Meditations of the Heart
                                              Meditations of the Heart by James T. Berry, Ph.D.

What were you thinking before you started reading this article?  We all think almost all the time.  Have you ever
considered what you are thinking about?  At any given moment, you can stop and think about what you were thinking.  
My wife likes to ask she was hoping to hear sweet loving thoughts I was having about our time spent together.  
Unfortunately, my thoughts were about the quality of the road surface, the width of the road shoulders, and how well the
Tennessee grass mowers do their jobs on the interstate.  We had a laugh about that, but my thoughts did not impress
her that day.  

Most of the time we simply think without awareness of our thoughts similar to breathing without thinking about our
breaths.  How often would you be happy to share your thoughts?  How often would you be embarrassed?  Mercifully,
God did not give us the ability to read each others' thoughts.  I believe we could not handle the hurts and disillusionment
that would accrue from hearing the negative thoughts of others.  On the other hand, God does know our thoughts and
the words of Psalm 19 raise a lofty goal.  "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in
your sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."  So, how is your thought life?  What are you thinking about?  Are your
meditations acceptable to God?  What is acceptable and what is not?  I have a few thoughts about our thoughts to help
with this question.  Consider with me three categories of unacceptable meditations and three categories of acceptable
ones.

Negative Thought Categories
Negatives:
The negative categories are Negatives, Malevolents, and Lusts.  Negatives are the ordinary thoughts that
express negative content about ourselves, others, or life in general.  The possible examples are endless.  Self
examples include, "I'm too _______ (skinny, tall, fat, etc.)."  "Nobody likes me."  "I'm a loser."  Negative thoughts about
others include, "He can't do anything right."  "It's all her fault."  "My boss doesn't care."  Negative thoughts about life
include, "Life is hopeless."  "The car is going to break down."  "People are dangerous."  Notice that many of the
negative thoughts are global in nature.  They assume that all people are dangerous or that I am a complete loser.  
Cognitive therapists call this overgeneralization.  The truth might be that I have failed in some significant way, but I am
not a loser in all ways.  

It is important to fight the tendency to see oneself, others, or the future as all bad or all lost.  There is a darkness to this
type of thinking.  Think about your thought life.  How much light or darkness is there for you.  If your thinking tends to be
dark, you may have internalized negative templates that are influencing you without your awareness.  Therapists call
these negative templates schemas.  Negative schemas can harm you in your relationships and your living without your
even knowing it.  Schemas can be overcome, but you have to become aware of them in order to drive them from your
soul.   

Malevolents: Our next category of negative thinking are the Malevolents.  The word malevolent is an adjective
meaning to wish evil on others.  I am using it as a noun to describe in one word thoughts that have evil, harmful intent.  
Most people do not think of themselves as malevolent.  That title is usually reserved for wicked witches.  However we all
have had malevolent thoughts.  These thoughts flow from roots of bitterness and malice within.  Malevolents are
characterized by holding anger against others, i.e., grudges; refusing to forgive; planning harm toward another; cursing
others; bearing false witness; etc.  Malevolents are born from anger, and anger is born from hurt.  There are many ways
to get hurt in life.  We can feel slighted, passed by, ignored, disrespected, attacked, used, misled, abused, etc.  
Therapists commonly see this played out when people are divorcing.  The powerful hurts of divorce bring to the fore the
malevolent hating thoughts within.

When hurts lead to anger, and anger is not resolved, bitter roots take hold in the soul.  It is absolutely crucial for your life
and health to not let bitter roots grow and fester.  You cannot avoid getting hurt in life, but you can keep a bitter root from
developing.  Examine your thoughts.  Ask yourself, "What am I holding against others?"  Are you having Malevolents?  If
so, you have forgiveness work to do.  If you let the bitter roots fester in your soul, you will slip further and further away
into a darkness of isolation and despair, and you'll cut yourself off from the grace of God.  Ask God to help you forgive if
you are blocked.  Seek help with your pastor or therapist.   Do not be defined by bitterness!

Lusts: The last category of negative thoughts are the Lusts.  These thoughts are characterized by fantasy and the
forbidden.  Much of lustful thinking is wanting something that is not yours.  Envying another's home, job, body, spouse,
car, or life qualify as Lusts.  Sexual fantasies are common for many, but thoughts of greed and envy are prevalent too.  
Lustful thinking is dangerous because it robs us of contentment and joy in the present.  We start to think that our things,
children, spouses, and lives are not good enough.  This can also lead to a negative and bitter heart.  Lustful thinking can
be a problem for anyone at any economic level.  

So, how about your thought life?  Do you spend time dreaming of escape from your life or marriage or job?  If you do,
you are not living in the present and are not making your life any better.  The time you spend thinking about what cannot
be is time you have lost thinking about what could be better in real life.  If you catch yourself lusting sexually after a
forbidden person, try purposefully thinking about how you can pursue the person in your life God has given you.  If you
find yourself envying another person's home, try purposefully thinking about how you can improve your own home or
start making realistic plans about how to move to a place that works.  

Another helpful act is to confess Malevolents and Lusts to God.  The last thing most people think to do when having
sinful thoughts is to admit openly those thoughts to God.  However, God already knows you are thinking them, so he will
not be surprised.  Secondly, he has heard the very thoughts you are having no matter how bad they are from the
beginning of man's walk on the planet (after the fall).  Confession of your sinful thoughts helps to loosen their hold on our
souls and invites God's Spirit to transform our core so that negative sinful thoughts are less and less a part of our lives
freeing us to live more fully and joyfully in the present.

