Welcome back to Happy School Advanced.
You do not have to let your natural, negative inclinations dictate how you think about life. Instead, you can learn biblical principles that will transform your mind—and thus your emotions. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9 NIV)
Before you begin this week’s lesson, please read Lesson 2 in the book, Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry.
Refuting Your Self-Talk When You’re Stressed With Non-Emergencies
You may have watched the 1990’s movie Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. It’s an intense thriller. At the end of the movie your heart is racing because (spoiler alert) the Earth is going to be destroyed. But Bruce Willis sacrifices himself and the planet is saved.
In an equally heart-pounding movie, The Next Three Days, Russell Crowe plays the lead character who (spoiler alert again) helps his wife—who is innocent and incarcerated unjustly—escape from jail. If the situations in these movies were real, they would definitely be worthy reasons to be stressed to the max!
In contrast, you and I have stressful situations all day long that are not even near the camp of life and death. For example, my chest was tight this morning because I was stressed over a project that is not finished. I have set a specific date set in my mind of when it should be finished and I have told other people when I expected the project to be finished. But now it looks like there are some high brick walls I will have to hurdle if the project is to be done by that date.
Sometimes “the little foxes can spoil the vineyard” (Song of Solomon 2:15). So although this example of a delayed project is very small in the scheme of the truly hard things in life, it is still important we take control of our thoughts about “the little foxes.”
One tremendously helpful skill in Happy School is learning how to Watch the Parade that Marches Across your Mind, i.e., to think about your thinking. It’s unbelievably helpful to listen to what you’re telling yourself. After I realized I was ultra-stressed, I started asking myself questions: What would be the worst thing that could happen if this project takes longer than I thought? What if I have to tell some people it’s not going to be ready? How important is this?
I could feel my emotions dial down as I told myself this was not a situation worthy of being severely stressed over. If it’s not done on time, it’s disappointing, but honestly, it’s nowhere near a crisis. (Did you hear the refuting and reframing?)
So when you feel stressed, Watch your Parade, dissect the situation, and ask yourself if it’s really urgent. We all get so stressed over many relatively unimportant things. You will find that most of your situations are not worthy of high emotional escalation (unlike Bruce Willis saving the planet.)
You can reason with yourself. You can reframe, refute, and replace many thought patterns that you have awfulized or catastrophized.
You will always have some negative emotional reactions to many aspects of life. But now you have tools to get yourself back to rational thinking and therefore, more stable emotions.
This thinking about your thinking and then refuting yourself is a habit to practice. In time you will get better at doing this.
Day 2, Part A
Don’t Awfulize or Catastrophize
One of my friends was trying to buy a franchise. After a month of deliberation, she called the owners and said she was ready to purchase the franchise. The owners said they just sold the franchise that was available for her zip code the day before. She couldn’t believe she lost this opportunity. Why, this was the idea that was going to reverse her financial situation!
“I’ve missed an opportunity that was perfect for me!” she exclaimed over coffee. “I’ll never find something so perfectly suited for me like this again. There are so few good fits for me because of (blah, blah, blah.) The price was right and the work would have been perfect. I’ve missed out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance. I’ll probably never get another financial opportunity like this one.”
That, my friend, is awfulizing. Yes, it’s unfortunate that the franchise opportunity was sold the day before, but not a catastrophe. And losing that opportunity doesn’t predict her success in the future.
I said to her, “I know you’re disappointed, but all you can do is learn from this situation. It’s not helpful for you to keep beating yourself up for delaying your decision to buy. What’s done is done. You have to believe that there will be another opportunity around the river bend, and you have to start looking for it. Instead of thinking about what went wrong, think about other options and what else might work.” (Did you catch that? I was suggesting that she Change Rooms in her Brain.)
Very soon, my friend found another franchise to purchase, one even better suited for her than the original. This is often the case in that many times when the Lord closes a door, He opens a window. (Do you remember Maria saying that in the Sound of Music?)
Another friend recently lost an “opportunity.” I remember feeling I was being harsh when I suggested, “Maybe you lost that opportunity because there is something better up ahead.” I know this sounds Pollyanna-ish, but with God running your life, this is not only possible but it happens all the time!
You may currently be someone who awfulizes or catastrophizes situations in your life, but you can learn to have an upgraded, better way to think.
Day 2, Part B
What to Remember During Dark, Difficult Times
Now, let’s discuss a difficult situation that is very solemn and of great agony to many women. It is the struggle with infertility and/or miscarriages. Indeed, these can be some of the most excruciating circumstances on earth for women. Having a miscarriage or experiencing infertility are both profound grieving experiences.
But nevertheless—and again, this feels harsh to say—you can’t let hard and unwanted circumstances bury you. (See the article at the end of this week’s lesson on grieving.) I’m sorry to say that, but actually, it’s the kindest thing I can say. Life has many heart-wrenching circumstances, and at some point, we have to leave our pain in One Room and Move into Another Room in our Brain. We have to bathe our mind with the truth in God’s Word.
