Losing the Battle in the Brain

Proverbs 22:13 – The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”

I was having a discussion with my young son about math recently. He was trying to do his math, and I could see he really was struggling to keep going on it. He was working on multiplication problems, and he was just going downhill mentally and emotionally. He had gotten himself worked up to where he didn’t remember 3×7, which he had used over and over. This wasn’t a knowledge problem, it was a battle of the brain problem.

When I began to look at his work, overall he had done 90 percent of it right. But he was telling himself stories, like “I don’t like Math.” “This is too hard.” “I don’t want to do this.” “I need help.” “I can’t figure it out.” Yet he had done most of the work perfectly all by himself. But now he was at the brink of tears and unable to do a simply 3×7 because of the stories he was telling himself. He was shutting down.

So, I held him close to me and hugged him and told him that he wasn’t losing the battle in the math workbook, he was losing the battle in his mind. I had him look at all the right things he had done on that page, and I had him say positive things about himself when it came to those he did right. “I am smart. I can do math. Look at all I did right. I can figure this out.” By the way, brothers and sisters in Christ, do not disregard the power of meditating on the positive and telling yourselves hopeful things (Philippians 4:8). Paul says think about what is “true,” so God does not want us to tell lies to ourselves.

You see, with this son, if he is doing art or building Legos, there is nothing too hard for him. He is designing his own amazing and complex things out of Legos (good grief he is making his own Transformers out of Legos). His artwork for a young kid is just incredible. There is nothing too hard for him there. He certainly has a gift with art and designing things.

Maybe his “gift” will never be that he excels in Calculus or Nuclear Physics, and that is fine! We would not want to push him in a direction other than his natural talents and strengths. But what we do want for all of our kids is for them to learn to win the battle of the brain.

Don’t defeat yourself before you even begin something by telling yourself I can’t do this, or it’s just too hard, or I’m just not able to figure it out. Maybe it isn’t possible for you to do that task. That might be true. For example, the only way I’m ever going to dunk a basketball is if I use a step ladder or if the rim is adjusted to 7 feet! So there are limits to what we can do, no doubt. But that’s not what I’m talking about. My point here in this article is to discuss how we can defeat ourselves from the beginning just by how we think and what we say.

I know I’ve lost that battle repeatedly, and I can see in my kids when they begin to go down that road. Look at that above passage from Proverbs, a person can tell himself there is a lion in the streets when no such lion exists. There is no real lion! The man did not step out to work because he told himself a wrong story in his brain.

What stories are you telling yourself? Are you losing the battle of the brain because of what you are saying to yourself?

Have this mind

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(Philippians 2:4-5)

Hey everyone, thanks to those who have been writing for me lately. I really appreciate it. Right now my family is pretty heavily involved in care-giving. Mom has Alzheimer’s. We ask for your continued prayers as we go through this journey with her. It certainly takes a big team to help with care-giving. Please pray for my dad, this is very hard to watch your wife of 50 years go through this. Please pray for my brother and me and our families as we work together to find the best solutions for mom.

I know there are many others reading this who have been through this or are going through it right now. You understand.

The above passage from Philippians hits home even more as we think about all working together as a team to care for someone. Mindset is everything.

If anyone spent two minutes with our mom, they would know right away that this mindset from Philippians 2 is what defines her life. May this mindset be in us, too as we care for her.

Getting a Brain Lock

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
(2 Corinthians 10:5)

We’re told here by the apostle Paul that we are to bring every thought captive in order to obey Christ. But we know that our mind can really go downhill in a hurry. Someone just gets under our skin, and we just can’t let it go. It affects how we treat that person, just like Joseph’s brothers got to a point where they could not speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4). Then how we treat others is affected because we are really upset at someone else (Heb. 12:15). I’ve heard the expression, “I’m so mad I can’t see straight.” That’s exactly right.

