Monday, January 3, 2011

Ruminations and Reappraisals

Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. Psalm 119: 97-98

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. Ephesians 1: 3-4

And He said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart. Luke 2: 49-50

Some people go through life without a thought or care. Others of us tend to analyze everything we do.

During the years I was blessed to teach kindergarten I remember watching the boys dive into play with few words and little planning and watching the girls verbally discuss and plan every detail to the point where they barely did any playing.

For those of us who spent a large segment of our "doing" time thinking and analyzing we have two ways we can accomplish this chore; we can ruminate or we can reappraise.

When we ruminate we churn things over and over in our minds. We examine every detail, over-praise and over criticize. In ruminating, we see ourselves as being in the center of everything and responsible for all.

Ruminating highly correlates with depression and anxiety. This does not mean that ruminating causes depression or anxiety, or that we can diagnose ourselves, as such, if we find ourselves ruminating. It just means that ruminating often occurs with depression and anxiety. When you ruminate you replay, over and over, the worries and disappointments of the day. In this way, cause yourself to feel sad and worrisome longer.

It is hard to see a good side to rumination; unless, of course, you are bovine.

Reappraising is the alternative to chewing your mental cud. When you reappraise you practice reinterpretation and mindfulness. Instead of reliving the worry, sadness or anxiety over and over, you reinterpret the situation looking for the positive aspect. Then you add to that by practicing mindfulness which is a way of being aware of what is happening and separating yourself from it. New fMRI studies are showing that rumination and reappraisal are accompanied by visible changes in our brains.

So, when we feel sad or worried and we think maybe our repetitive thought are driving us crazy we don't need to worry because it's not just all in our head . . . no wait, maybe it is . . . hmmm, I mean we aren't just imagining this, it is really something that happens . . . or is it? I guess it is happening in our brains but, yet . . . um, I think I am ruminating on this issue. Let's move on.

Whenever I learn a new idea from the world I like to re-examine it through the eyes of faith. And because I am a well-trained Lutheran I usually see things through the lens of law and grace.

Let's try rumination as law and reappraisal as grace.

When we look at our lives in the spirit of the law we can see only what we do wrong and because we have no hope of meeting the demands of the law, on our own, these thoughts sow seeds of despair.

When we look at our lives in the spirit of grace we can be mindful of the fact that God is aware of our wrongs and saves us from them through the redeeming blood of His Son. Through our God-given faith we can begin to see the good that God will bring out of everything that happens to us. We are also confident of the ultimate good found in our salvation.

Now, psychology would tell us to avoid rumination at all costs and to only engage in reappraisal. But, psychology can't save us.

I have known people, like myself, who can wallow in our own mental cud and waste our days ruminating over every little thing. We are not a happy group. People do not want to be around us. We are major party-poopers.

Yet, I have also known people who rewrite everything as not being their fault; convincing themselves they have no need to change or grow. They are not mindful of their own responsibility. They don't see a need to be saved.

Faith tells us we need both law and grace. We need to be mindful of our sin. We need to feel the guilt of what we have done and of what we have left undone.

But God knows we can't stay there. We need to also be mindful of His love and mercy. We need to re-examine the truth that we cannot save ourselves. We need to remember that Salvation has already been won. We need to feel God's forgiveness, and in turn forgive ourselves and those who have hurt us. We need to meditate on this, feel the blessings of this truth, and treasure it in our hearts.

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