Positive Thought Categories
Delights:
Now let's turn our attention to meditations of the heart that are pleasing to God and healthy for our souls.  
Here too are three categories: Delights, Truths, and Magnificants.  Delights are positive thoughts about the past,
present, or future that uplift or delight the soul.  Think back to a warm memory from the past.  Your memory may involve
a good experience where you felt safe and secure.  You might think back to times of great camaraderie with friends as
you journeyed together through a challenge.  Maybe your memory is of a triumph in sports or work.  Maybe you
persisted and achieved a goal that others thought you could not achieve.  It is good to remember these delights from
the past especially when you are discouraged in the present.  The Jewish people in the Bible were good at establishing
memorials to remember the great things God did for them.  As described in 1 Samuel 7, Samuel, the leader of Israel at
the time, erected a large stone he called Ebenezer to remind the people of God's presence.  Every time the Israelites
saw the stone, they were re-minded.  They thought again of God's being with them through it all.  You might consider
having your own Ebenezer to re-mind you.

My favorite delights are those of the present. I am a highly sensory person.  I find delights in many things I see, hear,
smell, etc.  Examples include the food I'm eating, the music I hear, the forest I move through, clean air, beautiful clouds,
the grace of a deer running, a good movie, the beauty of my spouse, and the glory of sunsets.  As I mentioned earlier, I
can even delight in the way the roads are made and the grass is mowed.  What are your delights?  You might try
brainstorming a list of them.    It is amazing what you can delight in if you think about it.  
It is also possible to delight in the future.  What are you looking forward to?   This is the positive version of fantasy.  It
can be quite motivating and energizing to spend some time thinking about upcoming events, experiences, or
adventures.  Think about your next upcoming date with your spouse, that upcoming concert you long to hear, that
vacation you have worked hard to make possible.  If your thoughts and good fantasies bring more energy and life to
your present, then they are probably Delights.  

Truths: The second category of positive thoughts and pleasing meditations are Truths.  This category includes both
positive and difficult content.  Truths are about being honest with yourself about what is going on inside your soul as well
as what is going on with relationships.  Becoming aware of one's emotions can be helpful in figuring out what needs to
be done in one's life.  "Why are you cast down, O my soul?"  The writer in Psalm 42 has become aware of negative
emotion in his soul.  It is good for us to consider such emotions, consider the causes, and consider what to do about
them.  These are truth thoughts.  You might take time to consider what you are sad about, what you are angry about,
what you are afraid of, and positively, what you are happy about.  It is important to not become stuck in negative
emotions, but to deal with them in order to return to a state of peace and joy before God.  

As I have aged, I have found myself plagued by regrets at times.  These thoughts intrusively break into my
consciousness and cause pain.  Unfortunately, at this point in life, I am unable to change history to make the reality of
the regrets evaporate.  Instead, I face each regret, express sorrow and grief over my actions or lack of actions, confess
these feelings and realities to God, ask Him for help in letting them go, and seek His reminder of the good that I have
done and am capable of doing in the future.  It is a humbling thing to face one's regrets, but it is necessary if one is to
become free to live in the present and future.  Almost all of us have regrets.  Know that you are not alone.  When you are
ready, deal with them one by one, and you will find freedom from their condemnation.  "There is therefore no
condemnation for those in Christ Jesus."  See Romans 8.  

The topic of regrets is close in nature to the subject of grief.  We grieve when we experience loss.  You cannot avoid it.  
Loss happens.  Having thoughts of grief are normal and necessary.  Grief usually comes in seasons.  It is particularly
difficult when loss piles on loss and you have not yet recuperated form the last loss when another comes.  It is hard to
have Delights when you are grieving.  It is important for you to allow yourself to feel the grief feelings deeply, yet you will
need rest as well so you can continue your journey through the darkness of these times.  It is normal to question your
faith and God's presence during these times.  It is important to develop a strong relationship with God before these
seasons come so that you will experience His comforts and security even through these storms.  Grief thoughts and
feelings are a part of real life and are acceptable in His sight.  

Another form of Truths applies to relationships.  Thinking about your relationships is normal and necessary.  
Sometimes these thoughts will be Delights.  Sometimes your thoughts will be troubled or even negative.  For example,
if you are not being respected in your relationship, you will probably have feelings that are troubling, sad, or angry.  
Looking behind the feelings you'll find thoughts about the relationship.  You might think, "I don't like the way he talked to
me last night at the class.  I think he was being disrespectful.  I don't like it, and I'm going to address this with him the
next time we are together."  These thoughts are acceptable in God's sight.  In fact they are necessary if you are going to
be a healthy effective person.  You do not want to be bogged down with confusion or lingering anger.  It would rob you of
joy for life and cripple your effectiveness as a person.  In a word, sometimes one has to be assertive to deal with
negative realities in life. The goal is not harm but peace via speaking the truth in love.

Finally in the Truths category of positive thoughts is thinking about thanksgivings.  I could have spoken of this in the
Delights, but I think it fits better here.  Thanksgiving is  acknowledging the truth of being blessed.  For every sorrow or
pain we experience in life, there are hundreds, even thousands of blessings.  The problem is that pain gets our
attention.  Whereas with blessings, we become desensitized to them and fail to be aware of them.  One of the best
medicines for anyone stuck in a negative mood or pattern is to count your blessings.  Dr. Daniel Amen in his book,
Change your brain, Change your life, says that when you have thoughts, your brain releases chemicals that creates an
electrical transmission in your brain so that you become aware of the thought.  "Every time you have an angry thought,
an unkind thought, a sad thought, or a cranky thought, your brain releases chemicals that make your body feel bad (and
activate your deep limbic system).  ... Your body reacts t