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MIND GAMESadvice, stories, and truth for thinking free
By Matthew Paul Turner
TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC.Copyright © 2006 Matthew Paul Turner
All right reserved.
Possession is a mind game driven and rooted in fear. It is fear that keeps you from letting God possess your mind. You're afraid of what he'll do with it. You like thinking what you want to think because it feels like freedom. The only thing is, you don't really have possession of your own mind anyway, and the ability to think what you want isn't exactly freedom....
Journal Entry: AUGUST 8, 1998 A couple of days ago, I met someone who reminded me of a simple truth about God and his desire to have my mind. It's just so hard letting him have it.
A few years ago, I visited a therapist.
I had never gone to a therapist before-at least I had never paid for therapy, and the person I had seen was a good friend. It's not that I deemed myself too healthy for therapy. Believe me; the opposite was true. I was pretty convinced that a therapist would be a delightful bonus to my already Christian-advice-laden lifestyle.
When you're a Christian who has been saturated for more than twenty years with advice from other Christians, therapy's almost a requirement. But up until that moment, I had always stopped short of even thinkingabout visiting a therapist. Why? Simply put, I was afraid of what people might think of me if they knew I was seeing someone, really "seeing someone." And at that time, this kind of seeing someone was up there with the committing-adultery kind of seeing someone.
But I went through with it.
When Dr. Jane Stevens walked into the waiting room from her office, I was quietly but anxiously praying to myself.
She looked nothing like I'd expected. When I'd made the appointment, her phone voice led me to believe she would be tall, thin, and probably pretty attractive. Don't ask me why, but some people have voices that say, "I'm a pretty person." But Dr. Stevens turned out to look nothing like the picture my imagination had created. She was short and stocky, with sandy red hair. And by the looks of things, she didn't care much for the styles of 2001. Heck, she didn't care much for the styles of 1981. In fact, this forty-something therapist looked as if she had just jumped out of 1961. Her hair was fixed with more bobby pins than any woman under the age of seventy-five should own. I couldn't help but stare. It seemed like she was trying to keep something constrained up there-as if her hair were in a straitjacket.
I hope she treats her patients better than her hair.
On the other hand, her voice was throaty, smooth, and enticing.
"Matthew, why don't you start by telling me why you came to visit me today."
"Well," I said nervously, "I'm having some issues with anxiety-and honestly, I am probably a little depressed. Oh, and I've got some issues with my past."
Dr. Stevens was taking notes.
"I'm also pretty sure I have a codependent personality," I continued. "At least my mother thinks so."
Dr. Stevens was nodding.
"And I'm perhaps a little neurotic, always overcome with guilt, and probably still trying to outfox some spiritual abuse I experienced as a child."
I stopped for a second and reviewed my mental checklist. "I think that's it."
Dr. Stevens looked at me intently. "I'm curious, Matthew; can you tell me about the spiritual abuse?"
"The spiritual abuse began when I was five," I said. "That's when I asked Jesus to come into my heart and be my Savior. But before I get to that ..."
The whole time I chatted, Dr. Stevens hardly looked up at me. As I spoke, she took notes on a large yellow legal pad.
I went on to tell her my entire life story. I started at the very beginning, at least as far back as I could remember. I told her how my little town of Chestertown, Maryland, had been a delightful place to grow up. Quaint little streets, large cornfields, steamed blue crabs in the summertime-I told her everything.
Knowing that therapists were sometimes able to tell when you were exaggerating, I made sure to be as convincing as I could possibly be. And I think she believed me, too, when I talked lovingly, graciously, and sickeningly sweetly about my parents and my three sisters.
"Sure, they were far from perfect, but they always loved me. They were never the problem," I said emphatically.
But then I began talking about my church.
Dr. Stevens seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. She nodded her head, rolled her eyes, and said, "Hmm" at just the right moments. I don't know whether or not she followed Jesus, but she certainly asked what seemed like a thousand questions about my Christian upbringing. Her eyes got big when I told her that two of my teachers from the Christian school I attended had committed suicide. She cringed a bit when I talked about the guilt I felt every time I did anything that was deemed wrong in the eyes of the church.
I stumbled over my come-to-Jesus story for thirty minutes.
Finally, she looked at me and said in that misleading sultry voice of hers, "Matthew, that's quite a story, but I think I can help you. Everything I've heard from you today tells me you're fighting something inside."
She was getting deep. Her words were pulling at heartstrings that I didn't know I had. Was I fighting God? Was I trying to keep something from him?
