Manage Your Self-Talk

What is self-talk? Everybody does it, consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious self-talk is often destructive; but conscious self-talk can lift your faith, keep you on an exercise program, and help you overcome bad habits and even lighten depression.

Positive or negative?

I was a first-grader. It was the Big Day, Field Day: Races, pennants outlining the race venues, prizes, and, of course, parents. Two images stand out in my mind about my race:

Image #1: my Dad on the sidelines, yelling “Come on! Come on!”

Image #2: myself as I ran, hearing an inner voice urging caution, telling me to be careful not to fall, and that I couldn’t win anyway. That inner voice was self-talk. Unfortunately, it easily beat out my Dad’s encouragement.

He and I were both disappointed in me that day. Maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong dread of sports and competition. Did someone threaten me? Had I fallen or failed at previous races? I don’t know where that voice came from, but that same self-talk dragged me down for years.

Positive self-talk, however, can win the day. Remember the Little Engine that Could? As he faced a huge hill, he kept telling himself “I think I can, I think I can.” Then, when he succeeded and he was racing down the other side, he said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

I told myself I couldn’t, and I didn’t. The Little Engine told himself he could, and he did. Yes, it’s just a kid’s story, but time after time real life people have told themselves they were winners in spite of others telling them they couldn’t. But they did! Wilma Rudolph had little hope of becoming a runner after developing polio, among other things. But she went on to break Olympic records. [1]

Self-talk in the Bible

From the very beginning people have engaged in self-talk. Satan influenced Eve to sin by telling her that she would become as wise as God. That temptation became her self-talk. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6, italics mine).

 

The words “self-talk” do not appear in Scripture, but the phrase “say in his heart” does. Observe Abraham’s self-talk surfacing after God promises him and Sarah a child in their old age.  “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17, kjv, italics mine). Abraham’s past experience almost overrode his faith in what God could do. A common problem for all of us!

 

And the psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil” (Psalm 14:1, nlt, italics mine).

We don’t know what in these fools’ experience prompted this self-talk, but it does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

 

These examples describe people who are unconsciously “counseling themselves.” Likely they were unaware of how self-talk was controlling them, but the biblical writer interpreted it as the motive for sin and the reason behind difficulty in maintaining faith. The Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, did their utmost to motivate their people to consciously change their self-talk, advising God’s people to consider their motives and actions and live their lives according to faith in God. The New Testament writers clearly understood this issue—that self-talk must become conscious and positive–and we, in our mind’s eye, can see them grabbing the lapels of new Christians and practically shouting in their faces, Wake up! What are you doing? Listen to what you’re saying! Remember what God is saying!

Your self-talk: its origin

Cartoon man - who is that talking in my head copy

Your self-talk probably originates from your past life experience. Key creators of self-talk ./are our parents and other influential people, including teachers, peers, and those you want to be like. Positive, uplifting parent figures repeat their words unconsciously in our minds the rest of our lives: “You’re a winner!” “You’re a good girl!” “I love you!” “You can do it.” Negative, bullying, and abusive parent figures also repeat their putdowns over and over again: “Loser!” “Crybaby!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!”

Few of us will be victims of the heartless abuse of bullies, but don’t we unconsciously play the insults and slights of others over and over again in our minds, amplifying the damage until it’s all we hear? I’m convinced that negative and destructive self-talk fuels much of the depression we experience; perhaps even leading to suicide. Suicide has many and complex causes, but rates among all age groups continue to rise.[2] Surely negative self-talk gets some of the blame.

Our perception of what others think can be just as destructive as actual words—even if we’re wrong. The world has for years idolized slender women with Barbie doll proportions. As a result, the self-talk of countless females undermines their self-image and makes them feel ugly and worthless because they don’t measure up.

Satan plants negative and defeating self-talk in your minds constantly. Satan’s constant goal is to destroy you. He diverts your attention away from Bible study and tells you the Bible is full of contradictions. He reminds you of your weaknesses over and over again, tempting you to sin and then hammering you with guilt when you give in. Nighttime is his playground when you are drifting to sleep or sitting at the computer ready to shut it off. His temptations seem overwhelming. He resurrects the past and dangles before you all of your failures and mistakes. He megaphones the insults and putdowns of others into your soul and tells you that you’ll never be better, only worse. If you only sit or lie there and let the waves of damaging disapproval wash over you, you are a sitting duck.

