When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

One day last week I’m struggling through those old kinds of struggles that never seem to fully go away – self-acceptance, over-thinking, fear. My mind cycles through them as they sit on the Lazy Susan of my soul. Pick one up, turn the wheel, put it back again.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea - Chatting at the Sky

So the Susan is spinning at the rate of the world and I pick a book from my desk to read a bit before I began my own writing. Just as I do, some powerfully loud thoughts come rushing into my mind – doubt, quitting, unbelief. In the span of one second, I imagine what it would be like to be the kind of writer like the one who wrote the book in my hand. Thoughts of straight up copying her work barrel to the forefront of my mind.

My first response is shock – I would never do that! My second response is shame – How could I even think that?

Shock and shame are my most natural and immediate responses when my soul has a bad idea. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this is not the holy response, but the arrogant one. My shock and shame response is a better indicator of the condition of my own soul than having the bad thought in the first place. This is the response of a woman who generally thinks she can handle life on her own, a woman who doesn’t think she needs redemption. And so when her soul has a bad idea, she can’t believe it.

It’s true, I don’t copy other people’s work. At least, I haven’t yet. But I could. So could you.

What to do when unwelcome thoughts push their way in? Worry about what a terrible person I am? Wring my hands over the terrible thoughts I have?

Please. Thinking about stealing someone else’s work is a glitter rainbow compared to some of the other thoughts that fly through my head. That feels terrifying to admit but also strangely relieving.

Shock and shame keep my head a clean distance from my heart. That is a dangerous place to live. I don’t want this kind of disconnected life.

The answer isn’t to shame myself into better thinking. That never works.

Instead, the answer for me is two-fold. First, stop being shocked by my own capacity for terrible thoughts.

Until I stop being shocked, I will continue to gasp and gawk at every foul thought that comes into my mind. I will constantly point to some imaginary version of myself who never has stupid thoughts and then return back to my real self and the incongruence between the two will bring only dizziness, discouragement and hopelessness. My soul simply can’t survive the whiplash.

So first, refuse to be shocked. And second, turn toward love. Not the kind of self-love that cheers you can do it, you’re amazing! Listen, I’ve seen The Help, I know the quote – You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Yes. You is. We are.

But we also have an insane capacity for crazy, for jealousy, for selfishness, hoarding, back-stabbing, criticism, revenge, and procrastination. The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ. 

I want to learn to keep company with my weakness even as I practice walking in the New Way of Christ.

I want to continually accept my capacity for sin, but embrace my potential for health, restoration, love, wonder, and mystery.

I want to remember I am capable of making bad choices while also bearing in mind that the Spirit of God chose to make his home in me.

I want to always see my ability to choose the old, but rejoice in my freedom not to.

I want to be aware of the darkness, but identify with the light.

Refuse to be shocked, but insist upon turning toward grace, forgiveness, renewal, and belief.

Refuse to be shocked, but receive the gift of acceptance.

Refuse to be shocked. And begin again.

Comments

  1. Annemarie Cinci says

    Thank you, “refuse to be shocked, but insist upon turning toward grace, forgiveness, renewal, belief” always turning. Thank you for these honest words that make me realize again that I am not a lone in this struggle. Your writing is such a gift to the reader.

    • Donna says

      I agree Emily! Your writing is a gift to the reader. I have been struggling with this very thing, thoughts that I’m not proud of, thoughts I should be past, thoughts that don’t necessarily shock me, but do disappoint me, thoughts, that make me see things in myself that I hate.
      I pray for wisdom to recognize the lie, and replace it with the truth. And now, every time I have one of these thoughts, I’m also going to consider them reminders of my need for my Father God, my Jesus, my Holy Spirit. Thank you Emily.

  2. says

    Shame is so ugly and keeps us stuck in the cesspool doesn’t it? You just did we all need to do, put it out in the Light and let it shrink away from our knee-jerk reaction to it. You just showed us what freedom looks like Emily. I’m refusing with you. Thank you for your vulnerability.
    Shelly Miller´s last blog post ..Finding Your Place in God’s Story

  3. says

    The bad ideas of the soul and the shock and shame that follows… My thoughts go to the one who hates and despises us, the beauty and glory of God within us, and that one is Satan, the enemy of our souls. We live in a fallen world and daily battle against it and our own flesh, but we also war against the evil one. He loves to put bad ideas in our minds, then accuse us of them, and then blame and shame us for them, which ultimately leads to bondage. And then the cycle just continues and repeats itself… bad thoughts, blame, shame, bondage. I’m continually praying and learning to discern what is my own sin and what is simply spiritual attack that I need to stand against. Jesus never shames or blames us, he convicts with such grace and love that draws us to repentance. His voice is loving, never condemning.

    Thank you for honesty, Emily, in voicing something that we all deal with. I’m so grateful that at our core our hearts are good… because of Jesus, his work on the cross, and his life in us and through us.

