The Need for Two Pockets

Like so many things in life, self-esteem needs to be balanced. The balance is between humility and pride. The following is attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim, one of the leaders of Hasidic Judaism in Poland in the late 1700s and early 1800s:

Everyone must have two pockets so that he can reach into one or the other according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words, “For my sake was the world created,” and in his left pocket, “I am dust and ashes” (quoted in The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 60).

Indeed, there is something magnificent about every individual. No one will ever be exactly like you or have just your combination of gifts. To you and to us all God gave the earth, saying,

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food (Gen 1:28-29).

We have exhibited this mastery both as individuals and communally. Ours are science, learning, poetry, philosophy, art, law, technology, libraries, and great universities. We have built cities and civilizations. We’ve even been to the moon and back. No animal species—not even the highest primates—demonstrates anything even close to the qualities we have or has done anything that compares with what we have done. We have spiritual souls and rational minds. There is something glorious about the human person.

Yet we must also remember that we are but dust and ashes. We are contingent beings who depend on God for everything. Every beat of our heart, every fiber of our being, must be caused and sustained by Him. Scripture says,

As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more
(Psalm 103:13-16).

Our glory is a humble, derived, reflected one. Whatever spark of glory we have it is but a spark; it is from God, whose glory is unsurpassable.

Remember well your glory, but also your neediness and contingency. Whatever your gifts (and you do have them) remember that they are from God and are often granted through others.

Yes, two pockets: one for esteem, the other for humility.

Pondering Pride, the Most Perilous of All Sins

blog11-18Pride is a sin that is so pervasive, and that runs so deep within us, we often don’t even sense it is there. Not only is it is a sinful drive in itself, it also plays a role in every other sin we commit. It is the sin we most share with Satan and all the fallen angels. Satan refused to serve God or to submit to His plan, and these are strong tendencies in every human person as well. Satan planned his strategy well as he tempted Eve: you will be like God. Both Eve and Adam falsely reasoned that in order to be free they should not be told what to do; they should do as they pleased and should decide for themselves what was right and wrong. They pridefully claimed the right to determine good and evil for themselves rather than trusting God. This prideful pronouncement has gone forth from human hearts ever since: “I will not be told what to do.”

Let’s take a brief look at the primordial sin of pride.

I. The Definition of Pride – Pride is an inordinate esteem for our own excellence. It is a habit or vice which disposes us to think more of ourselves than we are. There is a proper esteem we should have for ourselves, rooted in an appreciation for the gifts we have received from God.

Humility, the virtue that is opposed to pride, is not a hangdog disdain for ourselves. Humility is a reverence for the truth about who and whose we are. We do have gifts, but they are gifts, which God has given us. And these gifts are usually given to us through others. We should be humbly grateful for the gifts and talents that God has given us. In contrast, pride sets aside proper and grateful esteem in favor of excessive esteem that is often self-referential and unappreciative of what God and others have enabled us to become.

On the one hand, pride is one particular vice, sinful in itself. On the other hand, it is a more general vice that is involved directly or indirectly in most other sins. Pride plays an especially large role in sins of malice. Sins of malice are those in which one directly and defiantly refuses to obey God, or refuses to be told what to do, or willfully insists that one knows better than God, the Church, or those entrusted with one’s instruction and guidance. Pride plays a more indirect role in sins of weakness. Sins of weakness are those in which one acts sinfully not so much out of defiance as out of a weak inability to do what one admits is right. Pride may be more indirectly present through careless neglect of growing in virtue or seeking God’s help.

Pride is directed not only at God but also at our neighbor. There are times when we refuse to submit to the instruction or authority of others who rightfully have that position. There are other times when we pridefully refuse to admit that others have gifts and abilities that we do not possess, and that we may in fact need in order to be completed. Further, we sometimes refuse to admit that others are just better at certain things than we are. As such pride, is both impoverishing and isolating.

II. The Distinctions Regarding Pride– The word “pride” in modern English and also in pagan philosophy can have a positive meaning. The pagan philosophers often thought of pride as a good thing. Before it becomes sinful, pride inspires us to strive not merely for the ordinary, but for loftier things. In this sense, pride pushes us to be more than we currently are; it inspires in us a kind of drive and effort.

This positive use of the word “pride” is less common in Christian moral theology, which more commonly speaks of pride only as a vice and ascribes striving for the difficult but possible things under the virtues of fortitude and hope.

