Identity & Purpose

Why Thoughts Matter

6 Minute Read - By Fr. Nick Meisl

When I was younger I thought that anyone who talked to themselves was crazy. In recent years I've come to realize that I am one of these crazy people! Now, I don’t talk to myself out loud - at least not very often. I am more aware, however, that during the day there is a constant conversation going on in my mind. I am pretty sure (and I hope!) that I am not the only one who does this.

During the day we all have an ongoing dialogue with ourselves on the level of our thoughts. Quite simply, we talk to ourselves! For example, try to remember the last time you were stuck in heavy traffic. Did you just sit there passively, not thinking anything at all? No, your thoughts certainly started racing. Stuck in traffic again! Oh no, I am going to be late for my appointment! If only these other people knew how to drive this wouldn't be a problem! Why doesn't the government build some decent roads so that we can get around the city easier?! I wonder what I will have for dinner? We do this all the time. In response to what we are experiencing during the day we “talk” to ourselves in a dialogue of thoughts.

These thoughts are like seeds that can grow to produce fruit that is either good or bad. The Gospel that we heard today about the sower and the seeds is constantly being played out in our minds. Many of these thoughts have been planted by Jesus and lead us closer to God. These thoughts, which we can call “good” thoughts, were sown by Christ in different ways. Maybe it was something we heard from our parents, learned during catechism, read in the Bible or heard during Mass. 

Other thoughts that we mull over do not come from Jesus and lead us further away from God. These thoughts, which we can call “bad”, were sown in our hearts by our own wounded human nature, the devil, or the media.  Both good and bad thoughts tend to grow and produce fruit. Imagine for example, that someone says something offensive to you. If this happened you would probably feel hurt and your mind would soon be bustling with an internal dialogue of thoughts. Bad thoughts might grow in the following way. What he said hurt my feelings. He doesn't like me. He is always saying things to hurt me. He is a bad person. I hate that person. I want to get even!  Before you know it, the bad thoughts have grown to produce bad fruits: a lack of peace, aggression and condemnation. 

On the other hand, in the same scenario, good thoughts might grow in the following way. Yes, what he said hurt me but he is probably having a bad day. I also can sometimes say hurtful things when I am upset. Let me try to forgive him and pray that God blesses Him. Maybe later in the day I can go out of my way to be kind to that person. These good thoughts quickly grow and produce good fruits: understanding, peace, forgiveness and kindness. Thoughts are like seeds that can grow and produce good or bad fruit.

It is surprising how quickly good thoughts can be choked out by bad ones. In the Gospel, Jesus emphasizes how easily and quickly His word can be silenced in our hearts because of the growth of thorns. For example, a couple weeks ago I travelled to Tijuana, Mexico to attend the priestly ordination of my two friends. After the ordination, the three of us travelled from Mexico into San Diego in order to drop off one of my friends at the airport. It turned out being one of the most eventful border crossings of my life. After waiting in line for close to 2 hours, the border crossing guard greeted us warmly and asked for our passports. After looking at the passports, which were from Canada, Panama and Colombia, it didn't take long for the guard to determine that we were going through secondary inspection. There, more guards asked us to get out of the car and led us into a containment area enclosed by a chain-linked fenced. 

Here we sat on a bench—three priests all in clerical attire—while a dog searched the van inside and out.  As soon as we sat down, the other people who were waiting saw us and began looking at each other with smiles on their faces. They were probably wondering what these three priests had gotten up to! 

Eventually, the search was completed and we were sent on our way. During this whole border-crossing experience, many thoughts entered my mind. I wish I could say that my thoughts were all in accord with the Gospel, thoughts like I trust God will take care of me or thank God for this opportunity to experience a particular struggle that many less fortunate people go through every day. Though these thoughts did cross my mind, they were quickly choked out by bad ones: what happens if we miss the flight? What happens if there is a misunderstanding and I get arrested? These other people waiting here must think I am some sort of criminal! These bad thoughts grew and produced all kind of bad fruit: anxiety, frustration and anger. I was surprised how quickly good thoughts can be choked out by bad thoughts.

Fortunately there are practical steps that we can take to ensure that the thoughts which lead us closer to God are able to grow above those that lead us from Him. We can ensure that we are fertile soil for the good seeds that bring us closer to Jesus. 

Now, if you thought I was crazy when I said that we all talk to ourselves, you’ll find this suggestion ridiculous. My advice is this: when we are aware that our bad thoughts are growing, we need to argue with ourselves! Imagine that you fail at something, perhaps it is at work or school. When this happens our thoughts can often be quite bad. I am such I screw up; I am no good. Why do I even bother trying? Why would anyone want to associate with me? 

When we find our thoughts going in this direction, we can argue with ourselves, countering these bad thoughts with thoughts more in line with the Gospel. Sure, I made a mistake, but its not the end of the world. I can do many other things well, for example (remind yourself of your particular talent here!). I am good; God does not make junk. When we try to argue with ourselves in this way we find that the thoughts that lead us away from the truth about who God is and how He has created us are kept in check and do not grow too large. These bad thoughts are also not allowed to produce bad fruits. The good thoughts are able to grow and produce good fruits. We are better able to maintain a sense of peace and calm.

As followers of Jesus, it is important that we be aware of the internal dialogue that is always happening in our minds. Our thoughts are very important because they affect the way we feel and how we act. When next you realize that “bad” thoughts are growing in your mind, try to argue with yourself. You will probably find that it gives you more peace and happiness in your life. You will probably discover that it's not that crazy after all!

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