(Here’s one of my girls. She’s such a delight to my heart.)
I’ve always had a pleasant imagination, rarely suffering from nightmares or intense fears. Recently, all that changed with sleep deprivation.
After our youngest was born, my exhaustion unleashed horror-movie-material in my imagination. It was intense during those first few months of sleeplessness: terrible ideas and images would just come to mind without any premeditation and certainly without any fodder. I felt alone and – quite frankly – scared of my own imagination.
When these fears would strike my heart, I’d pray. I battled against the thoughts, learning that God’s encouragement for us to “think about things that are true, pure, and lovely” is so hard that it requires His supernatural strength to actually do it. Even with His unlimited, compassionate help, fighting battles in the mind day after day can be downright exhausting.
As I confided in Ryan and a few trusted friends, and as I gradually got more sleep, I felt stronger. This was a gift from God. The struggle subsided significantly. But I must admit, the images continue to come to mind from time to time. For example, I’ll turn the doorknob to enter a room when suddenly, fear seizes me that something terrible may meet me on the other side. I enter the room relieved to see that everything is fine.
At this point, the images are kind of like pesky flies: I’m mostly just annoyed that they’re still there and that I have to deal with them from time to time. But I’ve found great victory in one response and I thought I’d share it with you in case you struggle with something similar. It’s not rocket science or anything profound, really, but it has helped me tremendously.
Basically, whenever one of these images comes to mind and strikes fear in my heart, I still follow the approach of choosing to think about “things that are true, pure, and lovely…” but the very first true thing that I think is, “Thank you, God, that that image is not true.”
It’s refreshingly powerful and effective.
This one thought works for me because it helps to acknowledge that I thought the image. (No denial allowed. Honesty works wonders for the human heart.)
It also helps me to admit that I was right to be afraid of the image. (Again, honesty changes things in the most profound ways.) It’s okay to admit that evil is evil; we minimize goodness when we minimize evil.
It helps me to intentionally walk out of the fearful image and into the reality that – because of God’s great love and mercy – my worst nightmares are not true. Even when life does take on nightmarish proportions, God is greater than all my fears. My life is in His hands.
I think it’s that part of the thought that makes all the difference in the world: My life is in God’s hands.
Something about all this reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth. I wonder if Paul had to battle his own thoughts with a prayer like “Thank you, God, that my worst fears are not true… but You are.”
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (from 2 Corinthians)