Arlene Creswell, M.H.R, LPC
"Anna" believes that no one likes her and depression makes it hard for her to function. "Harry" is going through a mid-life crisis and feels old, inadequate, and undesirable. "Ben and Susie's" marriage is on rocky ground because of an emotional affair Ben had with a co-worker, and sixteen year-old "Karen" toys with the idea of suicide because of feelings of hopelessness and inferiority. Although the situations and details of these problems are all different, there is a common thread: the people are all Christians, and they all lack a sense of peace.
If peace is supposed to be a major blessing of the Christian life, why are so few people truly experiencing it? Why are we so constantly on the run: achieving, accomplishing, buying, losing ourselves in relationships? We are seeking satisfaction. We are seeking to fill those anxious places in our hearts that, in times of quiet and introspection, tell us that all is not "well with our souls." Unfortunately, as most "running-achieving-accomplishing-buying-lost in relationships" people discover, this kind of satisfaction is short lived. We eventually require more: greater achievements, more (and more expensive) belongings, more exciting or fulfilling relationships. We begin to trust more in our own ability to satisfy our longings than in God's ability. Middle-age crises occurs when people reach the most productive, effective years of their life and realize that their best efforts have not provided what they had hoped. Lasting satisfaction (peace) in our hearts and in our relationships comes about only as a result of a hard-fought battle in our minds, which the Apostle Paul calls renewing the mind. Romans 12:2 says ". . .do not be conformed to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Renewing the mind is not an abstract idea to ponder in hope of finding peace. It is Paul's instruction to each of us. It is what we are supposed to do if we want to experience the abiding peace that God promises. Not moments of peace, not hours of peace, but lasting, abiding peace.
Paul tells us specifically, in Ephesians, how to renew our minds. ". . . in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self . . . and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind . . . and put on the new self . . . which, in the likeness of God, has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." When people come in for counseling, it is generally because some aspect of their old self (or, less frequently, someone else's old self) has created a problem that they do not know how to resolve.
Our minds are like computers. When we are children, our parents and other significant people give us input about ourselves, about other people and the role they play in our lives, about God and Scripture, about trust and security. As we mature, we use this information to analyze and process new information, forming our adult perspective of life. A difficulty arises when the information programmed into us by others is incorrect.
Consider "Harry" and his mid-life crisis. When Harry was a kid, his dad was trying to get established in the business world and worked long hours. When he came home, he was tired and wanted to be left alone to read his newspaper or watch television. When Harry fussed or cried to get his dad's attention, his dad became annoyed and criticized Harry for acting like a baby. What did Harry learn from his dad? He learned that work was more important than people, as was reading and watching television. He learned that if he expressed a normal emotion (frustration at being ignored); he would be shamed for it.
When Harry married, he played out his dad's values by placing work ahead of family, measuring his value as a person by how much money he made and the possessions he had, while neglecting the emotional needs of this own wife and children. The result? Harry's marriage is not satisfying, his children don't take him seriously when he does seek to be involved with them, and he is burned out with his profession. Harry never set out to make himself or anyone else miserable. He did what he thought he was supposed to do. He thinks his problems are his wife, his job, and his children. His problem is really an unrenewed mind.
In counseling, Harry would be assisted in examining his "old self," his beliefs, attitudes, values, hurts, choices and behaviors that could be contributing to his current misery. Those beliefs and resulting behaviors would be examined in the encouraging and uplifting light of Scripture and Harry could identify the beliefs that he needed to "lay aside." Being "renewed in the spirit of (his) mind" would include looking at God's word to determine how to assess his value as a person by God's principles. "Putting on the new self" would include learning and practicing new ways of thinking, interacting, and making choices that would enable him to experience the peace and the abundant life God promises, as well as learning how "...in the likeness of God (he) has been created in righteousness and holiness and truth."
Renewing the mind is an ongoing process that begins when we accept Christ as our savior and continues throughout our lives. In the original Greek text, the phrase "be transformed, by the renewing of your mind" is in the present progressive tense. It would be like saying "be always being transformed."
Be always looking at your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, words and actions, making sure that they are consistent with the principles God set forth in His word. If they are not consistent, make them be. This is what Paul tells us to be always doing. This is what brings peace.
If you would like to read more about this life-changing directive from the apostle Paul, the following are excellent resources: Lifetime Guarantee by Bill Gillham, Telling Yourself the Truth by Marie Chapian and William Backus and accompanying workbook, Learning to Tell Myself the Truth by William Backus.
God's blessings on you as you begin, or continue, the process of renewing your mind.