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Shifting Thoughts and Steadfast Values

July 4, 2013

There are a number of reasons why we do things or react in certain ways. Sometimes we react to thoughts of guilt over what we haven’t done rightly in the past, at other times we simply accept thoughts that suggest we should do this or do that. In either mode, we have made a choice, often unwittingly, that we will passively and aimlessly go through life following the whims of our capricious thoughts. This need not, however, be the state of affairs. We can choose another path and that is what the next choice in our series of posts on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy brings to the foreground: “we can choose to let our thoughts make us guilty or compliant or we can choose to focus on our values and living according to them in the moment irrespective of our thoughts.”

Yes, we may have thoughts that make us anxious, thoughts that make us depressed, thoughts that stir up addictive desires, or thoughts that make us angry, but we do have the choice about whether those thoughts will determine our behavior and our lives. Their presence does not necessitate their implementation. Wouldn’t it be tragic to have on our headstone the engraving here lies ______ who struggled with thoughts of depression, anxiety, or addiction? Wouldn’t it be so much better if our headstone would relate here lies _______ who lived the teachings of Christ, who acted virtuously, who loved sincerely, who fed the hungry, who lived on the basis of the truth? The choice on what will be on our metaphorical headstone is made by the choices we make on a daily basis and where we place our emphasis on our shifting thoughts or on our steadfast values. Although it matters what we think, it matters even more what we actually do. Recall the two sons in the Gospel who were told to work in the vineyard, the one who did the will of the father was not the one who had the right thought, but failed to act on it, but the one who had the wrong thought, but acted on the basis of what is right (Matthew 21:29-31). We can act independently of our initial thoughts on the basis of our higher values and through that action become the people that our Heavenly Father intended for us to be.

How much better is it if our behavior be determined not so much by our thoughts as by what we value! And what greater hierarchy of values can be found than what is described in the Gospel of Christ? The Lord Christ teaches that it is indeed possible to have the thought that this person is my enemy, and yet to love that person, to have the thought that this person puts me down, and yet to bless that person, to have the thought that this person mistreats me and yet to do that person a favor. Surely this extends to thoughts of depression and anxiety as well. The Gospel of Christ is a gospel of freedom, a freedom from the tyranny of the thoughts for the sake of the liberty to love and to serve in whatever condition we find ourselves. Commenting on Christian freedom, Saint Augustine writes, “We are free in so far as we delight in the law of God, for freedom contains joy. If you do what is right out of fear, you are not delighting in God. If you find your delight in Him, you are free. Fear not punishment, but love righteousness.” (Tractates on John, XLI, 10).

None of us wants to be identified with our worst thoughts. And the good news is we need not be! We can choose to identify ourselves with the most beautiful and holy values that the world has ever known and demonstrate the truth of that identity by concrete action. This is why the commandments of Christ, His beatitudes, and His teachings are such an amazing gift. We can focus on them, delight in them, and enjoy the freedom of the children of God by living in them. And as for the other thoughts of depression, anxiety, anger, and desire, we can disdain them in a powerful way by allowing the promises and commandments of Christ to trump them every time by acting in accordance with what we value most in our hearts, His words that endure forever.

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