Examples are: “…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61: 2b-3b)
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
We must, even in the midst of great pain and sorrow, believe that “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Years ago I had a Sunday School teacher who had our class memorize a portion of Lamentations 3 for a summer project. Here is part of that chapter that I still rely on when hard things appear:
“Yet this I call to mind and therefore, I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”
Do you hear the hope in those passages? He parts Red Seas; He turns water into wine; He raises the dead. Even in the trenches of life’s most difficult situations, don’t let yourself awfulize or catastrophize. Tell yourself it’s unwanted and not preferred, but not cataclysmic, because with God, there is yet hope.
As I strongly recommend to all my groups, record verses that God gives you, as well as other amazing sentences. Here’s a sentence I like: There is either the presence of the Lord or there are ashes.
Devour your Bible for promises. Mark up your Bible. Put dates in the margins next to promises your spirit feels God gives especially to you. Live under the authority of the Word and then live above your circumstances by the hope given in the promises of Scripture.
I spent too many years with unnecessary sadness, depression, and grief. I did not know that I could choose my thoughts.
Even this morning, my current, major WMD walked into the living room of my mind and sat down. You will never escape your WMDs showing up, but you can order them to be quarantined by thinking about something else. You don’t necessarily always choose what pops into your mind, but you definitely choose if you allow it to hang around.
Sometimes there are not answers. Sometimes things are just hard. This is when you have to know that now you “see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully…” (1 Cor. 13:12 NIV). Someday you will understand.
One thing that helps me greatly when looking into the face of my “Impossibles” and my “Difficult Things” is to remember DNA. Haha, yes, the DNA in every cell that you learned about in seventh grade science. You may find this peculiar, but hear me out.
DNA is such spectacular evidence of Intelligent Design. Its complexity stops even the non-theist mind. At a recent scientific convention, the scientists put a picture of DNA on the screen enhancer. These scientists were not necessarily believers, but to do honor to the complexity/intricacy of DNA, they held a moment of silence and sang a song.
The human heart knows deep down that only Intelligent Design could make something as vast and elaborate as DNA. (You can order one of the best apologetic DVD’s ever that explains the impossibility that DNA evolved. It’s called Evolution’s Achilles’ Heel, available on Creation.com or Amazon. This is a must-watch for your teens). Knowing that the God who made DNA is the God whom I pray to, helps me trust the Lord with my “Impossibles” and with my “Difficult Things.”
In the midst of very dark circumstances, you can hand your problems over to the Lord, and let Him bear your burdens. You were never meant to carry them alone. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NIV).
Rest for your souls. How we all need rest for our souls.
Again, I am sorry if you are experiencing hard circumstances. Loss is always difficult. The double sticks of dynamite, the Word and prayer, will always be your best healing balms. Quarantine your sadness and then Move into Another Room. (Much more to come about Rooms to Move into in future lessons.)
Day 3, Part A
Dialing Down Your Emotional Reaction
Scurrying around the kitchen one morning, I realized I felt angry. I am no stranger to anger, but that morning, the negative emotion surprised me. What is this about? I asked myself.
Knowing I can think about my thinking, I backed up my thoughts. I had recently hired some help to do a project at my house. As I worked in my kitchen that morning, I had thoughts about several tasks that the workmen did not perform up to the proper (uh, my) standards. And the workmen were coming back that day so I must address the issue. Bummer.
What was good about this realization was that while I do need to address the shoddy workmanship, it’s not an issue to be angry about. If the project has to be corrected (an unwanted task, I admit), it is still not worth an emotional meltdown. It’s fine to be mildly annoyed, but anger is too strong of a reaction to this kind of life event. Anger needs to be reserved for serious situations.
So I dialed down my emotion to slight annoyance over having to deal with poor workmanship. I certainly do not want to fill the landscape of my mind by being upset over non-essentials. Yes, address issues. But dial down your emotional reaction when you can. Annoyed, not angry. Disappointed, not devastated. Unpreferred, not cataclysmic.
Day 3, Part B
Quarantining Unpleasant Must-Do’s
A friend of mine has to give herself a weekly shot. She said she used to spend a lot of time dreading the shot on the day she was supposed to get it. Not any longer. She doesn’t think about it (quarantines the thought) until it’s time to give it to herself. Then she does it, and poof, it’s over.
Maybe you hate a household chore and it’s coming up. First, decide if you really must do it. (Is it prudent to hire someone else to do it?). Then, if you must do it, plan to do it, and do it. But don’t waste time dreading it beforehand.