Note that pride is not the same as vanity. Vanity actually shows some humility since, by manifesting it, one shows the need for the admiration of another. For the same reason, pride is also not the same as pleasure at being praised.

St. Gregory lists four species of pride: 

  1. Thinking that one’s good is from oneself
  2. Thinking that one’s good is from God but that is in consequence of one’s own merits
  3. Boasting of excellence that one does not possess
  4. Despising others and wishing to appear the sole possessor of what one has (this is related to the sin of envy)

III. The Dangers of Pride – The central effect of pride is to move God to the periphery of our moral, spiritual, and temporal existence. God is either shunned directly or becomes increasingly irrelevant to us. Man necessarily moves to the center and, even more egotistically, I move to the center. If God exists at all to the prideful person, it is only to gratify his pleasures and confirm his preconceived notions.

The prideful person, having moved God to the periphery, focuses more on his own power and exaggerated notions of control. Money, prestige, power, access, and possessions become his focus. It is himself on whom he relies, not God.

This of course is the height of foolishness since no human being can save himself. The relegation of God to the margins of our life is the chief danger of pride, because He alone can save us. It is said that pride looks down, but no one can see God except by looking up. Pride turns us inward and downward!

Because pride involves entertaining the illusion of self-sufficiency and omits or minimizes God, it can be a serious or mortal sin. However, it is frequently not mortal, since that would require a conscious and fully willed discounting of God. Most individual acts of pride are venial by reason of this deficiency of awareness or full consent of the will.

Even though culpability may be less than mortal, the harm caused by marginalizing God cannot be overstated. The damage grows both individually and collectively until the most foolish things become daily fare. Further, a culture dominated by people who “forget” that God sees all and that they will have to render an account to Him will suffer increasingly from tyrannical, vicious, and destructive behaviors.  Such a culture is dominated in growing measure by those who exercise little or no restraint on their behavior and who act imperiously—even despotically.

Pride can get very dark, very quickly because it involves a direct turning away from God. In this sense pride is the first and worst of all sins.

So serious is pride that, as a remedy, God allows us to fall into other sins, especially those of the flesh. Thus, though God does not cause acts of fornication, drunkenness, or gluttony in us, He often permits their stubborn presence in order to save us from pride, which is a more serious sin. Sins of the flesh, especially those related to sexuality, often bring great shame, which is related to humility. And though it is strong medicine, God permits it in order to save us from the sin of pride, which is even more deadly.

IV. The Disease of Pride Pride is the source of many other sins. Not only is it their source, it is in those sins. Pride conquers at the root, since it conquers the heart of man and disposes him to the other capital sins. St. Gregory does not even account pride as a capital sin, for it is the mother of them all!

A widespread modern form of pride, even among believers, is the reduction of God from the Holy One, to a “harmless hippie,” or a doting Father. Further, the awareness of final judgement and that we will one day have to render an account to God is not a significant factor in the thinking of most moderns. As such, God is trivialized and man is exalted. To many, God exists to please and actualize them on their own terms, and His role is to affirm and console (but never challenge) them. In a certain sense, the ugliest and most self-serving form of pride is refashioning God in our own image. Making your own god and worshipping it used to be called “idolatry.”

Today, many pridefully assert the right to fashion their own god: the god within, the god of their own understanding. This is pride writ large and ugly. It is idolatry, somewhat veiled, but idolatry just the same, and a violation of the First Commandment. Such pride cries out for correction and punishment. Yes, pride is ugly—a deadly disease.

Let’s Pretend We Know What We’re Talking About – As Seen in a Commercial

blog10-23In life we don’t always have answers. There are just times when the best answer is, “I don’t know.” This is especially the case with the deeper mysteries of life such as the problem of evil, the “why” of suffering, and the reason why things sometimes don’t make sense.

As a younger priest I felt a lot of pressure to “have the answers” when tragedies occurred or when people experienced persistent setbacks in their lives. In more recent years I’ve learned to say less and to be more willing to sit quietly with people in their pain. To be sure, we have some answers, but explanations are poor substitutes for understanding and acceptance. Whatever explanations I can offer still leave even more things unexplained.

In life we sometimes must make decisions even though we don’t have all the information we’d like. Sometimes we simply have to guess at what’s best. At other times we have information and lots of (often-conflicting) advice, yet still remain uncertain as to what to do. We have to decide to trust God, remaining humbly open to His providence.

