Last week I read an intriguing article that talked about how the words we use can change the structure of our brains.
“By keeping positive and optimistic words in mind, you stimulate the work of the frontal lobe. This area includes special speech centers associated with the motor area of the cerebral cortex responsible for your motor functions. As our experiment has shown, the longer you focus on positive speech, the stronger the impact on other areas of the brain will be.” (Research Confirms that The Words We Can Say Can Change the Structure of Our Brains)
At first I thought it sounded a little naive, but then I remembered Paul’s words in Philippians 4: 7-9 here quoted from The Message
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Would you believe it – in the next couple of days 3 people suggested this was God’s word for my 71st year, even before I shared my thoughts with them. “Looks like God is trying to tell me something and I have been a little hard of hearing” I decided. I was sure of it when I read this article on Facebook:
The words “I see the world through the people that surround me” really resonated in my soul. As someone commented this is a great spiritual practice to transform the gloom into glory. So I thought I would try an experiment that I heartily recommend to you.
- Each morning I would look at the beauty not the ugliness. I would welcome God into the scarred places of trauma in my life and pray that I would recognize the beauty shining through the ugliness.
- II would write my own headlines for the day. When I suggested this on Facebook, I loved the headlines that appeared: Family meets together for first time in 2 years; The snow slows down the world and it is good; Covid keeps grandkids in US for 2 more glorious weeks with Nana!; Tongan volcanic eruption prompts long-term friends to reconnect. These headlines don’t change the devastation we see around us but they do help us find the inner resources to bring about change.
- Write down three good things that happen each day. This is a fun and energizing exercise – a little like the prayer of examen but with a strong emphasis on the good side of life and the recognition of the goodness of God in the midst of each day. One thing I noticed is that I started with writing 3 good things and that expanded so that now my list is at least 6 good things long.
This is not pretending that there are really no bad things happening in the world, but it does give us the inner resources to face them with more resilience and strength.
I called 2019 my year of Seeing Life Differently and was reminded of that this morning as I worked on this post. It made me want to transform Paul’s words in Philippians: “see differently as a way of life: displace worry with Christ at the centre of your life, discern the ways of truth not falsehood, transform ugliness into beauty, replace your curses with praise to God; settle into a way of life where you work for the good of all creation.”
As I wrote this today I reread the section in Howard Thurman’s biography where he talks about taking his daughters back to the beach in Florida where he spent many fun days as a child. Now (1968) it was a “whites only” beach. Instead of ranting against the injustice he explained to his daughters that they were so powerful that it took the police, the local government and changes in the law to keep them off the beach – an attitude that must have made them proud, not depressed at who they were. Perhaps we need more of that kind of an attitude too as we watch states in the US change voting laws to keep blacks and marginalized populations from voting, because it is true – these parts of the population are powerful and could change the future of this country so it is no wonder those who have usurped their power want to see their rights suppressed.
I know I could get myself in hot water by making a statement like this but part of what I realized this week as I instituted my new practices, is that in the midst of the stress and the pain and the overwhelming fatigue of our current environment, they can give me the new energy I need to work for change in a way that moves more towards God’s shalom purposes of wholeness for all creation.
I want this year to be a year of transforming the ugly into beauty and I hope you do too. Read through this poem that I wrote back in 2019 and prayerfully consider what you could do to bring about the kind of change God wants to see happen in the world.
Read life differently.
Read with love and not with hate,
with compassion and not with judgment,
with generosity and not with scarcity.
See your cup
not half full,
not half empty,
but overflowing with God’s goodness and light and life.
Read life differently.
Look for the wonder of uniqueness,
not the exclusion of sameness.
Embrace don’t reject.
Forgive don’t condemn.
Seek the Son of God.
Work diligently to know
he who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Follow his footsteps,
walk in the ways that leads to eternal life.
Christine Sine (c) 2019
We all need the Wholeness of God…this resource includes reflections and activities for coping and thriving during the COVID-19 challenges in search of shalom as well as hope for restoration during and after this period of social distancing.