What are you telling yourself about yourself each day? What are its sources?

Managing your self-talk

You turn a major corner when you take the reins of self talk and consciously counter the negative memories and pessimism. It isn’t enough to enjoy a sunny day now and then. You must deliberately program yourself to turn off the old tapes and create new ones, instead. Jesus was a master at this (of course).[3]

 

Try these things:

  • Ask God to help you. Only God, our Creator, understands us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He wants to help you. He is willing to help you. He is waiting to help you! What’s more, He promises to help you.
  • Figure out what your self-talk is. What is its source? Whose voices are you listening to? Your peers? Your parents? The Holy Spirit’s? Satan’s? Ask someone close to you who you trust to help you if you’re not getting anywhere. I have benefited greatly from the insight of a couple of professional counselors who helped me unravel my guilt, fear, and anger. It’s important to have a Christian counselor.
  • Ask yourself if the discouraging things you are telling yourself about yourself agree with what Scripture says about you. Many Christians live defeated lives because they totally overlook what God says about us. (1) God loves the world. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16-17). (2) God forgives you no matter what. Stop dredging up the past that God has already forgiven. (3) God will never leave you because you are valuable to him (John 14:16). (4) God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Perhaps it will help if you rephrase these and place them where you will see them every day. For example, “God loves me as I am.” “God forgives everything I have done and will forgive more if necessary.”
  • Substitute negative self-talk with positive. Paul outlines this strategy: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

One last thing

Try not to criticize others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Instead, make it a point to constantly encourage others. Help them believe in themselves. And start with that person in the mirror.

[1] (http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/people/wilma_rudolph)

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/22/health/suicide-rates-rise/ ).

[3] When the Pharisees belittled Jesus’ work and accused him of working miracles by Satan’s power, he immediately countered with the truth. “If I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Luke 11:19-21 NLT). Remember, also, Jesus’ use of scripture in countering Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Note that Satan was also using scripture, but twisting it. This is why we must know scripture.

 

The Things of Home

 

It was an old 78 rpm record that contained one of my favorite stories. I still can hear the lovely voice of Loretta Young tell the heartwarming tale, “The Littlest Angel,” about a four-year old boy who doesn’t quite fit into heaven because there’s simply “nothing for a little boy to do.” The Understanding Angel takes the cherub onto his lap, wipes his tears, and asks what he misses most. At the end of the story we find that it was the ordinary but irreplaceable things of home: a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem, a sky-blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door, two white stones from a muddy river bank where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers, and a tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who loved him with absolute devotion. The box containing these simple things was the littlest angel’s gift to the Christ Child and the gift that pleased God most.

I know it’s only a fanciful tale, but I think the author, C. Tazewell, understood how God values the things we treasure since they bring us joy, and since the cherub’s simple gift contained the very things the little boy Jesus would also play with when he wandered the Galilean hills.

joyful Hummel figureSeveral months ago, our daughter walked over to our china cupboard and opened the door. There sits “Joyful,” a small Hummel figure of a girl playing her guitar, her legs straight out before her. Jodi said, “When I see this figure, I know I’m home.” Joyful was an engagement present to Karon and me long before Jodi was born and she has never known our home without it. How is it that this little piece of pottery can evoke such powerful feelings? It is one of the “things of home.”

The familiarity of furnishings and objects warm our hearts. In many cases, items in our home have stories behind them. Just like “Joyful” suggests home to Jodi, seeing a picture or item immediately reminds us of a good period in our lives, a beloved friend, or an event that symbolizes something, like our marriage.

My things of home

Right now I’m sitting at my desk where I write, read the Bible (on my computer), pray, design greeting cards, and connect with the world. My desk itself is a sterile IKEA piece that’s cheaply made. But the objects on and around it make it “home.”

bookHolding the computer monitor one and a half inches higher (so I can sit properly) is the “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening.” I haven’t used it in more than a decade and its most useful function now is that of a block. But seeing it there each day transports me back to the Midwest where I pored through its beautiful pages, reaped landscaping ideas, and sought answers for marauding Japanese beetles. Its beautifully photographed pages are bright in my mind’s eye.

karon and other photosPhotographs, of course, are of my beloved wife and family. My kids and their spouses smile at me from a Florida restaurant where we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Karon’s smile lights the room, the trilogy of photos taken for her mother when Karon was a teenager. For fifty years that smile has lifted and blessed me more than she knows.

