Have you ever been on a 'mental gerbil wheel'? A 'mental gerbil wheel' is where your thoughts keep circling around, back to the same subject that is troubling you. On it, you are exerting a lot of effort, but you are going nowhere as you continuously think about how someone has hurt you. A 'mental gerbil wheel' is how author Chris Brauns describes our thought processes after someone has hurt us in his book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds.
In my own frame of reference, a friend described the mental gerbil wheel as a bird's nest. Once, when I struggled with negative thoughts I could not control, a wise friend told me "You know, you can't keep the birds from flying in, but you can keep them from making a nest."
So how do we do that?
Brauns offers some suggestions:
Burn into your mind what the Bible teaches about forgiveness. Forgive as God forgives you. Have an "attitude or disposition of grace toward all people even as God offers forgiveness to all who receive it. God does not forgive all people but he does offer grace and forgiveness to all," Brauns writes. Be willing to forgive everyone who asks. Conquer bitterness by resting in the fact that God is just (Remember that we discussed that loving our enemies was a deeper, more complete way to conquer bitterness.).
Take a long look at Christ in his word. Stop analyzing your situation and your personal pain by reading about and focusing on Jesus. "As you meditate on him, you'll find that you are increasingly like him," Brauns writes.
Pray, pray, pray: Spending time in prayer the answer for those whose hearts are troubled. Do what is necessary in order to get alone and talk to God. As you do this, thank God for the good in your life, as suggested in Philippians 4: 4 - 7. Giving thanks will help shift your focus and help you get off that mental gerbil wheel. "If you have been treated unfairly," Brauns writes, "it is also legitimate to pray for justice, as Jesus taught in the parable of the persistent widow." We should also pray for our enemies, as Jesus instructed. It is difficult to hate someone for whom you are praying.
Say and do the right things. When hurt, it is easy to fall to the temptation of talking about your problems to everyone. Do not do this. Pray, talk to a trusted friend, but do not talk to many people. By talking to everyone you know, you will stay on the mental gerbil wheel, and involve too many people in something that is none of their business. Brauns recommends using your energy in a positive way by serving others and encouraging them.
Participate in the God-given means of grace. We discussed this in chapter one. The means of grace are studying scripture, prayer, worship and fellowship.
Getting off the mental gerbil wheel can be a slow process, but it is important to do so. If we do not, we will harbor ill feelings and bitterness. This will give Satan a means of working in our hearts, which will cause chaos in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Tomorrow we'll discuss What if Christians Can't Agree and I'll share my final thoughts on this book.