Negative thoughts, be gone!
I’m reading the handbook for combatting demons by Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th c. Christian monk. He clearly states that his demons are negative thoughts. And that he talks back to them–in Bible verses.
Evagrius’s handbook is very personal. It’s a long list of his own habitual negative thoughts and the verses he uses to silence them. So, inspired, I am compiling my own handbook. Mine is also personal, tailored to my own demons.
When I reach a space in thought and am tempted to fill it with social media doom-scrolling, I say: In a beginning God created the heavens & the earth. The earth was chaotic & void & the spirit of God hovered over the waters. (Gen.1:1-2)
Because I don’t want to avoid my own emptiness. Instead, I want to use it as a chance to notice the spirit of God.
When I wake up in the middle of the night and all my self-doubts crowd in, I say: Walk around Zion, circle it, count its towers, take note of its ramparts. (Psalms 48:13-14)
Because I just want to keep the doubts at bay. So that I can enjoy a healing sleep.
When I worry we are all going to die, I say: Can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3)
Because I know Ezekiel finds out they can.
When I’m afraid to say something directly, I tell myself: The King extended to Esther the golden sceptre. (Esther 5:2)
Because Esther, who was afraid to speak lest she die, did it anyway. And it worked.
When I judge a stranger negatively, I send this thought in their direction: May the LORD bless you and keep you! (Numbers 6:24)
Because maybe they are precious just as they are, and I’m just crabby. Or maybe they do need to improve. Either way, this blessing fits.
Friends, this exercise is so powerful. Partly because I know the Bible well, so each verse is rich with story. But mostly because the practice pushes me to identify my negative thoughts and step in before I mis-direct them.
I’m already seeing the results.
Here is an example. Occasionally–well, often since COVID-19–I become angry. Very angry, and I don’t know why. So, I feel I cannot speak about the anger rationally. And then, instead of talking, I do something unhelpful, like punch the kitchen table. Of course, this fixes nothing. It just hurts me and inflames the anger.
Yesterday I was about to do it again. But, instead, I said, “STOP! Do not do this. Yes, you are enraged. Now accept your feeling, and deal with your rage.”
Today the impulse tempted me again. But I saw it happen and I said “STOP!” I didn’t have time to find a Biblical verse. But that’s okay, I think. The verses are a tool. They train us to talk back. But eventually, we find our own words.
Image: A Chaotic Mind by HammerGod, deviantart.com