Dr. Stevens continued, "As a child, you looked to the church and your family to help you fit in. That kept you sheltered for a long time. As a college student, you went more toward sexual freedom and partying. But you still came up empty.... Matthew, your life is a puzzle, and you're still busy looking for some of the pieces."
On the outside, I kept quiet and appeared interested. But inside, I fought her every word. I am a Jesus follower, I thought. When you follow Jesus, you only need one puzzle piece. And that's his piece. As I sat there, I fed myself every piece of Christian jargon I could remember: I shouldn't be here; this was a bad idea.
Despite my thoughts, I went back to see Dr. Stevens the very next week. When she walked out to welcome me into her office again, the first thing I noticed was her new haircut. Although the bobby pins were still there, they didn't seem to be working quite as hard.
"So, Matthew, today we're going to do an exercise that I call intervention," Dr. Stevens said.
Her mellifluous voice again soothed my soul. I wanted to bottle it up and take it home with me so I could open it when I was having trouble sleeping.
"I am going to ask you to close your eyes," she continued, "and I want you to think of a time, any time in your past, when you felt you were being abused-spiritually, mentally, emotionally. It doesn't matter."
All of what she had just rambled on about scared me. Close my eyes? Think of a time? It all sounded a little too much like a rerun episode of Dr. Phil.
"So, go ahead," she murmured. "Close your eyes."
I closed my eyes. I closed them tight. As soon as I did, shapes, colors, and spots-all very bright and vivid-formed on the inside of my eyelids.
"I want you to think of one instance in your childhood where you felt abused. It might be something that occurred in the Christian school that you attended. It might be something that one of the pastors said to you...."
With my eyes closed and Dr. Stevens's voice feeling like sweet, sensual whispers in my ear, I searched my memory for an occurrence that had hurt me or left me feeling deflated or enslaved. Surprisingly, this was more difficult than I thought it would be. Because so much of the pain and frustration was brought on through my church life as a whole, it was hard to put my finger on one event.
"Are you there yet, Matthew?" asked Dr. Stevens.
"I think so."
"Well, take your time."
"OK, I think I'm there."
"Tell me about the moment you're thinking of right now."
"I'm fourteen years old," I began, still feeling very uncomfortable with this psychic exercise, but in the interests of mental health I forged ahead with as much confidence as I could muster. "I'm sitting in the front row of an Algebra 2 class. My desk is piled high with paper and books and homework and folders. It's one of those desks where the table is attached to the chair with a bar. It's a little wobbly, probably because it's old.... Anyway, in the middle of class, two 'friends' pushed my desk forward so that the table hit the floor...."
As uncomfortable as this whole experience was making me feel, as much as I was trying to protect myself from feeling anything at all, I began to experience something in that moment, something I hadn't expected. As hard as it was for me to understand, sitting in that moment I really felt like I was fourteen again, being picked on in that math class.
"Books, papers, and everything else on my desk fell and scattered on the floor around me. My face flew forward and hit the edge of the desk and I slipped out of the seat and onto the floor. I didn't get hurt, really-there was no blood-but it was painful and humiliating...."
As I shared that story, I could feel my face getting pale, and my gut stirred with anger and emotion. A lot of junk that I had been feeling for years began to overwhelm me. I could feel a couple of tears forming in my eyes.
"As soon as the noise of the desk hitting the floor rang out through the classroom, everyone belted out in mass amounts of laughter. Some people were barreled over in hysteria. Even those who normally didn't laugh at stuff like that snickered. The teacher stood up, and to my frustration, he laughed, too. But you see, Dr. Stevens, that's not the whole story...."
I leaned back into the couch, my eyes still tightly shut, trying to get more comfortable.
"From the time I was four years old, I had to wear a brace around my entire back because of scoliosis. The brace made movement difficult, and it was uncomfortable to bend over because the brace covered three inches of my butt in the back and covered my private area in the front...."
Dr. Stevens never said a word the entire time I shared my story. I guess she simply watched me. Maybe she was writing stuff down on that tablet of hers.
"I instantly began to pick up everything that had fallen off my desk. Everyone was still laughing, and not one person helped me...."
I looked up at Dr. Stevens and a couple more tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt a little foolish crying about something that had happened many years before.
"That's one of probably a hundred stories I could remember that evoke similar emotions and anger in me," I said frankly.
Time was up. But my time of learning and understanding had just begun. I discovered I had been holding on for dear life to everything that caused me pain. I was holding on to my past. I was holding on to guilt. I was holding on to anger. I was holding everything tightly in my memory, in the deepest parts of my mind. For the first time, I could see how everything I was holding on to was crippling my ability to think clearly and free. It wasn't an easy fix, but over time, God made it clear what needed to be done.