All of this is hard for us, especially these days, because we’ve cultivated such a high sense of being in control. But control, in anything but a limited sense, is an illusion. While you may have plans for tomorrow, tomorrow isn’t promised; you’re not even guaranteed the next beat of your heart. Your control of little things is based on myriad other things you can’t control.

Enjoy the video below, which humorously reminds us that we aren’t always certain what the best answer is even when the whole world is waiting for us to decide. Sometimes the best we can do is to decide and then accept the consequences of that decision. Hypocrisy—in this case pretending that the decision is all wise and fully informed—has a way of bringing scorn upon us that is far worse that what simple humility offers. Sometimes it’s OK to say, “I’m not sure,” or to accept that our decisions may be flawed.

Divine revelation is certain, but human decisions are flawed and uncertain.

A remedy for Pride based on something Jesus told St. Catherine of Siena

090113We live in times collectively marked by pride. And, while pride is a problem of the human condition that has beset us from the very beginnings of paradise lost, our modern age, with the rise of atheism, rejection of God, scorn for the metaphysical, and a hyper-emphasis of the “autonomous” self, pride has taken an even more prominent place.

Largely absent from the modern psyche is any deep notion that we are contingent beings, radically dependent on things, people and factors outside our “autonomous” self. Even before we bring God into the discussion, we seem less aware today that our existence and capacity to survive is deeply rooted in thousands, if not millions of factors outside us and beyond our immediate control.

Thank God (oops, did I say that?!), that your parents met, and your great grandparents, and your great, great, great, great…grandparents met, in all the combinations necessary for you to exist. Otherwise, no you!

And let us not forget the trillions of other things necessary for all those human combinations to have happened. The earth has kept its almost perfect circular orbit at just the right distance from the Sun; the Sun and all that is necessary for its working has kept its stable burn, with no big flares or dimishments; the Van Allen belts have been up and running in the high atmosphere to deflect harmful radiation from the earth; the asteroid belt has collected asteroids and kept then from hurling on earth, Jupiter and Saturn are out there catching comets for us and keeping them away; every part of every cell of your body is functioning at a high rate of success, every molecule, and every atom too….well you get the point. We are very contingent beings.

To say that we are contingent beings is to say that our existence is not necessary, does not explain itself, and is the result of other factors and people, not us. Our existence is neither necessary, likely, nor even all that predictable.

We have discussed on the blog before that, according to the playful (but probably understated) odds of a mathematician the probability of you or I existing at all is 1 in 102,685,000. That’s a number so huge it hurts to think about it. (More on that article here: On the “Non-Probability” of your existence). There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” We are contingent, VERY contingent.

Our existence, is astonishingly unlikely and I would say miraculous. That you or I am here at all is almost inexplicable, given the number of things and people necessary for us to exist.

Even before one brings God into the picture, a little humility is called for here based on how remarkably contingent and dependent we are are. For all the braggadocio of modern man, and all our talk about autonomy, Nietzschean Existentialism, “uberman”, self-determination,  self-referentialism and all other anthropocentric, prideful and bold assertions, we look pretty pathetic, when we realize how dependent and contingent we really are.

In a certain sense we barely exist at all, so dependent are we on things and people outside our self. If you can read this, thank a teacher, If you exist at all thank ten trillion (I am not exaggerating) other factors, forces and people.

And how about thanking God? Frankly everything that exists in this created world is contingent and highly unlikely by itself.  At some point everything cannot exist based on nothing. There must be some one or something that is “existence itself” and does not depend on, or stand on anything, or anyone before it. And that something, that someONE we call God.

God is not some other thing in the universe, or even outside the universe. He is existence itself. To deny the existence of a non-contingent being is to deny yourself, for something cannot ultimately stand on nothing. There has to be a foundation that depends on nothing else to stand, that explains itself. For other things to subsist, there must be one who exists, who is existence itself. And that someone we call God.

