How many thoughts do you have in a day? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands?
Studies say that most people would lie rather than state the truth about approximately 75 percent of the thoughts we have. If true, that means there are probably many thousands of thoughts passing through our heads every day that we’re ashamed of, or even deceiving ourselves about! That’s potentially a lot of self-deception, a lot of things we believe that we wouldn’t admit, most likely even to ourselves.
I knew a man who worked in the FBI. He told me once that the one absolute truth his job had taught him is that everybody lies. I think he’s right, and if these numbers are to be believed, most of us lie near constantly! So why is this a problem?
It’s a problem because lies cause physiological stress. This is a well-known fact—it’s the whole premise behind a lie detector test. All these devices really do is measure stress, and when whoever is hooked up to it tells a lie, the machine reads and records their biological response. Now, it’s not a perfect test. Some people are able to beat it by remaining calm, but that’s not something that comes naturally. It takes practice and concentration. So how much stress are we pouring into ourselves every day just by the thoughts we’re unwilling to confront?
Thoughts have been a major subject in the last few weeks. They come and go largely without the consent of our conscious mind. They are generated by the heart, but also influence the heart, like an internal ecosystem. Our job is not to make the rainfall or the sunshine, but to cultivate the garden as best we can. That’s what it means to take every thought captive.
Many of these thoughts will be pretty mundane things. Let’s use an example from my real life and say I have a thought that I should take the garbage out, but I don’t want to. Not exactly a dark hour of the soul, right? But part of what leads us astray is in thinking of these things as unimportant. Scripture says that those who are faithful in small things will be entrusted with large things, and I think that this is a statement about how people learn and grow, maybe more so than a statement about the sorts of opportunities God will send our way. After all, if you want to learn mathematics, you start with simple problems before moving up to the really complex equations.
So I feel that I should take the garbage out. The normal response here is to either: A) take the garbage out, or B) make some excuse to myself and then forget about it. Now, because this is such a small part of my day, if I choose to make an excuse, it probably won’t be a very good one. Maybe I know it’s my turn to handle it, but I can rationalize that away with something like, “Well I’m very busy today. I have more important things to do.” That may be true, but if I’m really honest, it shouldn’t excuse me. It would take me 60 seconds to take the garbage out.
So I make a bad decision. Looking back, I can tell it’s a bad decision, especially if my wife confronts me about it. So why didn’t I see it in the moment? Because I didn’t really look. This is exactly what not taking a thought captive looks like in practice. Start with taking the small things captive, and gradually it will become a habit. You’ll start to look more closely at all of your thoughts, and that will lead you to live more authentically, to make better decisions overall, and even to feel more physically relaxed and healthy.
The conflict, almost every time, is with fear. The reasons we lie—to others or to ourselves—are most often shame or embarrassment, because we feel that if we were honest about what we thought or felt then others would react negatively, or even simply because we don’t want to go through the hardship of challenging ourselves. There is a real element of fear in that, even in extremely small matters. You know how they say that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem? Self-deception—or self-evasion—stunts growth. As in anything else, if you don’t ask questions and confront your mistakes, you’ll simply keep making the same ones over and over—and that’s what we need to avoid. When your heart spits up negative thoughts as a reaction to a deeper problem, you can keep pushing them away… or you can confront the source of those negative thoughts and possibly experience real, permanent improvement.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!