to allow myself to cultivate all sorts of “loving” (that is, unloving) thoughts, especially towards other Christians. I thought that this was acceptable, as long as I did not actually act on these thoughts. However, God revealed His truth to me.
I used to think that I was genuinely being lovely, that I was being kind. But then I would meet people who would astound me with their loveliness, and I would realise that there was such a clear and resounding difference between me and them. After some thought, it became clear to me that this difference was that their loveliness truly originates in their heart, so that when they smile at me, it is so striking because they have only “smiling” in their heart, there is nothing negative to temper it. And with such people, it tends not to be a one off – I came to realise that these people just do not cultivate any malice or anger in their hearts whatsoever, or allow these thoughts to fester when the thoughts occur to them.
Firstly, the thoughts of your heart are revealed in your actions – whether you realise it or not. I think that most of us would like to think that our private thoughts are actually private, and that no-one can tell what we are thinking. However, this is part of the reason why I started thinking about this issue in the first place – it occurred to me that other people often appear to be so transparent to me – I realised that I must also often be equally transparent to others. That is, have you come across anyone where afterwards you thought “That woman is dreadful!”, even though the woman might not actually have said anything to you, or even have looked in your direction? Many times, what we think about ourselves and what we think about other people is communicated in the way we hold our heads, the tone of our voices, how we walk, our facial expressions. Some people seem to walk around with perpetual sneers on their faces. Do such people actually need to open their mouths to say “I think you are all utterly beneath me!” before we get that message? Or a more positive example: sometimes we meet someone and we think “Wow, that person is lovely!” And once again, this is often without their saying a word. Sometimes there is an obvious lightness or openness in someone’s demeanour, a willingness to accept others, graciousness, kindness, forgiveness which seems to just pour out of them.
Most of us, of course, are aware that to get the most from other people, we have to hide our actual thoughts towards them, so we pretend. That is, we might need favours from other people or we might require their contribution in some way to achieve our own personal goals. Obviously we know that people will not be willing to help us if they know the negative thoughts we think about them, so we pretend to like them or we hide the fact that we think that they are in some way inferior to us. However, even in these circumstances, I believe that the truth is always a lot clearer than we usually think. Many times we give ourselves away once again in split second facial expressions or gestures, or the tone of our voices, or sarcastic or condescending little laughs. In these ways we lose on two accounts: firstly the real thoughts of our hearts are exposed, and secondly we reveal ourselves to be insincere. Sometimes these things only become clear after a little time has passed, which is why on my relationship blog I advise that people should know potential spouses as long as possible (at least for two years, ideally) before agreeing/deciding to go out with them (note, before going out with them in the first place, not actually marriage itself).
The difference between putting on an act and making an effort
What is the difference between pretending to be a lovely person, and trying your hardest to be a lovely person? Once again, this is all about the heart, and it is all about sincerity. Pretending is about putting on an external appearance, saying “all the right things” while continuing to actively cultivate the very opposite thoughts in your mind/heart. So you could airily say “I believe that we are all equal in Christ!” while you are “secretly” thinking “I don’t know how you could possibly imagine that there could ever be any equality between you and me, in Christ or otherwise!” Or you could say “What a lovely dress!” while you are secretly thinking “My goodness, her clothes grow more and more awful!”. One time when I myself was insincere was when I complimented someone on her baby, calling the baby cute, while thinking the exact opposite in my mind. On the other hand, trying to be lovely itself starts from the heart, you recognise evil and unhelpful thoughts even as they occur to you, and you do your best to throw them out, and you see this person as they are, which is as God sees them, and you relate to them accordingly. In my experience there is often also a humility about such people, which seems to quietly acknowledge that there is an area of their life or their thoughts that they have realised that they need to work on.
The role of habit
Sometimes I meet people who are utterly lovely, and it occurs to me that they are not making any particular effort to be lovely, or kind or gracious, it just flows from them spontaneously. It seems that it has become so ingrained that it has become almost a subconscious habit, that just flows out everywhere in every way. (And these are not necessarily Christians) Such people are “rare but there”. That is, it can be rare to come across them, but I’m sure most of us will have encountered such a person at least once in our lives.
On the other hand, negative thinking can also become an equally compelling habit. So it is not necessarily that someone wants to think negatively, but it has just become so ingrained that it happens almost spontaneously.
Loveliness, kindness, grace, forgiveness, gentleness – these all have to spring from the heart to be real. If you are trying to be all these things, but you are not genuinely working on these issues from your heart, then you are wasting your time. Perhaps this is the difference between being forgettably “nice”, and being compellingly, unforgettably lovely.
If I want to be a truly beautiful person, (and I do), I have to work from the inside out. I have to utterly and forcefully break off all habits of negative, unkind thinking. My big thing is that I can be the kindest, most gracious person to someone – until they do something bad to me – and woe to them if they should dare to do it repeatedly. I find it so hard to be generous, and I find myself thinking all manner of unkind things to them, even while superficially being kind and friendly. There are also a few aspects of my thinking which I cannot bring myself to admit here.
a) Not of Christ
b) Utterly transparent
c) Definitely not the way to attract “Mr Huggie-Wuggie”, (especially as my list of criteria for him is so long – why would someone so excellent stoop for anyone less excellent than he is?!)
Anyway, by the grace of God I am working on these issues, and hopefully soon I should be as markedly and undeniably lovely “from the inside out” as you would expect from someone who pursues God as much as I claim to do! 😉