All in, for what?
It starts as an idea – a thought harmlessly drifting – but then it takes hold. You find yourself thinking about it when you’re supposed to be falling asleep. Your mind wanders in prayer. It starts to feel like a mental itch you just want to scratch, and you can’t stop thinking about it.
For me, thoughts often seem to stick like that – a personality trait that can lead to virtues like perseverance, or vices like a bent toward obsession. When I was a kid and I wanted something really badly, my mom used to say I had a “bug in my bonnet”. And that’s exactly how it felt then and still feels now when I get gripped by an idea: mental noise that makes it hard to think of anything else.
Like when I can’t stop thinking about that item I saw on ebay.
Or when I get sucked into the world of my favorite novel or show.
Or when I feel naked without my phone at arms reach, wondering what messages I’m missing.
I can’t imagine I’m the only one who struggles with such mental noise. In fact, the Apostle Peter talks about the importance of your state of mind for prayer, urging believers to be “clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Peter 4:7)
Obsessive thoughts like this, a “stickiness” of heart and mind, and a tendency to throw yourself “all-in” for the object of your focus can be a daily struggle. We are, after all, created to be obsessed with our creator; we were made to worship, to give ourselves completely to God. The problem is that we are fallen, and don’t always worship who we were created to. An “all-in” personality isn’t bad, it just needs to be constantly redirected to God. How?
Several things have helped me redirect myself when I struggle:
-Practice pouring your energy into relationships rather than things
-Get outside input/accountability
-Be aware of what causes feelings of obsession/addiction in you. Ask for help knowing which of these things to limit and which to reject completely
- Let others in
Let others in. Offer the physical hospitality of letting others into your space. Offer the emotional hospitality of letting others into your thoughts, your heart, your mind. Nothing shakes inward-bent obsession like having to make space for other people, like having to serve other people. In fact, Peter himself mentions love, service and hospitality directly after his entreaty to clear-mindedness: “Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all else, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others. – 1 Peter 4:7-10
As I was talking through some of my struggles in this area with my husband John, he very wisely reminded me of a scene from one of our favorite movies: “Of Gods and Men” (Des Hommes et des Dieux). In this scene, a French monk living in Algeria is approached for advice by a local teen. She asks if he had ever been in love. “Yes,” he replies, “many times”. Why then, she asks, did he become a monk? “Ah,” he pauses, a smile growing on his sun-darkened face, “I found a greater love.”
I think of that phrase, when an idea starts to take too much hold. I have it framed in my room: “I have found a greater love”. It’s true: Only deep love of God can free us from deeply ingrained love of self. And I think now, I’m starting to realize that it isn’t most essentially about me trying to overcome my shortcomings, but about leaning into my relationship with the One who already has. Running towards the greater love. Ann Voskamp beautifully illustrates this greater love in one of her blog entries:
“Listen to the small voice who cups your face close and names you Beloved. Hear his voice; he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out. Listen to the voice that says ‘ I love you so much that when the wolves of the world come to devour your real identity – I become a lamb myself. I sacrifice myself for you so you never have to sacrifice yourself to the idols of this world.”
He sacrifices himself so that we don’t have to sacrifice ourselves to the idols of this world. So we don’t have to live from whim to whim, obsession to obsession. So our minds can be at peace. There is hope because Jesus Christ came to redeem fallen creation, redeem the gifts that got twisted, renew the minds filled with mental noise.
I’m writing this during a season that for many Christians is a time for reflection on this sacrifice. A time for returning to the Lord, that first, greatest love of ours. Another challenge from Ann Voskamp’s blog struck me this past week. She writes: “What if these 40 days are asking the people of the cross to do more than give up something – but to take back something? Take back our time so we can return to our first love, take back our apathy and love lavishly,” take back our minds so that we can be all-in for the only one worthy of our obsession?
What are you all-in for?
Amy Hughes is a stay-at-home mom with a passion for baking and all things French. She and her husband John have two children, Jacob and Lena, and are part of the Word of Life community in Ann Arbor.