I love to walk and do easy types of exercise, but I don’t like HIIT (high-intensity interval training.) However, three times a week my husband and I “take the hill.” That is, we ride our bikes up a very steep hill two times. Early in the day, I know the bike ride is coming up, but I quarantine my thinking about it until it’s time to hop on the bike. Refuse to dread activities that you’ve decided you must do.
Maybe you’ve decided that the right thing for you to do is to visit your cranky grandmother with dementia for an hour on Saturday afternoons. So show up and get it over with but don’t waste time dreading it or complaining to yourself afterward that you had to do it. You control what you think about.
Sometimes dinners with difficult families-of-origin or in-laws can be unpleasant. But of course, you must attend a portion of these. Don’t waste time dreading them. Pray and ask God to give you patience and kindness during the visit, but don’t waste any time dreading that you must go.
Filling out extensive paperwork or writing tedious reports (again, ones that you’ve decided you must do) are easy to dread. Instead, set a time to begin work on it and work a specific amount of time on the project. But before and after the report, quarantine negative thoughts.
You will save an enormous amount of time and energy by quarantining your negative thoughts.
Quarantining the WMDs Will Literally Change Your Life
My young friend was in law school and although very bright, her huge emotional struggles were getting ready to derail her. She was thinking about dropping out of law school.
“You’ve got to quarantine your WMDs,” I explained.
“How would I ever do that?” she asked. “My day is filled with me thinking about my problems.”
Of course, that did not surprise me. People with huge emotional problems always spend a lot of time swimming in their WMDs.
If you are someone who struggles with heavy discouragement or depression, quarantining your WMDs (What’s Missing and Disappointing) to one of the 3 times that the Genie allows will literally change your life. I know that’s a strong statement, but it’s true.
I’ve been talking to people about their problems for the last 35 years and every time someone is severely discouraged or depressed, it is because they do not quarantine their WMDs and instead, think about their problems all day long.
If we could see your emotions somehow portrayed on a computer screen, we would be able to tell you with enormous accuracy what kind of negative thoughts you’ve been thinking. Thoughts determine emotions and it is crucial that you quarantine your WMDs and Move into Another Room in your Brain. Otherwise, it is predictable that you will suffer heavy discouragement or depression.
People repeatedly tell me that their mind goes to their “problem” when they have free time to think. They mull over their problem, pounding their mind with What’s Missing and Disappointing. YOU. CAN. NOT. DO. THIS. You must, you must, you must quarantine. This is a new habit, and changing habits is something humans are not very good at.
Some people are just more inclined to ruminate about their WMDs. You know the type. When you ask them how they are, they reply with what’s wrong in their life. If you were reared by this kind of parent, beware that you will need to work on a total reboot. You’ve learned how to think so far by listening to your parents talk. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45b NIV).
But that is not a permanent life sentence. You can relearn how to think like an optimistic, Philippians 4:8 person. (By the way, your parents were doing the best they could at the time. Lesson 9 will address relationships.)
Remember, you can think about your WMDs if you’re researching answers for your problem, talking to someone who can help, or praying. Otherwise, put your concerns in a locked vault and don’t open the vault until the next time you’re in one of those three situations.
You have control over what you think about. Therefore, emotional freedom is available to you.
An Unusual Scenario of a Prayerful Friend
A single friend of mine who is in her fifties—and who walks closely with the Lord—has been in a hard financial situation for about 10 years. She is an honest, frugal, likeable, and hard-working person and the fact that she’s in this low-paying, difficult job is surprising.
She keeps asking the Lord, “What is going on?” For months (actually, more like a couple of years), she has fasted and prayed, while pouring over Scripture and seeking the Lord about what to do. The Lord has repeatedly told her in her spirit just to wait. This advice seems counterintuitive, looking at her outward circumstances. But again and again, the counsel she received in prayer was to wait.
In her journal, my friend had a page where she reframed, refuted, and replaced her thinking about her problem. In the left column of the page, she would write, “Job/finances.” In the center column (the action column), she would write, “Fast. Pray. Wait.” And then in the right column, Reframing, Refuting, or Replacing WMDs, she wrote, “God hears me. He has given me instructions for this particular situation, although they seem unusual. I will wait on Him to fight for me. He is coming.”
Often my friend would read a passage in Scripture and God’s spirit would say to her, “This passage is for you.” One example she gave me was Luke 5. The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus told them to “let down the nets for a catch.” (If Jesus had said this to hard-headed me, I probably would’ve said, “We already tried that. Any other ideas?”)
Jesus was certainly giving counter-intuitive advice. But because Jesus said so, they let down the nets again.
The passage continues: “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”
My friend said that in her spirit, she knew that through this passage, the Lord was saying to her, “Do as I say and fast, pray, and wait. I will bring the large number of fish to you in My time.”
