With this post we cross the halfway point in the series and, barring public outrage or pleadings from my readers (haha), my next “Mirror, Mirror” after this will be my last. Hope you’re still enjoying the ride – given the number of hits that keep coming through on these I have to assume that I’m striking a chord with some of you. Well then, on we go!
Installment 3: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
This is a topic that I feel very competent to speak on – as contrasted especially with the previous two – for one very simple reason:
This post applies just as much to men as it does to women.
Gents, I hope you were listening. I’m going to say it again: this one is for you as well.
Now, as with the two previous installments, I will be directing my comments as if to females here. Nevertheless, the issues and advice discussed in this post are most definitely applicable to you guys in many ways as well. As such, I can only pray that you pay just as close attention as your sisters to what I’m going to lay out, for your sake and your neighbor’s.
As you should expect by now, I begin by laying out a simple observation for your consideration:
Cultivate your mind.
For the third time: pretty basic, hopefully in a self-explanatory kind of way. But we note yet again that nothing is as simple as we would like it to be. Thus, let me elaborate.
When I say, “cultivate your mind”, I want you to think of a garden. Should be simple, right? “Cultivate” as in agricultural cultivation, see? It’s a fairly good mnemonic to boot, so hold onto the imagery as we move forward.
Imagine you had your own garden on a pristine plot of land of your choosing. All of your food comes from this garden. It’s yours to do with what you want, of course, but you need to keep in mind that the produce that comes from this garden will be shared with friends and family: brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, best friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc. It even extends out to anyone else with any kind of contact with you at all – even they will receive the fruits of your garden, if only a little.
Now, how will you care for it? Would you prefer organic fertilizer, or mulch from Chernobyl’s soil? Would you provide the best, most fertile compost, or fill it with material from your local landfill? Would you use natural, biodegradable pesticides, or will you spray on the Agent Orange?
Remember, this is the food you live on, that you put in your body every single day. What’s more, remember that you are not the only person concerned, because the crop is also consumed by your closest friends and family, and others besides. This garden’s product has a tremendous impact on you and others: would you care for, nurture, and cultivate it?
Or would it become your refuse bin?
Unless I miss my guess, you’d probably go out of your way to take good care of this garden. If not for your own sake, than for the sake of those you care about, so they don’t have to consume nuclear-waste-infused tomatoes. I’m pretty confident that you all care for your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others enough to be pretty darn picky about what goes into this garden; I’m thinking you’re not going to throw just anything in there.
Well, this garden is your mind. That’s right, in the same way as the hypothetical garden, what goes into your mind has a way of affecting the “fruit” you bear, so to speak, for good or for ill. And while it is true that what goes into a man does not defile him, it is also true that the input has a way of affecting the output, and what comes out of a man definitely does defile him. Garbage in inevitably means garbage out.
Not only so, but what comes out of your garden/mind (that is, the fruit you bear) has both a direct and an indirect impact on your neighbor – starting with those closest to you, who get the brunt of it. The fruit you bear – be it good fruit as a result of making good choices with what you put in, or bad fruit as a result of making bad choices with what you put in – is going to affect everyone you come into contact with, to a greater or lesser extent.
So the take home here is that it makes sense to guard what goes into your mind. That’s what this edition of Mirror, Mirror is about: cultivating a beautiful mind.
So with that, we turn to my talking points, as before.
#1 – Guard your intake of media (including visual, audio, and print)
I won’t say too too much here beyond pointing you to one of my past posts which deals with this topic in some depth. Please take a moment to divert and read that post.
As my linked post points out, all media affects you, without exception, by changing patterns in your thinking to one degree or the next. That being the case, it’s incumbent upon every one of us to discern the effects any particular show or movie has on us, as compared with the standards of Scripture. That is: Does this show cause you to desire violence in your heart against your brethren, instead of peace? Does this movie inspire your heart to lust – and not just limited to Edward and Jacob, but even after the men in your own life? Does this commercial cause you to covet?
If a specific genre of visual media tempts you into rebellion (against God, and maybe also against the authorities He has put over you to guard you – i.e. parents, bosses, teachers, etc.) then I submit that it would be better to avoid it.
On the flip side, those shows and movies that comfort you, that give you peace and joy, that teach you good and honorable things, and even those that give you a nice break and a welcome distraction from a hectic life without any other point whatsoever – these are examples of visual media that would be well-worth investing yourself in.
The same principles apply here as with visual media for the most part. There are some aspects unique to audio media to consider, though.
Audio media (specifically music) is easy to set on “repeat” and get heaping doses in short periods of time. This allows for reenforcement of the messages that those songs send to the nth degree as the catchy tunes become part of you. For any music lover, you know what I’m talking about. Over time you can actually start to think in song lyrics – which ones and whether that is good or bad depends on what you’ve been listening to.
As a matter of fact, did you know that that the original purpose of hymns in the Church was to teach? It’s true, in contrast with much of what passes for hymnody these days, for the vast majority of time since Christ the Church has recognized that people hang on to messages better when they are set to music and thus used hymns to indoctrinate its members into the Gospel.
Now, as a quick (and relevant) note: the word “indoctrinate” is not a bad one, though in today’s context it is typically used that way (the first synonym in my thesaurus is “brainwash”; pshaw!). “Indoctrinate” simply means to impart doctrine. To teach a set of beliefs.
