I’ve been pondering something lately.
I can get caught in a trap of worry, and it can feel impossible to escape. Unfortunately, this trap isn’t a physical trap, so I can’t physically get out. Worry is a trap that is totally within my own mind.
However, my physical body still reacts as if it’s all real.
Of course, we all know that most of the things we worry about don’t ever happen. I tend to get all spiritual and say I’m just “planning” or “pondering,” not “worrying.”
Either way, my body things it’s real. Adrenaline is released, my heart rate goes up, and my fingers drum on the table. I chew my lip, I bite my fingernails, I wiggle my foot. After a day of this pondering, I am literally exhausted.
Yet nothing was physically accomplished… because it all happened in my mind.
Sometimes I’m just thinking about how to write something, which feels very legitimate since I write curriculum for a living!
This is actually what got me pondering the whole topic of pondering. Last Sabbath, I took some time to read the book of Ecclesiastes. A verse near the end really caught my eye!
“And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd. And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:9-12).
Wise words are important, but if my mind is pondering and seeking out and setting in order, it can become “wearisome to the flesh.” I can even do this with theology. The thoughts aren’t all negative, and the topics aren’t all sad.
However, I wonder if there are just too many thoughts sometimes! Constantly thinking about what to write, or how to word something for Such-and-Such-Person, or how to answer a disagreement with You-Know-Who, my “work” overflows into the nighttime hours, when I should be resting, and into my Sabbath days as well.
I have bragged that I’m a bit like Mary, who noticed all the prophecy-fulfilling events surrounding Yeshua’s birth.
“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
But I missed some things as I focused on the fact that she “pondered” a lot! First of all, she “kept” everything she had seen. That word means she guarded them. Since they were the parents of the Messiah and there were people after his little life, I wonder if this means she kept her mouth shut and her secret safe. (Compare to the shepherds who told everyone what they had seen, in Luke 2:15-18.)
Secondly, the Greek word for “ponder” means to connect the dots, or understand the relationship between two things. It means that she knew the prophecies of Scripture and was able to bring them all together in her mind. She fully understood who Yeshua was, the promised Messiah! Again, knowing these facts in such a dangerous political climate would be a good reason to lock them up inside her heart.
But it doesn’t say she thought about all these things incessantly, ignoring her housework or worrying herself sick. Rather, the true picture painted of Mary is of a woman who quietly went about her life, taking care of her family, obediently keeping YHVH’s commands.
You see, anxiety is the opposite of trust. Fear is completely against the commands of YHVH!
If I’ll just be honest about it, I’ll realize that Torah commands are all about doing, not about pondering.
- Go collect manna for six days, and stop trying to figure out what you’ll eat on the seventh day. God will provide! Rest!
“Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. And YHVH said to Moses, ‘How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? See! For YHVH has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:27-30).
I’ve thought long and hard (!), and it seems like the vast majority of YHVH’s commands are about “do this,” and “fear not” because He will help us with the “do this” part.
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the Torah of YHVH,
And in His Torah he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).
I have been pondering (!) what it means to “meditate day and night” on the Torah. Like many women, I certainly do think about the Scriptures a lot. I ponder how and why and when and what and who. I especially ponder who when I see others who don’t seem to be obeying it as much as I think they should be.
And if I think about people a lot, I either worry about pleasing them or I start to act very critically toward them. All that thinking tends to come out in an unkind tongue, often with words that sound angry or terribly fearful and frustrated. It makes sense, because the more I ponder something, the higher the likelihood that it will later come spewing out of my mouth.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
(Later, take some time to ponder these verses about the heart and the mouth.
I’m starting to think that the answer is action, rather than so much thinking.
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:19-27).
(Note that these are all actions, not “ponderings.”)
When I get caught in a trap of worry (but remember, it’s not a physical object, so I can’t physically get out; worry is a trap that is totally within my own mind), I have deceived myself — and probably been a bit swift to speak and swift to wrath. Meanwhile, no “doing” is getting done.
(Later, take some time to ponder Psalm 39.)
So what helps?
I’ve tried praying about things. People I’m worried about. Situations I’m frustrated over.
Prayer sometimes feels like just rehashing all the same thoughts, but this time to God. Usually my mind starts to wander, and I’m back to just pondering (and worrying) again.
