“Be Transformed by the renewal of your mind”
Romans 12:2 (ESV)
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I have read this verse more times than I can count, and it has been a source of frustration for me. My struggle has been with how to practically do this. My typical approach is to try to “fix” whatever is wrong, by trying to do and be better. Some areas of my life I have spent time trying to “fix” are anger, grumpiness, anxiety/fear, and relational issues just to name a few. My efforts to improve and transform myself typically come in the way of reading a book, reading, or meditating on Scripture, listening to podcasts, etc… It is not that these efforts or methods are wrong, it is just that my approach has been out of balance. Scientists often divide our brain into two spheres when explaining how it works. (There is no fear in my getting too scientific because I only understand brain science at a 2nd grade level 😊). The left side of our brain is where logic and reason reside, and the right side of our brain is where emotions and feelings live. Prior to learning what I am about to share, my entire approach to learning and “transforming” has been focused on my left brain. That part of my brain is very well developed, however the emotional and feeling side of my brain is very underdeveloped. As we have discussed in previous posts, there is an underlying reason why we struggle with what we do. One does not struggle with grumpiness or irritability because they are a grumpy person by nature…that is not how they were created to be. But rather, the grumpiness is there because of pain and unmet need. My struggles with grumpiness have a huge right brain component that I have completely ignored. This explains my frustration and explains why I have had so little victory in this area.
The truth of Romans 12:2 is profound. 2,000 years ago, Paul wrote what scientists have only begun to discover in the last several decades, and that is that our minds can be molded and changed. Our brains are elastic, and our thoughts create physical grooves or channels that can be changed. Our thought-life literally creates physical structures in our brain. Logic has been vital for me in this process, as having an elementary understanding of brain science has given me the confidence to keep going. Unbeknownst to me, because I felt emotions were scary and weird, I have spent my life suppressing them. I viewed them as dangerous and failed to recognize the gift that they are. I had been conditioned to see emotions as being unreliable, but the truth is that our emotions are 100% reliable to tell us what our heart feels. This does not mean they are always rational, just that they can be trusted to tell us what is going on in our inner world. I suppressed them because I had no idea what to do with the information they were transmitting. Now I do, and that is very exciting. A major part of developing our right brain is to learn to let ourselves feel our emotions. You must feel to heal. If you are scared or anxious, it does you no good long term to suppress or numb the feeling. After I had my great awakening, I realized that I numbed my emotions in a lot of different ways. When I was younger, it was alcohol. As I got older, I realized this was not healthy and that it was not representative of my faith. So, I adapted numbing mechanisms that would be considered more “appropriate” like working excessively and exercise. The result was the same, and I was just kicking the can further down the road. The longer we ignore the signals our emotions are communicating to us, the louder they must become to get our attention. Mine had to get really loud! It is also important to note that we cannot selectively numb our emotions. If we numb sad or scared, we are also numbing our ability to feel joy and peace. Life is so much richer when we learn to recognize that our emotions are a gift, and yes, even the uncomfortable ones!
The remote-control exercise, that I outlined in my last blog, is a powerful tool to help you discern what your emotions are communicating to you, and how to bring comfort to your inner world. It wonderfully combines both your left and right brain. But if you are like me, perhaps your right brain needs some extra help. To activate your right brain, I would like to share another exercise with you that has a few less steps. I would like for you to pick a word from the following list and recall a time when you tangibly felt the essence of what the word describes:
Practice letting yourself feel… playful, joyful, calm, etc. Practice what I call, “sitting in” the feeling. It is very possible that certain events or people, have helped you experience these feelings. It is important to point out that you are not connecting to the person or the event, but rather the feeling that you experienced. These feelings are real, the event may have ended, or the person later on may have let you down or hurt you, but the positive feelings you experienced are with you forever. We often just cannot see them through our pain. I believe this exercise is the essence of what Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (NLT).” This is how we renew our minds. Enjoy the journey😊!