That said, indoctrination can be good or bad depending upon what those beliefs are. If it’s that you should party ’till you’re broke, knocked up, and collapse in a drunken stupor, well, we call that bad indoctrination. Meanwhile, if it’s that a mighty fortress is our God (you know, the one who died for you?), we would call that good indoctrination.
(for some good indoctrination, listen here)
And I by no means think that hymns are the only music anyone should ever listen to – there’s plenty good to be heard on the radio too, and not just on Christian stations (though actually, I tend to avoid a lot of Christian stations because if I’m going to listen to religious music, I want to know it’s doctrinally sound – hence, my “Christian music” consists of the great hymns of the Church, but that’s beside point). I’m not at all suggesting anyone avoid popular music – I’m just saying you should probably limit your doses of “I kissed a girl”. That’s when you hit the next pre-set on the radio. 😉
At any rate, the take home here is that when words come at you with a melody attached, they go in much, much deeper than they would otherwise.* So then, since music is so very formational to your thought life (whether you like it or not), it is wise to give due consideration to what you are tapping your foot to, that it may enrich you, not corrupt you.
This would include books, magazines, newspapers, and even blogs. Again, I think some of the comments I’ve made above can also apply here (or just to media in general), but let me say a few words more about print media specifically.
*Steps onto soap box*
Print media is, I think, the worst offender when it comes to filling your mind with false expectations (with the possible exception of visual media). What do I mean? Only that the printed page has tremendous potential to present a picture of life that is impossibly idealistic, and this sometimes can be very destructive.
Magazines that tell you that you are expected to be just so sexy and easy to get guys to notice you; books that set up romances where the guy does everything his woman wants, all the time, without exception and never acts outside of her will (except when acting outside of her will is her will, which I’ve noticed is sometimes the case, for reasons I will never understand), and setting up the woman as effectively god to her man; these things hardly paint a realistic picture. And what happens when reality and idealized fiction collide? Bad things.
Too much of this can steal that down-to-earth realism that is not only required to live in this world, but ultimately much, much more desirable in you from a real man’s perspective.
*Steps down from soap box* 😉
Let me be extremely candid for a moment: nothing is more attractive to me personally than a woman who is grounded in the real world. This involves recognizing her limitations and freely admitting them, understanding the limitations of others and not having unrealistic expectations of her neighbor, and rejoicing in the creation of God – which happens to be the real world we inhabit – not the creation of Stephanie Meyer.
Now understand, I am not for a second advocating the burning of fantasy novels, that’s not my point. I’m only saying that once you pull your nose from that book (or whatever print you’re reading), if you cannot differentiate effectively between the real world and the fantasy one and thus find yourself pining for the fantasy (fantasy world, fantasy clothes, fantasy man) instead of embracing reality, which is filled with God’s good gifts to you, then we have a problem.
On that note, print media that makes you excited about living this life, that gives you a sense of purpose and peace and joy, are definitely to be encouraged!
(In passing, I’m told that as far as print media goes, Lilies Among Thorns magazine is worth following)
#2 – Watch who you associate with regularly.
If the media you are exposed to can exert a powerful influence over your mind, how much more can the company you keep?
Do you have a friend who is always angry? Fills the air with profanity? Treats others with disrespect and contempt? Encourages (and maybe pressures) you to do things that aren’t right? Has fun at other people’s expense? Then seriously and honestly consider what effect your relationship with them is having on you.
These are just the first things that popped into my head, but if you are a discerning individual, you can come up with your own list. Better still, ask trusted family and friends if they see a change in you after you spend time with this person, and whether it is positive or negative.
Now, just as bad friends can tear you down, good friends will build you up. Spend time with people who are good to you, and to others. Evaluate them for trustworthiness, kindness, and strength of character. Look for someone who is a giver (of time, of support, of compassion and of brotherly/sisterly love), not a simple taker. Enjoy communion with these folks, and help one another to grow in love and wisdom, to enrich both of you.
#3 – Find worthwhile activities to engage your mind in positive ways
Like what, you ask? Well, in addition to what I’ve noted above:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
– Philippians 4:8
Seriously, it’s that simple. Or, at least, it should be.
Okay, okay, I know the words I used above, that “nothing is as simple as we would like it to be”. But really, when it comes to knowing when something is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, I think we’ve all got a sense of it. Exercise your God-given discernment, and seek out what is truly good.
Unfortunately, I can’t ultimately provide you with a mind to discern the good from the bad – all I can do is make observations and throw out my honest opinion. That said, a regular prayer to God for discernment is definitely worth it.
In all of this, I hope you’ve noticed that I never said “you can’t do this” or “you must do that”. Rather, I have pointed out some basic, common sense realities about how what you take in affects your mind. Nothing I’ve said takes away your freedom in Christ to do whatever the Scripture does not forbid. What it does do is provide a starting point for you to say, “Ok, I know God desires my thought-life to be pure (as Jesus made so emphatically clear in the sermon on the mount) – so for me, as a person in Christ, what are some things I should be conscious of that might either cause me to stumble, or help me to run the race with perseverance?”
So in the end, cultivate your mind to be one of purity, of sincerity, of joy, of compassion, of hope, and of grace. Let your mind, even more than your body, give evidence of what God created you to be:
*Fun fact: When I was in grade school my mother actually taught my brother and I the books of the Bible by reciting them to a specific tune; to this very day, when flipping through it my mind goes to that song to help me find what I’m looking for. While everyone else in Bible class is looking at the table of contents in the front, I’m humming happily to myself and going straight to the book in question.