Unfortunately, lockdown is a perfect storm for over-thinkers like me.
With its combination of empty diary pages and the daily flow of pandemic news, my tendency towards analytical overdrive has only gotten worse.
And the busier my mind gets, the less I seem to achieve. Like a fairground roller-coaster, my thoughts, dilemmas, worries and fears go round and round never reaching any kind of conclusion.
It is exhausting.
Indecision brings confusion. It leads me into a paralysis of analysis that achieves nothing of value and steals my peace and forward motion. Over-thinking tells me that fear is carefulness; it persuades me to trade accomplishment for ‘keeping my options open’. And like the hall of mirrors in a Fun House, it leaves me in a dead end with an distorted view of myself and my circumstances.
There is a book in the Bible that speaks strongly to us over-thinkers, the Book of James. If you haven’t read it recently, open it up. I did this week and the familiar words were still painfully challenging.
‘But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, will be blessed in his doing.’ James 1.22-25
James is clear. Power lies in doing things, not just thinking about them. And the first dangerous step towards deception is to stop doing anything. The minute my faith becomes something I only think about, when it only consists of theories and metaphors, I have moved away from the mirror and I am in danger of losing my way.
There is somethings very grounding about looking in a mirror. It helps us see things as they are, not as we wish them to be. After weeks of quarantine, every glance in the mirror reminds me how I desperately need to see my hairdresser! It also reveals that I haven’t been outside in the sun enough recently and that I better ease off the snacks or I won’t fit into my mother-of-the-bride dress when it is needed.
I can’t escape the truth when I look in the mirror.
But I can walk away and forget.
God’s truth is my mirror. It reminds me of the reality of my condition. If I look at it with an open heart it restores perspective and helps me to resist the unnecessary rabbit holes that over-thinking leads me down.
But is the acting on that truth that keeps me from forgetting it.
Before experiencing this season of enforced rest, I really believed that a quieter routine would automatically lead to a quieter soul. I have now discovered it is not that easy. It is perfectly possible for me to sit in my garden, surrounded by peace and tranquillity while I reap a whirlwind in my mind that churns out anxiety and fear. And it happens more often than I wold ever want to admit.
But James gives us a key to ending this cycle.
Be a doer.
Act. Begin. Obey. Follow through.
Create. Design. Fix. Build.
Thank. Praise. Worship. Pray.
Sometimes we need to tell ourselves to file away questions and to put pending decisions on the back burner. There are things we don’t know, things we can’t control, things we don’t understand. Clarity will come soon enough but until it does, there are things we can do.
Because that is where the power is and that is where the blessing is.
The enemy is quite happy when I am over-thinking, living in the busy world in my head. Because in that world there is no grace for me. Grace is only found when I live in the present. When my mind is stuck in lockdown limbo I can’t make promised-land progress. God’s promises in my life are only ever received by faith and an atmosphere of over-thinking only produces hesitancy, fear, indecision and doubt.
It is okay that there are circumstances we are confused about right now. It is okay to feel unsure about certain decisions and bewildered about how the current situation will play out long-term. But it is not okay to stop being a doer.
In the midst of waiting for God’s direction, we can still move forward in faith. If we are experiencing indecision in an area of our lives, we can turn our attention to other ways to obey.
This is a great time to pull out old journals and sermon notes and remind ourselves of truths we heard and never acted upon. It is the time to dig deep in God’s Word and to put into practice what we find because even in times where we have little control of our lives there is always something we can do, something we can obey, someone we can bless or serve.
And I suspect when we choose action over endless thinking, wisdom from God’s heart will come and we will see the right way ahead for our lives when the time is right.
So lets’ get out of our heads and back in the real world. Let’s choose sunshine on our faces today, petting our dogs and Zooming our friends. Let’s turn off the news. Lets create something good to eat or make something pretty to look at. Let’s breathe and trust and worship and laugh. Let’s do something.
Let’s look for every opportunity to do good and to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit so that lockdown, despite its frustrations and worries, will be a beautifully fruitful season in our lives.