So, what are we to do when our brain gets locked on something negative? What I mean is someone at work did something that bothers or irritates you and you just can’t seem to get your focus off it. Or you have perceived that your spouse was insensitive to your needs and you just can’t let it go. It ruins the whole day and puts everyone in a sour mood. Or maybe you are on a sports team and the referee makes a bad call. It just seems to overwhelm your thinking and you go into a mental downward spiral. I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point.

How do we resurrection ourselves when our brain gets focused on something that really bothers us?

Recognize the source. We have to recognize that this is one of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11). The wrath of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20); instead, we become instruments of the Devil to do his bidding. Sinful thoughts lead to more sin (Matthew 15:19).

No excuses. God has told man from the beginning that we have the power to control our thinking and we can harness and redirect our emotions (Genesis 4:6-7; Jeremiah 4:14). Cain hated his brother and was very angry, and God told Cain to “rule over” his anger. Again, no excuses, no blame-shifting.

Take a moment. Even Jesus went out to the mountain to pray. Jesus had time alone with God. You may have to take a minute to yourself, go out and cool down. There is a time to speak and a time to BE SILENT. You may have to tell those around you that you need a few minutes to yourself and think things through. It may be that the more you talk the more you make a mess of things, so it would be best to be silent and chill for a bit. This is not the silent treatment, this is taking a few minutes of silence so you can later give the right treatment.

Meditate on these things. Read Philippians 4:8. I’m not saying this is a quick fix, but when our brain is at DEFCON 1, you need a go-to-place for your mind. Passages like Philippians 4:8 are Holy Spirit-given guides to tell you WHAT to think about. Imagine if you took a few minutes to thank God for 50 amazing things about your wife instead of getting OCD about the one thing that ticks you off? And, what really upsets you may not have even been a good reason to be upset in the first place!

Talk it through. In the multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Walking through it with a wise, godly older person will help you see that you were really silly in being so upset about this. Or even if you do have a good reason to be upset, that wise person can give you the calm guidance to work through it.

Learn to see it coming next time. A wise man sees danger and hides himself (Proverbs 22:3). With wisdom and experience should come the ability to see the warning signs that your brain is going down the wrong road. God knows the inclination of our hearts and he wants us to warn ourselves of attitude problems that may come up (for example see Deuteronomy 15:9). Daniel knew what kinds of things he would be asked to do in Babylon, and he prepared his mind on what to do beforehand (Daniel 1:8).

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
(Isaiah 55:6-7)

A Grief of Mind

When Esau was forty years old, he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 26:34-35).

Hittites were really bad people usually. They were enemies of God, pagan and idolatrous. Esau decided to marry two of their women. I believe the text is implying that these two women were just like all the other Hittites. He brought them home to mom and dad. What was the result?

They were “a grief of mind” to his parents. The ESV puts it like this, “and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” Look at what Rebekah said about it later on:

Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (Genesis 27:46, ESV).

A Grief of Mind

Rebekah hated her life because of these two women. If Jacob, her other son, were to follow in Esau’s footsteps, she would feel like her life was worthless. I’ve talked to many a parent who has experienced this. Their children went and married a spouse who was selfish and immoral and it brought great pain upon the whole family. The whole family!

It ruins harmony. Your son or daughter is torn between being in harmony with the parents or the spouse. Every interaction is painful. Visits are a headache (before, during and after). Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthday parties are almost unbearable. When that son or daughter has a spouse who is ungodly, then even something as “simple” as going to worship services and church activities can be an all-out war. If you’ve been through it, you can appreciate what Rebekah is saying…she hated her life because of it.

This is just a simple reminder from the Scripture that our choices, especially who we marry, can bring either great joy or incredible pain to our lives and to the lives of those we love. Choose wisely! Pray a ton. Seek God’s wisdom. Ask for the advice of Godly men and women who can guide you through these critical choices. It seems like Esau made decisions based upon lusts, emotions and the moment (Hebrews 12:16). Think past the moment and the emotions. Consider how this decision will affect scores of people who love you!

A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother (Proverbs 10:1).

A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him (Proverbs 17:25).