Well, guess what? God did an outrageous thing. He actually dropped a job into her lap that she enjoys and she makes twice as much money. I mean, she did nothing. (Well, actually, I don’t think you can say fasting and wrestling with God in prayer are nothing.)
This is walking by faith, not by sight. This is living above your circumstances. This is girding up the loins of your mind. This is rejoicing by thinking about whatsoever is true. Many believers live below their privilege; they limp when they should mount up on wings of eagles.
I love to tell what a beloved Sunday School teacher of yesteryear, Faye Hardy, said in her lesson one Sunday: “I barely know what God is telling me. How would I know what He is telling you?” Yes, of course, you want wise counselors to help you think, but they cannot hear what God is telling you in your spirit.
God can give you hope. He spoke the universe into existence and He can handle whatever you have going on.
How Should We Think About Grief?
One of my early readers of Happy School asked me about the emotion of grief as she had recently lost a dear, older relative. Another reader in a different group lost her baby girl when the infant was 3 months old. Many of us have experienced heart-wrenching grief. Grief is an important human emotion and is a healthy response to loss.
So how are we to think about grief? Is there a difference between healthy grief and unhealthy grief?
When I was 11, my grandfather died at only 62. My grandmother (not a believer) had so much grief that she did not laugh for 10 years. I’m not kidding, 10 years. I remember where I was the day I heard her laugh again.
Eventually (I’m not giving specific timelines here) there comes a time when we have to say that life is for the living and therefore, we have to put our grief in a box on a shelf in heaven, where “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). It doesn’t mean we don’t love the person or that their memory is no longer important. We are not dishonoring our loved one by trying to move on. But eventually we must re-enter life, and we can do so by Moving into Another Room in Our Brain when our grief plagues us for too long.
If you are experiencing grief, take time to heal. But know too that the principles in Happy School can prevent unhealthy, prolonged grieving. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Paul was telling the Thessalonians to think differently. He didn’t want them to sorrow excessively like those who have no hope. Christians are to bathe their mind with the fact/thought that Jesus has conquered death. We can think correctly instead of spiraling down into inescapable sorrow.
Some of you have had miscarriages and are still grieving. Of course, one should grieve after such a loss. But bathe your mind with the glorious hope and comfort Paul wrote about to the Corinthian church around A.D. 55, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). You will see your baby again.
Here is a beautiful, moving poem I once heard at a funeral called We Remember Them by Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer. It was written about a beloved parent.
At the rising sun and at its going down;
We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter;
We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring;
We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer;
We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn;
We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends;
We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as
We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength;
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart;
We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make;
We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share;
We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs;
We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as
We remember them.
You want to honor the one you’ve lost with your grief. However, at some point, they probably want you to quarantine your grief and get on with your life. I’m not telling you when. But maybe God is whispering that it’s time to get back to the land of the living. If not now, then soon.
Thank You for your Word and how it is living. Adrian Rogers said, “You read most books. This book reads you.” Thank you for how Your spirit convicts me when I wash my mind with Your Word.
Although unknowingly, I have lived in the lowlands and have despaired for too long. I have awfulized and catastrophized. I have ruminated about What’s Missing and Disappointing instead of Your magnificent promises.
In the New Testament, Bartimaeus couldn’t see, the lame man couldn’t walk, and the lepers were not healed. But then, enter JESUS! So Lord, although I can’t see how You’re going to work out the mess I’m in, in Your Glorious Name, I ask you to do so!
You taught, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11) I believe that you’re a good Father! I believe!
I wait on You, and in Your time, I know You will come.
In the name above all names, Jesus,
Questions for Group Discussion
- Do you let non-urgent matters get you upset? Do you let the little foxes spoil your vineyard? Share an example with the group. How will you handle it better next time?
- When things don’t go as you want, what is your typical reaction? Do you have a tendency to awfulize or catastrophize?
- Do you have a very solemn and hurtful situation that is trying to bury you? If you feel comfortable (you don’t have to), share it with the group.
- Lamentations 3 says, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore, I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Discuss what this verse means to you.
- In Day 2, Part B, there is this sentence: “Live under the authority of the Word and then live above your circumstances by the hope given in the promises of Scripture.” How are you doing with living under the authority of the Word as well as living above your circumstances?
- How would you describe your ability to dial down your initial emotional reaction to a situation? Describe what it would mean in your life for you to move from being angry to annoyed, from devastated to disappointed, and from cataclysmic to unpreferred.
- Do you have any recurring “Must Do’s” and if so, do you waste time dreading them?
- Describe how you’re doing with the concept of quarantining. Are you able to reframe, refute, or replace any of your WMDs?
- Think about if you’re walking by faith, or by sight. Many believers live below their privilege; they limp when they should mount up on wings of eagles. What about you?
- If you are grieving and are comfortable, share your situation with the group. Do you still need more time to heal or is God whispering to you that you need to return to the land of the living?