One secular author claims that if we’ll just pause and force our brains to think about something real, we can stop the deceptive thoughts going on in our heads.
- Notice when you are thinking compulsively.
- Shift your attention to the real, physical world.1Source: Freedom from the Approval Trap, by Joey Lott
He recommends thinking like this:
- “I’m terribly worried right now about what Suzie thinks of me, but (pause a second), I hear birds singing, I feel the sun on my face, I can feel my feet on the ground. What a beautiful world! Wow, I think my tummy is rumbling. I should go make lunch.”
It’s a distraction method, for sure, so I’ve been pondering (!) if it’s biblical or not.
Rejoice in YHVH always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. YHVH is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Messiah Yeshua. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:4-9).
Okay, so according to Paul, the following things will help guard our hearts and minds against anxiety:
- Rejoicing. (Always… but during Sukkot this year, I learned that rejoicing is a physical action, like singing or dancing. It’s not a mental thing.)
- Gentleness (which probably means I can’t think critically about people all day long).
- Prayer and supplication (which means specific requests taken to our Father).
- Thinking about things that are TRUE.
- Doing the things we know we should do.
So let’s compare this method to the secular method. First of all, there are specific things I’m allowed to think about.
- I can think gentle thoughts to those around me. For myself, if I’ll mentally think about what it feels like to be in that person’s shoes, my frustration melts away and is replaced by gentleness. (See Philippians 2:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.) This is a very active kind of thought, based in reality.
- I can think about how to make my requests known to God. So instead of having a gripe session with the Almighty, I need to think about how to word my request. “Dear Abba, I need XX. Thank you for promising to answer my prayer and meet my needs.” Short and sweet. Repeat as new needs arise. (See John 14:13-14, John 16:24, Philippians 4:19, James 4:1-3.)
- I can think about things that fit the list in verse 8: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
If I can’t think of anything on that list (and that happens if I’m on Facebook too much, etc.), then I can focus my mind on what God has created and remember what He has done for me!
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9)
The rest of the list in Philippians 4 is focused on action:
- I can rejoice! I can sing along with some praise music, dance around the kitchen, tap my feet to the beat, and smile at my family while I do it. (Note: This sounds terribly difficult, but it’s actually rather fun. It just takes a conscious choice to do it.)
- I can give thanks. The secular author recommended noticing the physical world around us. That is good, but when I “remember my Creator” while doing so, it becomes thanksgiving.
I just saw some terrible news on Facebook. Rather than worrying about it, I ask you, Abba, that you would help So-And-So make a wise and biblical decision. Thank you, Father, for this smart phone you have given me, which I can feel in my hand. Thank you for the warm chair you have given me, and the snuggly blanket over my feet. Thank you for the beautiful fall leaves outside my window. Thank you for creating seasons. Thank you for the home you’ve given me. Thank you for the pink toenail polish on my toes. Thank you that I have eyes, and hands…
- I can take action, rather than compulsively thinking. To-do lists are fine, except that they are just thinking. I need to quickly move to doing. I need to get off Facebook, put down my smart phone, get out of my warm chair, and get something done, if I have the ability to do so. (If I’m sick and legitimately in a snuggly chair, then there are still things I can do with my life. Later, read this biographical sketch of a hymn writer who struggled with poor health yet used her time wisely.)
So thinking is okay, if it’s about the right things and accompanied with thanksgiving and prayer for our needs (rather than trying to figure out solutions ourselves).
The goal is to hear what God wants me to do in a day, then to get moving.
Rather than only creating to-do lists (thinking), I need to actually start working the Creation God made. I need to do what is on the list (action). Meanwhile, if my brain wants to ponder, I need to force it to think about true and real things, giving thanks for them, singing and rejoicing in my heart, and remembering His commands in His Torah (so that I may do them).
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of YHVH is (what I’m supposed to DO). And do not be drunk with wine (drowning my sorrows), in which is dissipation (mental distraction and amusement); but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Master Yeshua the Messiah, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:17-21).
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O YHVH, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
So that’s what I’ve been pondering. Now let’s all get off the Internet and get to work loving others! 🙂
All Scripture in this blog post taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.