In school we used to have to learn things “by heart,” like our multiplication tables. You need to know your phone number, or social security number by heart. My husband still knows all his friends’ phone numbers from growing up years by heart. People who know number stuff by heart amaze me. I am a person that numbers are meaningless to. When someone talks about numbers they jumble around, and the person ends up sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Mwa, Mwa, Mwa.” I do not mean to, but it happens.
Recently, I have had some conversations with people who have loved ones struggling with dementia or Alzheimers. It is so interesting to me about what people remember, and what they forget. How these days of being lost have certain spaces of things definitely known by heart. My husband used to go visit a man that was struggling with remembering much, but every visit he would tell my husband how many hours went into building the church building we use now, how much in supplies and manpower it took, and how much people gave of their own resources to make that happen. He told my husband these numbers every week. When our church visits the nursing homes in our area, it becomes obvious that many are lost in their own little world. Some are very content there, and others are not. When we start singing the old hymns something comes to life in many and whether they can vocalize or not, they sing along. Another friend is a caretaker for her mom, and it is quite a heartache and burden. This woman spews venom in her words and says things that break my friend’s heart. She reminds herself that her mom is not in her right mind, but all the same, all that is in there.
As I am pondering identity of who I am and who I want to be, these stories got me thinking about what is closest to my heart. What grooves in my brain are strongest, and what would bubble out as most important? For some of these people schedules are super important and numbers, for others the wrongs that someone had done them, for some stories of childhood. What am I rehearsing whether consciously, or not? Is it a hurt or a wrong, something I have, or want, or something that was lacking, or seems to be lacking?
I was thinking about blessings and how easy it is to forget them, but how easy it is to remember a wrong or a hurt. These ruts seem so much easier to fall into and stay in than those of gratitude and gifts. Caroline Leaf in her book Switch on Your Brain explains how our minds think and can be molded one way or another.
Thoughts are real, physical things that occupy mental real estate. Moment by moment, every day, you are changing the structure of your brain through your thinking. When we hope, it is an activity of the mind that changes the structure of our brain in a positive and normal direction.
When I read her book, I was thankful for how she connected neuroscience with the Bible. Of course the designer of our brain and hearts knows how to help us think best and live best. “As (wo)man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7).”
What am I dwelling on? What am I delighting in? What do I treasure? There will come a time where it will be harder to retrieve these things, but the more that is in there, the more connections to those hopeful things the chance of those things spilling out increase. I am reminded of God’s words in many places in scripture that challenge me to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) In Philippians Paul reminds us, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (4:4-9) This peace Paul says will guard our heart and mind as we set our hearts and minds above.
I think back to Mary as we celebrate the Epiphany (when the wisemen paid a visit to Jesus), and how in this section of scripture we find Mary pondering and treasuring all that she had seen and heard. She was consciously marking those moments. We know she did not forget them and was able to pass them on to Matthew and Luke because we have those accounts today. I desire to be a woman that spills forth the treasures I have found in pondering, and finding great delight in God ways, word, and works. I do not know what will come out in those days when I no longer can control what comes out, but I am trusting that the more I put into the treasure house of what is good, lovely, and pure, and really think on those things or as the amplified Bible states: think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them], that there will be more delightful things to wash away the bitterness or discontent from life’s tougher moments. I know that this will not happen by accident, so again I commit to being intentional with being still, pondering and recording the gifts in a gratitude journal, wash my mind in the word, and choose to dwell on what is pure lovely and good. I also choose to keep asking God to help me to do everything without complaining or grumbling, as Ann Voskamp says, “to only speak words that make souls stronger,” (especially my own).
As I think of all this, I know it is a tall order, but I also know that God designed me to grow in this, if I will intentionally choose to think His thoughts, and allow Him to give me a new mind and heart. He is the one who began this good work so I will daily choose to let Him complete it, and when I fail, I will ask Him to forgive me and fill in the gaps with His love and mercy. I am thankful He is faithful. I want to know God by heart, and when I do not, I am so thankful that He knows me by heart, and there is nothing that can cause Him to forget me or forsake me.