“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
- Isaiah 55:8-11
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
- Luke 11:23-28
“But the Witch looked as if, in a way, she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stronger. She hated it.”
- C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
I went to bed last night, the night before writing this, in a better mode than I had been all day. My feelings had betrayed me, and “funk” was setting in. I had let a nightmare spoil my entire day. Okay, maybe not the only reason, far from the only reason.
The day before, I had gone to bed early. The day in question was going to be a very busy day, not that the previous day had not been busy. My wife had had a doctor visit in the morning. My wife has a fistula that is maturing near her elbow, but she is suffering from “steal syndrome.” It is also known as ISS (Ischemic Steal Syndrome) or DASS (Dialysis Access Steal Syndrome). My wife has very thin arteries in her lower arms. She has blood flow to the extremities, but not as much as it takes to keep her hands warm. When she touches your cheek, it is like having an ice cube pressed against your face. But then, she had a fistula inserted. The fistula takes blood from the artery and dumps it into the return vein directly, easy access for dialysis, but with a large amount of blood by-passing the lower arm. When it fully matures (I suppose when the healing is complete), her dialysis will go through the fistula and she can get rid of the catheters near her shoulder. But the fistula is presently “stealing” blood that is needed to keep her fingers viable. This was the second follow-up with the surgeon who is still not terribly concerned, but he is noting the progress. If she gets worse, and she is not, it could mean another surgery. He counseled us on the surgical options and things to check in the meantime: deep cracks in fingers (lotion, lotion, lotion), persistent numbness, etc. He also encouraged her to exercise her hand more, hopefully signaling the arteries to open wider and allow more blood to flow to the arm. So far, she just gets pain from the muscles screaming for more blood.
The problem with our schedule that morning was that he had been delayed in surgery, and we waited a long time before he got to see her. That changed a brunch into a lunch and then we finished our pharmacy and grocery shopping as the evening rush hour was starting, a morning diversion turning into all day. I got to my workstation to write some posts and my mind was blank.
The problem is that when your mind becomes blank, if you do not fill it with something useful, someone else will fill it. I began to harbor ill will against some people, in some cases, people I did not even know. My mind went down some rabbit holes that had not been travelled in some time. But even that was short-lived. The next morning (the day in question) my wife had an appointment to do a CT scan in order to not find kidney stones, we can hope, that had probably passed long ago, but if they were still there, maybe the urologist could help her a little. And then after the scan, we went for breakfast and then dialysis. Up very early, and then go, go, go.
But as I went to bed early the day before, in preparation of an even busier day, I felt a great burden of guilt for my wandering brain, because I had allowed it to become blank. I thought of what Jesus said (Luke 11:23-28) about the person who is cured of demon possession and the person is all clean, but then without filling that void, even more demons return to take its place. I had let my mind wander down wrong paths. I had succumbed to temptation, in thought only, but is that not enough, and it might have been wantonly done.
Then I had a dream that night of my wife and I, in bed, in a different house in a different neighborhood, not looking like the Pittsburgh area at all. There were noises outside and my wife awoke and said that those were gun shots. I was close to the window and the blinds were closed. I could barely see through the space between the slats. There were young people walking down the street, almost all wearing black T-shirts (common in the Pittsburgh area, but it did not feel like Pittsburgh). Then a young man pulled out a pistol and fired several rounds in the direction of the next-door neighbors’ house, and then he walked toward our house. I prayed that the rounds he fired at our house would miss us. But then, the young man was inside the house, right behind the bed. He said, “I can take you out, any time I want you.”
With that, I awoke shouting, “Satan, you cannot have me! I belong to Jesus!”
I told the dream to my wife as we went to the hospital for the first appointment. She said that she thought I would never have an attack like that. She quoted verses about God protecting His own. I was so filled with the Spirit, in her mind, where was any room for Satan to be within me to manipulate a dream like that? It took me all day of not writing, again, to put the pieces together. Instead, I brooded. I had only gotten a couple of hours of sleep due to the early start and the dream interruption. I needed a hug, but my wife was either not there or exhausted over her busy day, and a bit disappointed in me, because of my dream. She finally hugged me, but she admonished me that an INFJ always thinks of their own needs and I needed to work this out and grow up a little bit. It wasn’t much of a loving hug, and INFJ people do not “always” do anything in particular.
Then, as I went to bed, it dawned on me that Satan got a toe inside the door when I harbored guilt from the previous day. Yes, without accepting God’s forgiveness and releasing that guilt, I had let Satan linger nearby. He had his fun. The day after the dream became a grumpy and feel-sorry-for-myself day. I said “depressed” to my wife, but it was not that bad. Yep, instead of making great strides down the road to sanctification, I sat on a stool and pouted.
Guilt is not bad. On our new car, we do not have a ton of safety features, but we do have blind spot monitors. When I back up the car, an alarm will flash on the rearview camera screen and an alarm will sound. I will know where the danger is and I can crane my neck around and find it. That is what guilt is. We should welcome guilt, but then after letting guilt in the front door, we should let it out the back door. God has already forgiven us, but the guilt allows us to learn that we took a wrong step. We can repent and get our foot out of the mud and back onto our journey of faith. The guilt is simply our blind spot monitor, allowing us to see where we are still far from perfect. But we must repent and then let go of the guilt. We must not let Satan get a foothold.
And always remember that Satan does not have control. Satan does not have the last word. Satan cannot get us any time he wants. The witch hated that the other “Magic” was greater than her own in the Lewis quote above. In the Isaiah quote, our thoughts may not be the best thoughts, and our ways may not measure up to God’s ways, but in seeking God and repenting for our missteps, we can grow as a Christian.
As for the title, there was a stand-up comedian, Bob Nelson, who had an act that would not go over well in the modern PC world. It is still out there on Youtube. The comedian pretended to be college football players doing interviews. When I first saw the routine in the 80s, I laughed so hard, I had tears. It was not directed toward people of color, any color, just football players that were not properly trained in answering questions in front of the cameras. To be honest, I think that colleges, and especially the NFL, are doing a better job in grooming these athletes in how they present themselves in front of the camera, however cliché their answers may be, but in those days, many of the interviews were cringe worthy. The comedian jumped on that. In one of his fake interviews, the athlete ends with “and remember, the mind is a terrible thing.” In the 70s and 80s there were commercials for the United Negro College Fund (today the UNCF) that stated, and is still their slogan, “The mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Indeed, they are correct, and I applaud their efforts.
But just as the comedian stopped without saying the last two words of the slogan for comic effect, leaving off those last too words is an important reminder for all of us. Our feelings can lead us astray. Our fatigue can make us weak and vulnerable. And our minds will seek out comfort when we are beset by fatigue and jangled nerves. Our minds are, indeed, terrible things, when they become empty or blank, open for whatever happens to be floating by.
How do we avoid the trap? We turn our eyes upon Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.