Many years ago, I agreed to attend a healing Mass with a friend. To be honest, I was afraid. I wasn’t sure I belonged there, or had the right to ask to be prayed over because I wasn’t physically sick. There was no terrifying diagnosis, no broken bones. I didn’t even have the sniffles. However, what I did have was killing me.
I was spiritually ill; literally sick from not doing God’s will.
Uncertain of how it all happened, I found myself on a path that was leading me far away from the Lord. Consumed by the fear of money running out, struggling in my marriage, and barely holding onto my sanity raising four small kids, all I could think about was how badly I wanted out of my life and how much better everyone else had it. My mind was a battlefield, and the enemy was all over it.
Do you ever think about what you think about? Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory, and she has this to say about our thoughts: “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.” 
Makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
Scientists aren’t the only ones who have something to say about our thoughts. Scripture is full of references to the mind and our thoughts. The most common verse is Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
What do you dwell on?
When you go to bed, do you think about all the things on your to-do list that you didn’t get to? Or do you recall all the things you did get done?
When you wake up, do you hit snooze, delaying the dreaded day ahead? Or do you roll out of bed and onto your knees, beginning your day in thanksgiving?
Are your thoughts stuck in the past, dragging you down the path of shame and regret? Or do you stay present to the moment, trusting that God knows what He is doing and that His plan for you is good?
If our thoughts precede our actions, and hope can change the structure of our brain, than mindset is everything. Romans 12:2 instructs us: “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind; that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” In other words, live different. Think with the mind of Christ. Keep your thoughts holy so your actions will be holy, and in doing so, you will be able to recognize God’s will for your life.
And that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s what we are all after, right? Knowing what on earth it is that God wants us to do. Discovering that good plan He has for us. According to Romans, the way to find out is by the renewal of our minds, but easier said than done. Our minds are so powerful, running 24 hours a day. We think nonstop. Did you know that I can pray the rosary, and plan dinner, and worry about everything all at the same time? And don’t get me started on how well I can focus on what might happen someday; which for the record, is never good. It’s terrible, really. Because the more we focus on something, the more that something controls us. And knowing this, the enemy works overtime, blinding our minds because he understands that if he can keep our minds in the dark, we will never be able to see the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-5).
So while renewing our minds sounds great in theory, practically speaking, how do we this? I have three suggestions.
We may not be able to choose what thoughts come into our minds, but we can choose whether we keep them there. So let us be of sound mind, holding every thought captive to Christ, weeding out unhealthy roots, and dwelling on whatever is good.
Thinking of you, and praying as always,
 Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018)
 Caroline Leaf, “How To Detox Your Brain Part I” (January 12, 2018), https://youtu.be/P9UtL9_2jZA
What does it mean to live the good life? How can I be happy? What choices will get me there? How we answer these questions has everything to do with the voices we choose to listen to. A life is formed through many small, seemingly insignificant decisions. Bit by bit, we become the result of choices that we all too often make without much reflection.
As summer ends, many of us are feeling that our schedules have heated up. We're jumping back in to life with varied degrees of readiness and are determined to start well. Our focus turns to our calendars, and it's tempting to assume that as long as we are checking off everything on the agenda, we're nailing it. But how are our hearts doing in the midst of the increase in activity? Are we riding the rollercoaster of appointments and check-lists without making sure our minds and hearts are in the right place?
How our day unfolds and feels has less to do with our circumstances and activities than our mindset. While we can't control which events we'll encounter, we can always decide what our attitude will be. Will we filter everything that happens through a lens of gratitude? Will we be kind to ourselves by seeing ourselves through God's eyes? Will we look at suffering as something that always has purpose?
More and more, I am convinced that getting our attitude in the right place has everything to do with how we start each day.
St. Josemaria Escriva coined a phrase that I think is so compelling: the heroic minute. He writes,
The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation; a supernatural reflection and…up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God's help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It's so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.¹
I realize that reading the word mortification probably makes you want to run for the hills. Who wants to start the day with something that sounds unpleasant? But stay with me for a minute. How do you feel when you get up and are behind the eight ball before things have even begun? Your first movements are rushed, requests come at you and require your attention, and all you can think is that you have got to clear your head and get some coffee. It's starting the day reacting instead of responding. It's feeling under siege and not knowing exactly why. It's also entirely avoidable.
Giving God the first minutes of your day will pay dividends later. I promise you He will multiply your time. You'll get more done and have a peaceful heart while doing it.
But it's not just a matter of hauling your body out of bed. Resetting your mind is the critical step if you want your day to be the best it possibly can. Which begs the questions:
Which mindset will best equip me to face the day with inner strength and gratitude?
How do I gain that mindset?
St. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We renew our minds by looking at things from God's perspective. This is something we need to do every day. Otherwise our thoughts and emotions will be in the driver's seat, and the ride will be anything but smooth. The best mindset is God's, and we gain it by listening to Him. While few people hear His audible voice, we all can hear His voice speaking through Scripture.
As you head into this new season, I pray that you will make Scripture reading a high priority in your life. Doing this in the context of authentic community makes it even more transformative. The Walking with Purpose Bible studies are formatted to make it easy to read the Bible each day. Instead of opening up to a random verse, you're guided to relevant passages and questions for reflection that help you apply what you've read. The readings give your mind something to chew on for the day. If you actually apply what you read, you will make significant progress in the spiritual life. What I've written relates to the problems, heartaches, and searching that I've experienced over the years. As I've traveled and spoken to thousands of women, I've had the privilege of listening to them unburdening their hearts. I've found that our struggles are universal. We are not alone. My writing aims to touch the heart, strengthen the will, and enlighten the mind. The goal is transformation- that what we read would impact how we live.
But what if you can't start your day this way? No worries. Just look for the first pocket of quiet in your schedule. It always comes, but we usually don't notice because we've fill it with mindless scrolling through our social media feeds or checking our email. What might change if instead of grabbing your phone, you did a short Bible study? It'll just take fifteen minutes, but the impact of that choice will be felt throughout the day.
Much of what I've written speaks of God's unconditional love for you, and everything I've written should be filtered through that perspective. When God asks us to get moving, or change a bad habit, or do something that feels out of our comfort zone, it is always because He wants what is best for us. He is not a cosmic kill joy. He is a good Father who wants His children to flourish.
May what you read travel from your mind to your heart, going beyond information to transformation. May you meet Jesus in the pages of His Word, and may your trust in Him grow. “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen,” (Jude 24-25).
With you on the journey,
¹ St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way (NY: Doubleday, 1982), 33.
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