Chinese lampA Chinese carving of an old man that my father fashioned into a one-of-a-kind lamp casts a warm pool of light. My parents purchased this carving in Trinidad, our onetime home in the British West Indies, and it has been a part of my childhood home ever since I can remember. Just to see it ignites wonderful memories: smells of curry wafting in the evening air, exotic flowers in the yard, and sultry breezes billowing mosquito nets at bed time.

The red, white, and blue afghan was lovingly crocheted for us by Helen Ford, church secretary at South Bay Church of God in Torrance, California where we entered the ministry as youth and music ministers. She and her husband, Frank, were wonderfully supportive toward us, and even loaned us the down payment for a car!

pencil holderSome other sentimental things surround me: a coaster made by Kimmi Lyon, my granddaughter; while a graphics major at AU; a pencil holder with an inset photo of Curt, my grandson, sitting on my shoulders at Disney World. (He now is 22, an engineer, a weight lifter, and engaged to be married.);  and a beautiful hardwood chiming mini-grandfather wall clock, a farewell gift from North Anderson Church of God after completing a nine-year pastorate.

M&J StitcheriesElsewhere in the house are a cross stitch of two ducks made by my mother when I was a boy, some needleworks made and given by my two daughters when they were young, and many more family photos.

Karon’s Things of Home list is mainly photographs of family and our piano, given to her while she was in high school by her Mom and Dad, John and Flo Neal.

What are your favorite things? I’m not talking about food, music, or sports, but rather the simple, little things that make you feel at home.

Is it wrong to enjoy things?

Sometimes we may almost feel guilty for feeling such affection for “things” when the Bible tells us to treasure things in heaven and not of this earth. However, don’t you think that being comforted by things is far different than worshiping and hoarding them, as misers do? I do. I can easily imagine how wonderfully it comforted Jesus—with no home of his own—to stay with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I can see him taking a nap in the back of the house while the ladies fixed dinner, awakening to the marvelous fragrance of baking bread and the sound of clinking dishes down the hall as they set the table. The dour Pharisees criticized him for attending banquets, but Jesus didn’t care because he enjoyed life. I’ll bet he knew a few good jokes, and we know he attended wedding receptions since He provided more wine when the host ran out. He was a human as we are human, and gave us the faculties to appreciate the beauty of His world and the comforts it provides. He strolled the beautiful Judean hills ablaze with wildflowers and surely took pleasure in the singing of birds at sunset. As God He rebuked the wind and the waves, but as a man he needed a cushion to sleep on in the back of the boat.

As we grow older we must downsize, which means ridding ourselves of things we no longer need. My parents had a house, attic, and two sheds full of things when they finally made the plunge to sell the house and move into something smaller. What was hardest for them to relinquish were their many souvenirs from around the world. They were flabbergasted that others placed no value on their Indian and African artifacts. Even after we children and grandchildren took our favorites, many were given to a local charity. Wisely, Mom and Dad kept their favorites; a couple of these stayed with them through two more downsizings until the end. That’s the way it is with the things of home. What has value to one is unimportant to another. How could it be otherwise? Yet they have inestimable value.

The gentle ticking of a clock and the faded photo of a young couple on their wedding day speak to us of home, where we are at peace and can shut out the madding, noisy world. To wake up in the morning among familiar, timeworn surroundings and to have those we love greet us with a friendly gaze: these are true riches. We can easily let go of a big house as long as the accommodations into which we move have space for a few favorite reminders of the wonderful life we have lived.

If you are a caregiver for the elderly, inquire about their things of home. Make sure some familiar belongings accompany them to a new apartment or facility where everything may be strange and intimidating.

Does God have favorite things?

You and I are the “things of home” to God. The Bible brims with the story of God and His desire for honest companionship. Eden in its incredible, pristine beauty was created for one reason: as a beautiful home for the ones He loved. When careless behavior and selfishness sabotaged and destroyed that plan, God found a way to salvage the original dream that flowed longingly from his big heart. His astounding self-sacrifice restores to us and to God the chance to be together and to have loving, honest companionship. He keeps us and will take us with him forever!

CW & Ree 1938
Claire and Retha Shultz, around 1938

This old song was my Mother’s favorite. She and Dad—in their younger days— often sang it as a duet.

My God And I [1]

Austris A. Wihtol and I.B. Sergei

 My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk just as good friends do;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
[1] © 1935 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)