There’s an exhortation at the end of the letter to the Philippians that I love. Paul writes:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:8 NIV
Now, I’ll admit to you, I’m somewhat leery of the idea of just thinking ‘happy thoughts’ to get through dark times. It’s possible for that to be trite advice – shallow and not overly helpful. I believe that we are complex beings, and we have to give ourselves room to experience all the emotions that might bubble up as we live in uncertain and unusual times.
But Paul isn’t simply telling us to ‘think happy thoughts,’ he’s telling us to focus on what is noble, pure, lovely, admirable, right, excellent and praiseworthy. You can’t focus on what is right, unless you know what is wrong. You can’t focus on what is pure, unless you know what is impure. Paul isn’t telling us to never have difficult days, sad moments, or even seasons of despair.
Those times will come. They are part of life. Even Jesus said that in this world we would have trouble.
But Paul IS telling us to not dwell in those times. To not get stuck in them. To fix our thoughts on what is good as a way of finding our way THROUGH the tough times.
Have you ever woken from a nightmare and found yourself unable to stop thinking about it? Your heart begins to speed up, you find you can’t fall back asleep, the more you think about it, the more you realize you don’t want to fall back asleep, in case you fall back into the nightmare.
So what do you do? Well, I’ll tell you what I do. Probably one of the first things I do is cuddle my dog. That might not sound particularly spiritual…but it’s a very tactile way of connecting to love (and to comfort and safety – Koski often lets me know if there’s something alarming happening by her reaction. So cuddling her comfortably sleeping form in the middle of the night, noticing that she isn’t worried or alert or panicked by anything, reminds me that my fear is only in my mind). It’s a way, for me, to focus on what is lovely and true and pure.
And as I cuddle my dog, I also engage my brain – sometimes I’m not awake enough to pray, so I grasp for a simple praise chorus. In my mind, I sing something I’ve been singing all my life. Because music is excellent and lovely and praiseworthy.
And slowly, the fear in me begins to fizzle, and I find my way back to sleep.
Until tomorrow, dear friends, remember that what you focus on will grow. So take Paul’s very good advice, and focus on what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. (PS…Jesus is a great place to start with all of those things!)