  4. says

    Last night I admitted some of the ugliest feelings about a friend to my husband. They were petty and mean and envious, but it felt so good to share them with someone safe. I kind of regret it and I kind of don’t, because it just proves that I’m human and I still need more of Jesus.
    Kimberly´s last blog post ..Five Minute Friday: Joy

  5. Meredith says

    How is it that you can identify and name my issues even as I struggle to wrap my mind around them? I thank God for gifting you.

    • says

      My thoughts exactly Meredith. The fact she does it with such frequency kind of freaks me out a little! :) I think she is a “soul whisperer”!

  6. says

    Wow, Emily – this was real. Very real! I absolutely loved this quote: “I want to learn to keep company with my weakness even as I practice walking in the New Way of Christ.”

    That sums up everything I’ve been thinking for so long. It is possible (and necessary) to admit the fact that the thoughts are there and we can’t just dismiss them as though they aren’t. But I can be grateful for the light that is exposing them for what they are. A choice. And with His power, I can always choose His path.

    I will refuse to be shocked by those thoughts and I will celebrate in my choice to do so.
    Jennifer Frisbie´s last blog post ..No such thing as a do over (but there is grace)…

  7. Jody says

    Beautiful post! So comforting to know that I am not alone in this struggle. I am learning to take my own thoughts captive and focus on only the good things of God when those nasty thoughts come in. Thank you!

  8. says

    “I want to remember I am capable of making bad choices while also bearing in mind that the Spirit of God chose to make his home in me.”
    So true. So thankful that he loves me and never leaves me regardless of what I’ve done wrong.
    Beautiful Emily!
    Melanie @ Carmel Moments´s last blog post ..Cheesy Steak Cups

  9. says

    Ah yes. . . my scary thoughts pertain more to worrying about my kids and the terrible places those thoughts carry me to, but I turn and carry those thoughts to the feet of the One Who can take them captive, and free me from their hold.

    Thank you for the reminder to focus on Our Savior and Redeemer, and not on our failure to be strong. :)
    Holly´s last blog post ..Outside the Fence. . . Open the Gate!

  10. says

    Love this piece. Its scary how dark my thoughts can be, but I am so thankful that Jesus knows that about me- and knows I am capable of much worse. And the amazing news is that He loves me infinitely more than I can comprehend.

    Loved this: “The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ.”

    Thank you, Emily!
    Vaneetha Demski´s last blog post ..Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?

  11. Meghan says

    Thanks SO MUCH for this! I’ve just started reading your blog recently, and I’ve felt this way many times before, but never quite as much as with THIS post: your writing speaks to my soul, and it soothes me.

  12. GLENDA says

    LORD have mercy. Thanks for sharing this Emily. I have these vague, chilling, crazy thoughts and somehow I think I’m the only one! I always have to start saying all the Bible verses I have memorized. The promises of GOD always work!!!

  13. says

    I can’t help but think of King David, a man after God’s own heart, and yet, he not only had bad ideas, he acted upon them. His story of despair and redemption and soul searching is an example to us that we too will have those desperate thoughts and may even sometimes act upon them. Oh, to be in a place where we drop the shock and turn to the love and grace that we so desperately need. Thanks for sharing the real with us – it lets us know we are not alone in our soul struggles.

  14. Julie says

    “It’s true, I don’t copy other people’s work. At least, I haven’t yet. But I could. So could you.” – You know, I read that and those rapid-succession thoughts we sometimes have zinged through my mind. In one instant it reminded me of how my husband and I joke when we play any kind of game where you can change places with an opponent’s piece…we always say “you’re getting there on my knowledge!” And in the next instant my mind went straight to grace and how, inside, I have to fight off this way of thinking over and over–fight that feeling that I really should be “earning or working” my way to Heaven instead of “getting there on God’s grace.”

    The shock and shame come far too easily. Thank you for reminding us we need to keep turning our thoughts to love, light, forgiveness, grace.

  15. says

    Also known as The Post In Which You Spill The Story of Marian’s Life. : )

    I am so here right now. Who am I kidding? I am here way too much of the time. I’m re-reading Abba’s Child and the message is exactly what you’re writing here. {I’m going on an informal “Abba’s Child” retreat this weekend with a few other grace-seeking women to discuss the first 4 chapters of the book and eat grown-up food.} It’s been 5 years since I read it. Long overdue. As I took it all in again Saturday my response could be nothing less than tears and gratitude and loving Jesus all the more for loving me in all my messy incongruity. You are right. We are not one or the other, we are both. And so furiously loved and redeemed all the time.

