I’ve entitled this sermon: “Thinking about Thinking.”
As part of our national accreditation as a mental health center, Edwin Fair is required to provide training to our staff members in a variety of areas; from ethics to policy and procedures, from cultural competency to professional development and fire and safety procedures.
Let me assure you, this required day-long training is the mother and father of boredom, and staff members groan and complain as the day approaches. You know, kinda like a vestry meeting that lasts all day long.
Each year, it is my responsibility to present training on addiction treatment and recovery. And so, to successfully navigate the boredom, the groans and the complaints, I try to find new and creative ways to spice thing up a bit.
A few years ago, I decided upon an exercise that would provoke staff interest and participation. I told them I wanted to discuss an addiction that we all struggle with, and no, it wasn’t food or cell phones or reality shoes like Desperate Housewives, Property Brothers or American Choppers… it was about our addiction to thinking.
For the exercise, I asked the staff to take out their pens and a piece paper and for the next 5 minutes write down every thought that came into their mind; no matter what it was, write it down.
Needless to say, they were surprised that in 5 short minutes they had literally filled the page with the countless thoughts flowing through their mind. In fact, their pens could not even keep up with the rapid pace of their thoughts.
Now here’s the catch, the research conclusively shows that of the thousands of thoughts we think each day, roughly 80-90% of these thoughts are random, repetitive, useless thoughts; thoughts that are not helpful, that solve no problems, that provide us with no benefits.
It has been said that the mind is a wonderful thing, but a horrible taskmaster. The Buddhists call this the “monkey-mind,” constantly swinging from one branch to another, never stopping, never resting, never relaxing.
Indeed, it is almost impossible to make it through this 10-minute sermon without your monkey-mind taking you somewhere else…
Like what you are going to have for lunch…did you let the dogs out before you came to church, the car needs an oil change, need to pick up bread and milk on the way home, don’t forget the doctor’s appointment on Tuesday at 3pm…now, what were you saying Steve?
When we were children, we were sternly instructed by our parents to “think about what we are doing, think before we act and think before we speak!...and now, we can’t stop thinking.
There are, however, some thoughts that are not random, not repetitive and not useless thoughts. There are some thoughts worth thinking about.
In our New Testament lesson today, the Apostle Paul mentions a few of these thoughts. He says this:
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
My friends, we live in a world in which we are bombarded with things to think about, and many of these things are not honorable, not just, not pure, not pleasing, not commendable, not excellent, nor are they worthy of praise.
We live in a world where we told how to think and what to think about. We live in a world that oftentimes tells us to be afraid, and when we are afraid, our thinking can become disturbed, confused, driven by worrisome and stressful thoughts, thoughts that keeps us awake at night.
Now, research has also shown that although we cannot control all the thoughts that come into our mind, we can control what we do with them. We can chase each thought…or we let them go.
We can dwell on each thought…or we can let them go.
When we practice letting go of negative, stressful, and fearful thoughts…When we practice letting go of thoughts of resentment, grievance, frustration, complaints and grudges…and fill our minds instead with thoughts of gratitude, generosity, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love, we will find what we are all looking for…and that is peace of mind.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a little peace of mind, right about now.
When I made my pilgrimage to the Holy Land in spring of 2,000, I quickly noticed that every Israeli, whether friend or stranger, greeted each other with the word, “Shalom” or peace.
I asked Rachel, our Israeli guide about this greeting and she said Shalom meant more than just wishing the person peace; it also meant wishing the person everything in the world that brings them peace may be visited upon them.
Now, I like that. Maybe we can also add that deeper meaning of Shalom when we pass the peace this morning.
Finally, St. Paul provides us, not only with wise counsel about those things we should think about that will provide us peace of mind, but also wise counsel about those things to practice that will provide us peace of mind. He says this:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”