Does GOD forgive my random and crazy thoughts?
Picture this: you are having a good day minding your own business when you come home to something no one ever wants to experience. That fateful day someone broke into your house and robbed you. The thief rummaged through drawers, stole personal items, and left your house in disarray. Your beloved home has been infringed upon, leaving you feeling violated and vulnerable. This visitor was unwelcome. He was an intruder. Just as robbers intrude homes, intrusive thoughts intrude minds. An intrusive thought is an unwelcome and involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. Typically, intrusive thoughts surround violence, religion, or inappropriate sexual content. For example, if you fear that you will harm your dog that you love, it is an intrusive, unwelcome thought, as you do not desire any harm. Whereas this thought would not disturb someone who actually abuses animals, so it is not intrusive to them.
The degree to which people experience intrusive thoughts varies greatly. At some point in time, most people experience some level of intrusive thoughts. Generally, people can dismiss them soon after it enters their mind. These are known as fleeting thoughts. On the other end of the spectrum, these intrusive thoughts can become obsessive to some people, often those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. The same negative thought could be short-lived and dismissed or consuming and obsessive. For example, a fleeting thought could come in the form of “I could just choke him/ her.” As soon as that thought appears, most people can immediately dismiss it without any further attention. However someone with OCD, for example, could have the same thought, but be unable to dismiss it. This person would then become fearful of actually following through, although they have no intention or desire to harm anyone. This fear then takes over and the intrusive thought replays constantly in their mind. Searching for relief from the obsession, the person can rely on compulsive behavior. They can resist following through with a compulsive behavior; however, they cannot prevent the intrusive thought from entering. In this instance, an example of compulsion may be praying for forgiveness for the thought. Although the initial prayer provides temporary relief, the thought will return, starting the cycle over again. Despite frequent thoughts, people rarely act on them.
People with or without a disorder can experience intrusive thoughts by an attack from Satan. This phenomenon dates back to the earliest chapter of the Bible. In Genesis, Satan asked Eve questions, causing doubt about what God instructed. Satan’s cunning words transformed Eve’s thoughts from those of trusting God to those of disbelief. Although Satan is no longer physically present around us, he continues to attack our thoughts. One way he does this is by causing people to believe that their sins are worse and/ or unforgivable. Regarding the continuum of intrusive thoughts, anything beyond a fleeting thought, from attacks by Satan to disorders, can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt says “I have done something wrong” or “I am fearful of doing something wrong,” and shame says “there is something wrong with me.”
Let’s take a moment for an experiment. Intentionally, do not think about a pink elephant. As with any problem, people naturally try to avoid distressing thoughts. Because it is unwelcome, people tend to try to “just not think about it.” Just as you are probably thinking about our pink elephant, so are people with their unwelcome thought. “Just not thinking about it” makes us focus on it more, giving it power. Clearly, although common, trying to avoid the intrusive thought fails. However, there are many ways to cope that are successful. These techniques include but are not limited to: acknowledge the thought and that it is intrusive, allow the thought to pass through your mind, intentionally focus on something else, expose yourself to the thought, challenge the thought, reach out to someone, and put truth in. As we discussed, while avoiding the thought is natural, we actually need to do the opposite: acknowledge it. We must both acknowledge what the thought is and what it is intrusive. By doing this, the fear diminishes and takes the power away from the intrusion. The next coping skill is to allow the thought to pass through your mind. One way of accomplishing this is to visualize yourself on a train looking out the window. Picture the thoughts as words outside of your window, while the train is moving. In this visualization, you will see the thoughts pass by, as you move on.
Going back to our experiment with the elephant, instead of trying not to think about a pink elephant, think about a giraffe. By intentionally focusing on something else, our brain is distracted from the intrusive thought. Whatever we focus on expands; therefore, we want to focus on positive thoughts. Another coping skill is to expose yourself to the thought, so the fear diminishes. For example, if your intrusive thought is that you are afraid of harming people, you may not want to leave your house. However, the best thing to do is to leave your house, so you can see that you are not harming people.
We can also challenge the thought. To fully grasp this concept, a helpful tool is Dr. David Burns’ Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking. Just one way he provides is to examine the evidence. He suggests, “Instead of assuming that your negative thought is true, examine the
actual evidence for it. For example, if you feel that you never do anything right, you could list several things you have done successfully.”
Next, we can reach out to someone. God created us for a relationship with Him and other people. Sharing these intrusive thoughts with others gives those we trust the opportunity to counter the thoughts and pray for us. Lastly, as intrusive thoughts are lies, putting truth into our minds is helpful. We can do this by looking up scripture and listening to worship music. The Soul Care Bible summarizes Psalm 91:2 with the simple truth: “direct your attention toward your true source of hope.” It also paraphrases Isaiah 26:3 by saying “keep your thoughts on God in order to have peace.”
Think back to our robber. Just as he was an uninvited intruder, so are intrusive thoughts. While these thoughts can vary from fleeting to obsessive, our new techniques can help anybody learn to manage them. If you are unable to manage on your own, seek a counselor to help navigate these intrusive thoughts.
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