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours.
    Scooper´s last blog post ..Guess What? I’m Moving Tomorrow

  16. Diana says

    AH. YES. very well expressed. When I was in First grade I copied my neighbor’s Arithmetic paper (1960 or so) and erased all my answers probably most of them right, and put her answers in their place…all incorrect. It was obvious to the teacher, and to my mom and dad what I had done. It was not as obvious to me…I just wanted to be right. Still do. SO… We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
    2 Corinthians 10:4-6

  17. says

    Your words so resonate with my shameful heart that can only be cleansed and forgiven by God…
    I love your quote from The Help as my friend always tells me that line when I am down and need a lift…
    Thank you so much for your inspiring words! :)

  18. says

    “Refuse to be shocked and begin again.”

    Yay! – you got it! Me and my own Lazy Susan – great metaphor. Yes – hitting home today. Thanks for the encouragement. Speaking GRACE to it!

    Joy!
    Kathy

  19. says

    Weird. We were thinking the same thoughts this week. Could it be some strange cosmic connection? No? Anyway, I struggle with comparison too! It’s one of my many flaws. This stems from a childhood of being told I am not good enough. Because of God’s grace I am good enough…but old habits and thoughts are hard to break!

    I think of the movie “The Words”…

    “Clay Hammond: We have to choose between life and fiction. The two are very close, but that they never actually touch” – — The Words

    Lies are the fiction we believe or tell ourselves.

  20. says

    wow emily, powerful words these are!

    ‘move from the arrogant response of shock and shame to the holy response: be loved. be small. belong to Christ.’

    i want that too.
    melony´s last blog post ..changing

  21. Shilo says

    Emily, you nailed it AGAIN. Praise God for speaking CLEARLY through you! You bless me so much, sister.
    Your post reminded me of this what my prof Dr. Lane said (loosely quoted), “The degree to which a church is shocked by the sin of another is the degree to which that same church fails to believe the gospel.”
    <3,
    Shilo

  22. says

    This post simultaneously brings to mind Grace for the Good Girl and Frozen. (Are your families immersed, too?) I so relate to Elsa being a good girl and afraid of making a mistake. In the end, it’s all thawed out by love. Which is what you wrote. So thanks again for being real.

  23. Deborah says

    Such truth! This resonates with me as I have been going through a series called Gospel Transformation. It is, at heart, focusing on this very idea. Seeing our sin, and weakness fully and truly in the light of God’s grace. It is really hard and freeing to retrain our thinking, isn’t it?

  24. says

    I am a Lay Counselor, and one thing I have learned is to be an OBSERVER of self. Not judging ourselves when we have thoughts that don’t align with Christ, but just gently observing, and re-directly calmly without shame or defeat. Just observe. Grace.

  25. says

    Could not have been said better.

    May I share this with an online Christian fellowship? I will give proper attribution and link back. It is a truth that everyone struggles with, some more than others.
    Meema´s last blog post ..Contagious Faith?

  26. JuliaC says

    Thanks Emily! This post was so clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit! I admire your courage for being vulnerable. Yep, I get it- the “lazy susan” just spins until one stops it by accepting Grace. (I suppose I tend to spin it back and forth each day). I am so glad to read everyone’s responses and know I’m not alone. Blessings to you.

  27. Jeannie S says

    Thank you. Where do the thoughts come from….is it satan or a bad heart condition, the inner self? That is what plagues me.

    • says

      It’s a great question, Jeannie – and I’m not sure it has an easy answer. People have written entire books on that question alone.

      I’ve come to the conclusion (for now) to be at peace not knowing exactly where the thoughts come from – but know they come because we still live in the world. I know we have an enemy, I know sometimes I have thoughts that sound like my own voice but really they aren’t me at all. And I know other times I have thoughts that come directly from my own self.

      So do they come from my own flesh, an enemy voice, or something else? I don’t know always.

      I don’t think it’s a “bad heart condition” depending on what you mean by that. It seems that even Jesus was tempted in every way – so perhaps he too had the terrible thoughts come into his mind but he never sinned.

      For me, it’s important to remember the hope of Christ and my desperate need for him more than it is to know where the thoughts originate. But I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about your question so I definitely know where you’re coming from.
      emily p freeman´s last blog post ..When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

      • Jeannie S says

        Thanks so much Emily. I am not going to spend so much time worrying where they come from. The important thing is to re-direct straight to the throne of God! Blessings!

  28. says

    This post speaks straight to my soul. My “lazy Susan” has been spinning full force through my heart lately. Struggles with things I thought I put to death have resurfaced. My inital reaction was shock, and then more fear. Thank you for reminding me it’s ok to be weak. Aware of the darkness, but living in the light..
    Abigail Converse´s last blog post ..I am the Pharisee.

  29. Mary says

    Emily,

    You have such a gift for putting to words that which is often on my heart. I sometimes just don’t know how to say those words so others understand me. I find myself quoting you so others can understand me better.

    I’ve been pondering this quote for the last day or so – “The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ. ” Yes! To be loved, to be small and to belong to Christ. That is where He wants me now.

    Thank you for being who God called you to be.

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