by Joanie Butman
I am not a golfer, but my husband is so I was subject to glimpses of the Ryder Cup last weekend. Personally, I don’t understand the fascination, but golf is widely popular so I must be missing something other than the ball, which I’ve never been able to hit.
Anyone who has played with my husband can attest to the fact that he has a unique habit of talking himself through each shot.
“Okay, Bob, you can do this.”"Swing nice and easy, lemon squeezie." “Hit it straight and long, Bobby.” Or the infamous, “Oh, Bob!”
I’ve heard about it enough that when he returns, I need only ask, “Was it an ‘Oh, Bob!’ day?” Truthfully, I can tell immediately whether it was or not just by his demeanor. After last weekend, I can only imagine what the U.S. team was saying to themselves. It was definitely an “Oh, Bob!” weekend for them.
I don’t think Bob is unique in his running dialogue, though most of us don’t verbalize ours. There is an ongoing conversation in my head; and being Italian, it is frequently noted by hand gestures when the conversation gets particularly lively. I’m no Sybil, but there is more than one voice in there.
There is the relentless, loquacious one that appears at night and refuses to stop making lists of things like people that need prayer, ideas for writing, or just things that need to be done. I quiet this one by keeping paper and pen by my bed so I can write the lists down and respond, “Okay, I got it. Now be quiet and let me sleep!”` It’s quite effective.
These voices take on many personas.
There is the comedian who sees the comic side of anything and everything and is not shy about pointing it out even if humor is totally inappropriate at the moment.
There is the writer who recognizes a story in the most ordinary of circumstance and always has at least two or three stories in various stages of development being written in her head.
There is the bashful encourager who whispers an occasional reassuring comment, but keeps pretty quiet for the most part.
There is the loud, irritating, disparaging voice belittling my efforts regardless of what I am doing. It takes enormous discipline and more than pen and paper to keep that demon at bay.
Finally, there is the still small voice on Whom I can trust to always offer exactly what I need to hear at any given moment.
No wonder I can’t remember anything. It’s too crowded in there!
I attended a retreat once whose theme was “I am Accepted, I am Secure, I am Significant.” I’m not sure whether it was my comedic voice or my negative one that immediately chimed in, “Well, I guess that makes me an A.S.S.” Can you see what I’m up against?
Which voice I choose to listen to is one of the most important choices I make all day, every day. Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” illustrates the importance of that choice. Often, it is the conscious decision of which voice I choose to allow to dominate my inner dialogue that sets the tone of the day.
I’m not ordinarily the jealous type, but I do envy people who have an inner conversation that actually encourages them – like Bob. Sure he has the occasional, “Oh, Bob!” but for the most part, he’s pretty nice to himself. At times, I might even say delusional. Mine are more self-flagellating and critical, and I don’t think I am alone in being my own worst enemy. Why can we be so generous in spirit to others, but are our own harshest critics? It’s an interesting phenomenon.
Without a doubt, there are times when my inner voice is doing a much-needed correction. It’s my moral compass getting me back on track. The trick is learning to discern the difference between constructive criticism and baseless negativity. Here is the yardstick that I was taught. The Holy Spirit convicts specifically. If the voice you’re hearing is speaking in generalities, it is definitely NOT to be trusted.
Any voice that takes something good and makes it seem bad or worthless (whether it is self-inflicted or by someone else) is NOT one you want replaying in your head. We don’t have control over what others say, but we can choose, as Mrs. Roosevelt astutely suggests, not to buy into someone else’s negativity.
Controlling your thoughts is an excellent discipline because whichever voice you allow to dominate your subconscious will determine the kind of person you become. If you worry excessively about things you can’t control, you will become a neurotic insomniac. If you brood over all the things wrong in your life, you will feel victimized. If you are consumed with vengeance, you will become bitter and angry. If you let your fears take over, you will see danger lurking around every corner.
The way I choose to censor my thoughts is by replacing any negative one that isn’t constructive with an encouraging verse or inspirational quote. I repeat it until the other thought vanishes. In Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help, Abileen Clark’s mantra “You is kind, you is smart, you is important” is a perfect example. She uses it as a constant reminder of her worth despite the extreme prejudice she must endure.
As a Christian, I use Bible verses and have a few favorites depending on the type of thoughts I’m struggling with, but the following is my standby:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble,
whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy –
think about such things.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.“
Our thoughts, like our words, have the power to tear down or build up. They can devastate or elevate. The choice is always ours.