Many thousands of years ago, every joyous, negative, fearful, and even murderous emotion of the human heart was put to music in the majestic poetry of the Psalms. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and American writer, said, “The Psalms are more than language. They contain within themselves the silence of high mountains and the silence of heaven.” They are a refuge of honest prayer, always undergirded with hope and praise—and now with science. Today, neuroscience affirms the power of this enduring wisdom to literally restructure our minds. By honestly speaking the searing truths of our suffering while determinedly returning to gratitude, trust, and positivity, we make the choice to change our thoughts and thus, our brains. Watch as the psalmist relentlessly refocuses on hope. (We have taken the liberty of changing the word enemies to thoughts. Aren’t these really our enemies today?)
Psalm 42 (The Passion Translation)
I long to drink of you, O God,
drinking deeply from the streams of pleasure flowing from your presence.
My longings overwhelm me for more of you!
My soul thirsts, pants, and longs for the living God.
I want to come and see the face of God.
Day and night my tears keep falling and my heart keeps crying for your help while my thoughts (enemies) mock me over and over, saying,
“Where is this God of yours? Why doesn’t he help you?”
So I speak over my heartbroken soul, “Take courage.
Remember when you used to be right out front leading the procession of praise…”So then, my soul, why would you be depressed? Why would you sink into despair? Just keep hoping and waiting on God, your Savior.
For no matter what, I will still sing with praise,
For living before his face is my saving grace!
Here I am depressed and downcast. Yet I will still remember you as I ponder the place where your glory streams down from the mighty mountaintops, lofty and majestic—the mountains of your awesome presence. My deep need calls out to the deep kindness of your love.
Your waterfall of weeping sent waves of sorrow over my soul, carrying me away, cascading over me like a thundering cataract.
Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me. Through the night I sing his songs, for my prayer to God has become my life.
I will say to God, “You are my mountain of strength; how could you forget me?
Why must I suffer this vile oppression of my thoughts (enemies),
these heartless tormentors who are out to kill me?”
Their wounding words pierce my heart over and over while they say,
“Where is this God of yours?”
So I say to my soul, “Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed.
For I know my God will break through for me.”
Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again.
Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!
And a further reflection from The Hidden Life Awakened (pg.24):
Your brain is a living, dynamic computer that is always moving and changing, cataloging and processing information, and it never shuts off until the day you die. We now know that what you choose to give your attention to feeds your brain’s cells—firing up the network; sending blood, energy, and oxygen through pathways it has built to those particular neurons; building out more and more structure to hold what it is fed. You can begin to build new structure in your brain simply by choosing what you focus on. If you focus on negative things, your brain will build more structure to hold negativity. If you focus on positive things, your brain will build more structure to hold that. Your first efforts at changing your thinking and habits are more difficult but ultimately will become easy and automatic as your old neural structures are slowly dismantled and replaced with brand new structures.
So pay attention and notice your negative or fearful thoughts. This is so important. They are so subtle, but they are so defeating. Your brain is hardwired to protect you from threats, so any negative word or thought will release dozens of stress-producing hormones. Most people spend their life imprisoned in the tiny confine of their thoughts that are nothing more than firings and wirings within their brain. You don’t have to do that. Your unhappiness is not coming from other people or your circumstances but from your mind’s conditioning. You can be set free from the tyranny of these habituated reactions into a spacious place of trust and hope. Will you begin by simply noticing and acknowledging your negative thoughts? Next, refusing any defeating self-judgment, just let them be. Now, let them go. Then, let in the good by redirecting your thoughts to gratitude. God’s ways are a mystery, but they are always good. Consistently choosing this new way of thinking will take time and it will take desire, but it will happen, creating in you a transcendent joy that is not dependent on your external happiness; making you a powerful participant in your own healing.