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How to Renew Your Mind During a Difficult Time

by Karl Benzio, MD and Joan Esherick

When you face the various circumstances or events in your life, your response will be dictated by your perspective. Use the following ideas to help process and respond in healthy, productive manner:

1. Most events are neutral.

2. How we think about these events determines how we feel.

3. Depending on your initial thoughts and feelings and how you process these (producing a final summary thought), you will view the event as either an adversity or an opportunity:

Adversity: something that interferes with your growth and functioning

Opportunity: something that enhances your growth and functioning

4. Your beliefs, culture, social network, past experiences, and emotional baggage dramatically influence your thoughts and feelings.

5. We all have a lens through which we look at the world and what happens to us. For a Christian, that lens should be the lens of biblical truth. Two key principles to remember when taking thoughts captive are these:

Truth #1: All things (not just some) work for good for those that love the Lord

Truth #2: God’s definition of “good” differs from ours.

Let’s look at an example of how these principles work. For instance, imagine that your sixteen-year-old daughter, a second child, gets her driver’s license. Your initial thoughts could be “I’m proud of her accomplishment! But, I don’t think she’s ready for this responsibility. She’s so young and inexperienced. She’ll surely have an accident.” These thoughts create feelings of fear or anxiety.

Why did this anxiety occur? Perhaps you, as a teenager, wrecked the car on your first solo drive. Or, maybe your best friends don’t allow their children to get their drivers’ licenses until the children are seventeen years old. Maybe you live in a traffic-congested area where accident risk is high. Or, maybe your oldest child was killed or disabled in a motor vehicle accident.

You can see how culture, beliefs, social network, and past experiences would influence how you respond both in thought and emotion to this event. While we can’t remove these influencers, we can recognize them for what they are and filter them through a lens of truth. For instance, just because you wrecked the car when you got your driver’s license doesn’t guarantee your daughter will.

Your initial thoughts and feelings will ultimately drive you to a conclusion. Either this event is an opportunity, or this event is an adversity. And that determination will impact your emotions and actions to an even greater degree.

The point is this: it’s how you view (and then react to) the event, and not the event itself, that determines how it impacts you. Consider the following exercises to help you apply this concept.

Application Exercise #1:

1. Think of an event or circumstance you’re currently facing.

2. List your initial thoughts (what runs through your head) about this event/circumstance.

3. List your initial emotional responses to the thoughts you listed in #2.

4. What is your summary thought: Is this event/circumstance an adversity or opportunity?

Application Exercise #2:

1. Repeat steps #1 and #2 from the preceding exercise (List the event and thoughts).

2. Now step back, look at your list, and evaluate your thoughts according to these questions:

  • Is the thought true?
  • Is it accurate?
  • Is it biblical (Does is line up with what the Bible says)?
  • Could it be an overreaction (All-or-nothing thinking using terms like “always” or “never” fall into this category)?
  • Would a friend, loved one, or trusted advisor say it’s true, accurate, and biblical? What past experiences could be coloring your thoughts?
  • Could this event be viewed differently by others? If so, how?

3. List the emotions you feel. Do they differ from your first list? (They may dramatically, or they may not, depending on how accurate your first thoughts were.)

4. Now make your determination about adversity or opportunity, remembering that for the Christian, all things work together for our good and God’s purposes.

When you take time to examine an event as an opportunity rather than an adversity, you can renew the peace in your mind. This peace allows you to make decisions grounded in truth that help position you to face and handle the situation much more effectively. Remember, it’s how you view an event, and not the event itself, that determines how it will impact you.