We sat in the car, driving along route 22 in Pennsylvania. It had been a long week and I wasn’t sure if my son had had a particularly good one. With a new school and having to make new friends, I wondered how everything was going.
“Tell me what you’re thinking,” I said.
And the rest just flowed. We talked about new friends and old, about navigating a new school building and about what kids were like. The conversation didn’t last long but it was just what the doctor ordered. The father-son “pulse check” was complete.
This is a strategy we can also use in prayer.
By starting our prayer time with a personal inventory, a sort of check-in, we are laying it all out there for the Lord. Sometimes we feel a certain way and that bleeds into our devotional time. I find that telling God what’s on our mind is just as valuable.
The end-of-day Ignatian examen is a genius way to complete the day. Let’s not ignore the power of the start of our day and the many things on our minds at that time of the day.
When you take stock of your thoughts, you accomplish three things:
You become aware. By sharing your thoughts with God, you are then more mindful of what’s bothering you, what preoccupies you and what is lingering in your head.
You become grateful. We are so fortunate to have a God who wants to know us personally. He wants us to share what we are thinking and feeling. This produces gratefulness. We are not alone.
You learn to surrender. Sometimes, our thoughts are quite strong. At other times, we can just let them go and move on. In either case, we learn to offer up to the Lord what we carry into prayer.
After all, what we are thinking is often what we are feeling.
As an example, I might say, “God I’m thinking about the day ahead and I have some anxiety...” Or, how about, “Lord I’m thinking of my mom’s friend who is very sick.” Both examples are on my heart (feelings) but also on my mind (thoughts).
The Bible isn’t absent on this point. Romans 12:2 speaks of this feeling-thought dynamic:
The process of renewing our thoughts takes practice. Many of us, I’m speaking from experience, can let thought patterns develop over decades. These are hard to change. What I’ve found, with years of practice, is that a daily sharing with God of what I’m thinking is the best remedy for unhealthy thoughts.
I realized in my late thirties that I had a very primitive view of God. He was the professor grading my life with a red pen. I could never measure up to His high standard. This thought pattern took years to unearth. Thankfully, it only took a few years to reshape.
Saint Teresa of Avila also speaks to this. She says, “It isn’t good to let our thoughts disturb us or worry us at all.” St. Thomas More contributes this advice, “Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.”
Our thoughts matter to God. Why not begin each day’s devotions with a sharing of them with the Lord?