What do you tell yourself?

(by request, my homily from Sunday)

What do you tell yourself?

What’s going through your mind?

I’m not talking about figuring out how something’s going to work. Or what you think about when you’re focused on something.

I’m talking about what’s going through your mind when you’re not focused. The thoughts you have - when you’re not really thinking about anything.

The background noise for your life.

The things you’re telling yourself, whether you mean to or not.

Because those things have an impact. Especially when they’re negative. And that’s true whether you’re worrying about something, or someone. Or you.

Not rich enough. Not thin enough. Not good enough.

One-offs are bad enough. But when those thoughts repeat? That’s when they hit the hardest. 

At their worst, they can feel constant. Becoming the background noise for your life. Like a gif or a 10-second audio clip that repeats. And repeats. And repeats. 

Only instead of being fun or harmless, when it’s something negative, it hits a weak spot. Every time. And gains power with repetition. 

Even if it’s not true. 

The problem isn’t with the repetition. It’s with the focus of what’s repeating. Which is the point of the first reading. And why I’m asking.

Because what your tell yourself, what you focus on, has a lot to do with your relationship with God.

Remember the last time you started a job? Going through all of the paperwork when you were hired, you got asked if you wanted to have a few dollars taken out of your paycheck every time for a life insurance policy. Not a big one, just a burial policy. Enough to cover the cost of a funeral. “If you die,” as they put it.

Like there’s a choice.

Some of us treat our relationship with God like a burial policy. Something we do once, and forget about. We received the sacraments. Checked the boxes. Did what we needed to do to set everything up.

And then? We really don’t think about it much.

Like that burial policy, our relationship with God just sits there. Ready to go if you need it. “If you die.”

Until then, we’ll take care of things on our own.

With little or no thought of God. Much less any place in our lives for God.

So it’s no surprise that we get pushed around by whatever happens to run through our mind. Especially the stuff that’s stuck on repeat.

My house is over a hundred years old. When you live in an old house, you’re always finding things you didn’t know about. Sometimes they turn into repair bills, sometimes they’re just odd. Like a random lights switch. But sometimes they’re great. Like a couple years ago when I found the house’s original well.

I cleaned the well out. Put an old-school hand pump on it. And now I use it to water the flowers outside. Which means that I do it, one watering can at a time. Pumping water to refill the bucket each time it’s empty.

For most of us, our relationship with God is kind of like that bucket.

We get our bucket filled, going to Mass, prayer. Whatever we do to fill it up. And then we’re off on our own. Doing whatever we do. Until the bucket runs dry.

More like, until we notice that the bucket is dry.

Or, if we’re honest, when that becomes a problem for us.

Because we kind of like doing it on our own. With little or no thought of God. Much less any place in our lives for God. At least - when it’s easy.

So it’s no surprise that we get pushed around by whatever happens to run through our mind. Especially the stuff that’s stuck on repeat.

And that’s how it goes. Until things to get bad enough. When they do? Well, then we’ll run back to God and get our bucket filled.

When you think about it that way, what most of us do doesn’t sound like it’s working. Actually, it sounds kind of miserable. And it is.

When it comes to negative thoughts that are repeating, the ones that have made themselves the background noise of our lives, well - I’ll just tell you.

They can’t be argued with or reasoned away. Even if they’re not true. It’s almost like no matter what I do, they’re still going to keep playing, they’re still going to do what they do.

So what do we do about it?

I don’t know that I have the answer. But as a recovering bucket-user, I can tell you what I’ve been doing.

I’ve been doing a little hijacking. Of my own thoughts.

The moment that I realize it’s happening, and sometimes that takes me longer than I would like. But the moment that I realize it’s happening, I turn to God. 

I don’t try to ignore those thoughts. Or to distract myself. I don’t try to drown them out with Church stuff.

None of that works. Not for long.

Instead, I hijack my thoughts. And make them my call to prayer.

Not to pray instead of thinking those thoughts. But to take whatever my thoughts are focused on, and bring it to God. Like a former spiritual director of mine told me to do. 

Not asking God to make it stop. Or asking God to fix something. But introducing the whole sloppy mess to God. As if it was a first-time visitor. And then telling God everything.

Whatever my thoughts have been about. Letting God know everything my thoughts have been telling me.

Telling God about what it’s been like having those thoughts. Nothing held back.

And if any of them relate to something real, asking God to be with me in whatever it is. Then just being silent with God.

And if those thoughts start up again?

More like when those thoughts start up again.

When those thoughts start up again, I bring them to God as well. I let God know that this is exactly what I was telling Him about.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a one-and-done. This is something you have to do. And keep doing.

Keep treating that background noise like a first-time visitor. Keep telling God all about it. Nothing held back. Every time.

Not that God doesn’t know all about it already. The good you’re doing isn’t about telling God something that God needs to know.

The good you’re doing is about swapping places.

It’s about taking the background noise that wants you to believe that it’s a reflection of your inmost being. That it somehow deserves a place in your heart and in your mind. And seeing it for what it really is, a nuisance. With about as much impact, as much real meaning as a dog barking in someone else’s yard.

It’s about having real and lasting peace, peace grounded in reality. The kind of peace we hear about at every Eucharist.

The kind of peace that can only come from giving that place in your heart and your mind to the One who it was made for. To the One who made it in the first place.

That is a thought worth repeating.

So, what’s going through your mind?

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