All of this came to mind the other day as I was reading The Life of St Catherine of Siena by her confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua. In that work he relates a conversation that St. Catherine had with Jesus (which Catherine also relates in the Dialogue). In this conversation Jesus reminds Catherine of her contingency and dependance. He also gives Catherine the secret of overcoming pride so that our ancient enemy will never outwit us. Blessed Raymond recounts the dialogue of Jesus with Catherine in this way:

The holy Virgin told her confessors, of who, though unworthy, I was one, that, at the beginning of her visions, when the Lord Jesus Christ first began to appear to her, he said, “Do you know, daughter, who you are, And who I am? If you know these two things, you will be blessed. You are she is not; whereas I am He who is. Have this knowledge in you and the enemy will never deceive you…

[Blessed Raymond continues]: A succinct doctrine… Oh, Immeasurable wisdom, wrapped in a few brief syllables…”You,” said the Lord, “are she who is not.” Indeed, all creatures are made from nothing, for “to create” means to make something from nothing. When creatures are left to themselves they tend to return to nothing, and if the creator ceased for one moment to preserve them in existence, they would rapidly be reduced to nothing again. … The Apostle says, “…for if any man think himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). … And Jesus says “For without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

And [Blessed Raymond continues] here is a healing remedy, for what wound of pride can enter into a soul that knows itself to be nothing? Who can glory in anything he does? And thus, all vices are driven out by the words, “You are not”.

And here too are many anxieties diminished. For, as Blessed Raymond attests, “Whenever I or any of the other friars was afraid of any danger, Catherine would say, “What have you to do with yourselves? Leave it to Divine Providence. However much afraid you are, Providence still has his eyes on you and is always aiming at your salvation.[Pages 62-65, selected verses].

And thus, a sense of our contingency, that compared to God, you and are “are not”;  is a remedy for pride. In an era of pride, of a false and excessive sense of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and that we can “craft” reality and answer to no one, a simple reminder of our contingency is essential.  And here it is given and it is put in a way that only a Saint can relate: “You are she who is not… I (the Lord) am He who IS.”

Have this knowledge in you you and you will be blessed, and the ancient enemy will never deceive you. For by this knowledge is the back of pride broken and is the basis for all humility formed.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think. A Consideration of Distorted Thinking and the Spiritual Life

062313In my work as a spiritual director, and also in deliverance ministry, as well as in my own experience of growth, it is very clear that there are common patterns of distorted thinking that disrupt spiritual growth and cause distress and disorder. These cognitive distortions lead one to misinterpret, or to over interpret the data of the world and to live in a kind of unreality, or exaggerated reality.

But of course holiness and wholeness presuppose what scripture calls a “sober mind” (cf 1 Thess 5ff; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7; 5:8; Titus 2:2ff; among many others). Romans 12 exhorts us:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:2-3)

Many sinful attitudes, fears, resentments, aversions and anxieties come from distorted thinking. These patterns emerge from our flesh but are also open doors for demonic influence as demons can exploit and further twist our experience of reality. The world too is able to exploit cognitive distortions both for profit and for influence.

The renewal of our minds is a key aim of spiritual direction, deliverance ministry and of overall spiritual growth. Hence, learning to recognize and name the more common forms of distorted thinking, also called cognitive distortions. Learning their “moves” we can begin to have mastery over them and begin to experience greater freedom and authority over our thought life. And, since most feelings come from thoughts, our emotional life will also be in greater repair. This includes having greater authority over and freedom from anxieties, resentments, anger, paranoia, and depression.

Lets take a brief look at some of these cognitive distortions and see their moves and bad fruits:

1. Overgeneralizing – The frequent tendency to think that a negative situation is part of a constant cycle of bad things that happen. People who overgeneralize often use words like “always” or “never.”

For example, a person might think: I had plans to go to the movie with friends, but the plans fell through. This always happens to me! I never get to have fun!

The more likely truth is that such a person does have enjoyable things in their life. And, like most other people, there are also disappointing moments. Life is a mixed bag. But, at the end of the day, most people have far more blessings than burdens.

Everyday ten trillion things go right and a few things go wrong. This is not an exaggeration when we consider that every function of every atom, molecule, cell and organ is a blessing and a success. Further, most every part of every system on this planet is up and running in a functional way so as to sustain our life. Things we seldom think about are taking place at every moment: photosynthesis is supplying oxygen, millions of ecosystems are running in symbiotic harmony, the Van Allen belts in the upper atmosphere are deflecting harmful radiation from the sun, the gulf stream and weather patterns are distributing warmth and rain, etc. Beyond the earth, Jupiter and Saturn are catching comets, the asteroid belt holds a lot of other space debris at bay, the sun is stable, and our earth has an orbit that is only 3 degrees off from a perfect circle, ensuring that the warmth of the sun is fairly even throughout our orbit.

The list could go on. But we ought to avoid overgeneralizing and exaggerating about how bad things “always” happen to us, and good things “never” come our way. This is not reality. It is not sober thinking. It makes us negative, fearful and anxious. It is not of God and has its origin in the sinful drive of ingratitude. There is much (ten trillion+) for which to be grateful for on any given day, even when certain disappointments have come. We need to embrace reality, and the reality is that overgeneralizing about negative outcomes is neither real nor balanced.