He wanted my mind, how I thought about stuff, the junk I had filled it with-he wanted it all.
confessions of a strange mind
when i was nine years old, i walked out of a church function upset because no one was eating my mother's green bean casserole. by the look of complete sadness written all over my face, you would have thought that the church had publicly ridiculed my mom for making such a disgusting dish. but that's how my mind was interpreting the situation. everyone was eating all of miss janet's potato salad, miss kitty's macaroni and cheese, and miss pam's fruit salad, leaving my mom's dish without one scoop missing. there might as well have been a sign next to my mom's dish that read, "this casserole sucks; do not eat." to be honest, i didn't even like my mom's green bean casserole. but, more importantly, i didn't want my mom's feelings to be hurt when she realized that no one was eating her potluck dish. so i went through the food line six different times, took a large helping of the green beans, and proceeded to run into the bathroom and throw it in the trash. yes, i felt a little guilty for misleading my mom, but the guilt seemed well worth it because she went home thinking her potluck had been a hit.
* * *
God knows every thought that flashes through our minds. That's scary to me. He knows about the dirty thoughts. He knows about the dreamy thoughts I have about life. He knows which of my thoughts make me feel guilty; he knows the ones that make me feel free. He knows the questions my mind asks. But even with all that he knows about my mind, God never once thinks about trying to run away or leaving me alone. Although, I must admit, sometimes it certainly feels like he has.
Surprisingly, my mind doesn't scare God. He simply wants me to know what it's like to think free. He believes that only in his hands can my mind begin to dance like he created it to dance.
God is not surprised by the influence our minds have on our daily situations. In fact, he has a bird's-eye view of how our minds affect our work, relationships, families, sex lives, entertainment choices, ministry possibilities, spiritual choices, and so much more.
God knows that our minds play a passionately vigorous role in determining who we are as individuals.
Most people, at least the ones I know, are quite aware that the way we think can either make us or break us as people. That's why God wants to be involved in how we think. He deems it necessary to have control of our minds because he knows that we can't even begin to think good thoughts and make good decisions without his involvement, without his wisdom guiding our minds on a continuing basis.
In so many of our circumstances, we don't realize how much God desires to renew and give life to our minds. We think we can do it on our own. We think we don't need God scuttling around inside our heads. We think our minds are fine without his involvement. But we're not fine without him.
It took me a long time before I learned this truth.
I can't tell you how many times God has asked me to give him my mind-by my count, at least thirty-seven times. Every time he's come to me with this request, he's taken a different approach. Sometimes he used his well-loved and much-talked-about gentle whisper-you know, the soft voice of sanity that was barely audible over the music booming through my headphones. Sometimes he'd come to me with a boisterous proclamation-loud, clear, and obvious-but I still didn't listen. Not very often, but once in a while, God would come in the form of a miracle (think Moses' burning bush experience), except in my case, nothing was burning but the brain cells I used to try to ignore him. No doubt, I've learned the hard way that God doesn't let our ignorance and evasiveness dissuade him from trying to get our attention. No matter what new excuses I came up with, he was always extremely persistent in trying to get me to surrender control of my mind.
Around the time that I turned twenty, I became aware that God was asking me to surrender my mind to him. The first time he asked, I just laughed at him. The second time he asked, I pretended to not hear him. The third time, he sent the Holy Spirit to do his dirty work, and I ended battling mono for a month (long story, but true). OK, so I'm not sure whether the mono and God's Spirit had anything to do with each other, but to me it felt that way.
Every time God asked me for my mind, I had some type of verbal or visceral response. I was quick with the big excuses for why I didn't want to surrender my mind. Little did I know that it's in God's nature to intervene as much as he believes is necessary to get his kids exactly where he wants them to be. Truthfully, sometimes I found his persistence to be annoying and obnoxious; yet at the same time, there were definitely times when I felt grateful that he continued to invest in me. But regardless of my feelings about his persistence, I was clear and up-front with him. I told him every time that I had made a conscious decision not to give up my mind without a fight.
To my surprise, my antics didn't alarm God.
He didn't even flinch.
He simply kept reminding me of his desire for my life to be complete. And he knew that completion was not possible without my mind being safely in his hands.
Let me get one thing straight, though: God hated my mind games. He was patient with me, but he hated the fact that I was running from him. And I soon learned that he was willing to use anybody and anything to gain possession of my mind.
Excerpted from MIND GAMES by Matthew Paul Turner Copyright © 2006 by Matthew Paul Turner. Excerpted by permission.
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