Satan can surely tap into this distortion to stir up resentment, fear, anxiety, and other negative emotions. The world too can “cash in” but string up the same negativity and proposing false or incomplete solutions for just $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Politicians and other organizations can also command too much of our loyalty and have too much power over us by inciting this distortion.

2. All or Nothing Thinking – Seeing things as only perfect or terrible, good or bad, 100% or Zero, with little or no room in between. For example, I am either a hero, or a total loser. Small mistakes are seen as total failure. Perhaps a person on diet slips, and has a large piece of cake, and then thinks, I am a total failure, I just gained ten pounds. There is very little “middle ground” in all or nothing thinking.

There is also the tendency in all or nothing thinking to think that affirming one thing, means denying others. For example, if I say, I like “A” that this therefore means I am somehow saying that B, C and D are of no value whatsoever. But of course that may not be the case at all. Yet, the all or nothing thinker may take offense at the affirmations or points made by others since they see no middle ground, or the possibility that many things can be affirmed and praised at once, or that preferences can be on a continuum somewhere between zero and one hundred.

Indeed, the reality is that most things in life, and most scenarios admit of a kind of continuum of outcomes between all and nothing, 100 and zero. There are often many different outcomes and possible combinations that are both praiseworthy and acceptable. But the all or nothing thinker, because of this cognitive distortion has a difficult time remembering and accepting this.

The result of all or nothing thinking at the personal level is either pride, wherein one thinks of themselves or their performance too highly, or low self esteem wherein one, seeing something less than perfect in their performance deems themselves to be a total loser. There are any number of issues that revolve around anxiety (e.g. performance anxiety) and fear (fear of failure), resentments and depression that set up on account of this cognitive distortion.

At the social level there is often hostility to all opinions that are not 100% in sync with what the all or nothing thinker insists is best. Such people often take offense when none is intended. For example, perhaps someone other than them, or what they think, is affirmed.  They then think that they, or  what they think, is therefore wholly discarded or ridiculed. In this way, all or nothing thinking tends to make people hostile, fearful, thin-skinned and unnecessarily insistent on perfect agreement or outcomes.

It is not hard to imagine how both the devil and the world can lay hold of and tap into this distorted drive of the flesh and hold people in bondage to fear, hostility and many anxious notions that see no middle ground, and no reason to hope. Since the world is not perfect, there is nothing good to celebrate, and those who do celebrate something are dismissed as naive, stupid or worse. The all or nothing thinker presumes that if someone affirms one thing, they “must think it is all good,” which, of course is not necessarily true. But the distortion leads them to scorn and even ridicule people unnecessarily. Thus the evil one easily locks all or nothing thinkers into ever deepening degrees of negativity, hostility and fear.

3. Fortune Telling – Predicting that something bad will happen, without any evidence. For example, a person may think, “I don’t care how hard I have prepared for the talk, it is going to go terribly. People will hate my talk or be bored.”

Essentially this is a form pessimism and negativity that taps into the sin against hope called “despair.” Fortune tellers tend to see the world merely as a hostile place, and opportunities merely as burdens and traps.

But, of course opportunities are not necessarily good or bad, hostile or benign. They are just opportunities.

Further, ‘failure’ is not always total, or even failure at all. The cross was a failure to many who saw it that day, but it was actually victory. Some of my “worst” sermons have had surprising effects. Life is a funny proposition. But the Fortune teller rejects all this and insists that disaster is just over the next ridge.

Sadly, most fortunetellers set up self-fulfilling prophecies. Expecting bad things, they usually get it, or can at least collect ample evidence to prove their thesis and be confirmed in their downward cycle of negativity, anxiety, depression, despair, and cynicism.

Satan can easily exploit negativity and the “hunch” that bad things are going to happen. Fortunetellers keep the door wide open to the devil’s shenanigans, practically delighting in his works so as to say, “See, I told you so.”

This negative thinking has to go. It is a distortion that denies the possibilities of every opportunity, and the possibility of paradoxical and surprising outcomes.

4. Emotional Reasoning – Believing that bad feelings or emotions reflect the situation. For example, I feel anxious when I fly, so airplanes are not safe.

Our feelings have the capacity to “damn reason.” We need to be very careful to remember that feelings are just feelings. They ought not be wholly ignored, but neither should they be the deciding factor. Many of our feelings are simply wrong and rooted in traumatic or powerful events of the past.They may not in fact reflect the current reality. That I feel unsafe does not mean I am unsafe. That I feeling bad about a meeting does not mean it was a bad meeting etc.

Once I was walking with a friend and a dog came running up to up. My friend, who had once been bitten and infected by a dog was afraid. But I had grown up with dogs and could see that the dogs was lumbering up to us to greet us, not attack us. Both of us were looking at the same data, and both of us had different feelings. I was right, there was nothing to fear. The dog came an sniffed my hand and wagged its tail. No harm.

But the point is that the feelings were not the reality, they were just feelings. Mine happened to be right, and my friend’s were wrong. But neither set of feelings changed the reality.

Here too, Satan and the world can easily exploit feelings to make us think things that are not necessarily so. An important part of spiritual growth is learn how to discern feelings, and seem them as part of the picture, not the whole picture.

5. Mind Reading – Jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking, without any evidence. For example, My friend didn’t stop to say hello. She must be angry at me. Well, perhaps, or perhaps too she was in a hurry, or maybe she didn’t even see you or know you were there. Or, My boss cast a negative glance at me, he is upset and I am going to get fired. Maybe, or perhaps as he was looking in your direction he remembered something he forgot to do, or an argument he had with his wife. Perhaps too he had gas pains!

This sort of distortion is often rooted in a form of pride called grandiosity, wherein  we think we are always the main thing on other people’s mind, or the reason they act. I once knew a man who was very paranoid and I would often remind him that people had better things to do with their time than think of him or ways to trip him up.

Mind reading is also rooted in pride because we trust too much that we have command of all the facts and really know what is going on. We do not. This is a distortion. We do well to develop a healthy type of reserve in our conclusions about what others are thinking or about their motives. We ought to ask of God a certain kind of “blindness” that fails to notice so many things we really can’t even understand.

This form of distorted thinking leads to many fears and anxieties that are usually needless and baseless. Satan surely has many doorways through this form of pride and anxiety producing thinking.

6. Mental Filter – Focusing only on the negative parts of a situation and ignoring anything good or positive. For example, I got a lot of good feedback from the conference I led. But one person disagreed with my premise. I guess the conference wasn’t so good after all.

This distortion is similar to number one above.

7. ‘Should’ Statement – excessively telling yourself how you “should” or “must” act. For example, I should be able to handle this without getting upset and crying!

Clearly there are moral parameters that we must observe in our Christian walk. But there are also many other “rules” and norms we demand of our self that are not necessarily reasonable or correct.

In spiritual direction a person will often say, “I should do this or that” And often I must ask, “Who told you that?” Not everything we think we should do, must in fact be done.

And thus we must carefully discern what is really required from us, and what is not, or what is merely optional based on circumstances.

The devil loves “should” statements because he loves to destroy truth by exaggerating it and making it an unbearable burden. It also gives him the opportunity to masquerade in pious clothes.

For example consider the following “should” scenario. “You know, your prayers would be answered if you just prayed or fasted a little more. You really “should”  multiply your prayers and double your fasts.” But this can be very devilish.

First it is devilish because to some degree it is true. We probably could pray more (if we neglected other things). But, that we can pray more, if for example, we never slept, does not me we ought to do so or must do so.

Further it is devilish, because if the devil can sow that the sought that we could or ought to pray more, they we have NEVER prayed enough. And now he has us where he wants us: discouraged, guilty, anxious, and seeing prayer as an increasing burden, and God as a task master.

Finally it is devilish because it suggests that we will get what we want as a result of our efforts, rather than the grace of God.

So, “should” statements can be very devilish. And they are this way because they masquerade in pious clothing and moral duties. But too often should statements are wolves in sheep clothing. There are legitimate duties we have, but do not trust every should thought. Discern carefully.

There are more cognitive distortions we could discuss, but allow these to suffice. Add your own in the comments file.

The life of the mind is very important in the spiritual life. Our thoughts are critical to what we do, how we feel and to our sense of well being and serenity.

Bottom line – DO NOT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK. Discern, distinguish, sift and sort. Consider well that God wants to give you a sober mind, that is, a clear mind, a mind that is in touch with reality, not lost in distortions, and unreality. Ask for a sober mind and make the journey.

Video – Maybe our cluttered lives reflect our often cluttered thoughts: