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Thoughts (Battling Them)

“Perhaps you are like me: you have often read this passage but missed Saint Luke’s note that Simon “...spoke to himself...” when he thought, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). He did not speak these thoughts audibly at the table, but he clearly voiced them to himself and to our Lord Who hears everyone’s ‘heart-speech.’ It has taken me some years to reach a partial awareness that God hears every last thing that goes through my mind. I say, ‘partial,’ because, if my awareness of being heard (not just accidentally overheard) by God were acute, I would be in tears like the sinful woman before Christ. For the most part, I blithely think horrible things, and occasionally, by God’s grace, snap to awareness and stop enjoying my hidden opinions.” (Dynamis 7/11/2023)

“Every one of us has, on occasion, had times of prayer, worship, or meditation disrupted by unwanted thoughts. Having uncontrolled, dark thoughts disrupting and impeding one’s spiritual growth seems to be a universal human problem. Even the early mystics who fled to the desert for solitude found that they could not escape the distraction of their own thoughts. So, if these thoughts have such a negative impact, what can be done? How do we deal with this all-too common phenomenon? By dealing with it I do not mean denying, suppressing or shutting down the thought process itself. That is a God-given and vital aspect of human existence. The problem is not the ability to think, but rather losing the ability to discipline and control our thoughts, which, in turn, opens the mind to a flood of unwanted, disruptive, and evil thoughts. The task, it seems to me, is to manage the gift of thought in keeping with its intended purpose.” (Fr. Edward Rommen)

“Many of the Church Fathers…speak about thoughts and how to deal with them…their teaching is based on the model of the mind as a sensory organ that receives thoughts. For instance, St. Paisios, a very recent saint who reposed in 1994, described thoughts as being like airplanes that fly overhead. Your mind is like an airport. You do not have to invite every thought that flies by to land in your airport. You can let it fly by. Most thoughts come from outside. They might come from God—every good thought comes from God. But they can also be from the dark demonic powers, who whisper thoughts of sin to us. We can give each other thoughts, too, by speaking or acting toward each other. Many of the thoughts we have are ones that we invited to land in our minds and then gave them shelter and service like an airport crew serving an airplane. So they come again and again, and they define us. We identify with these thoughts, and they change us to become like them. But just because you have a thought does not mean that that thought is who you are! You don’t have to believe everything you think.” (Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick)

“…confused thoughts and feelings is what the Church calls spiritual warfare. And the important thing to remember is that the warfare in my mind is not me. So long as I am resisting or trying to discern my thoughts, my thoughts are not me. My thoughts only become me when I accept them, but even then I can repent. Sometimes I accept a thought, usually accompanied by a feeling, only to slowly realize that the thought/feeling is inappropriate. When I realize it, I repent. I change my mind and ask for forgiveness.” (Fr. Michael Gillis)

“We cannot prevent unwanted thoughts from entering our mind. We cannot be rid of evil thoughts by human thinking. St. Gregory of Sinai teaches that a beginner—and we are all beginners—cannot chase a thought away unless God does it.” (Albert S. Rossi, PhD)

“A confusing aspect of our Christian growth is that we can, sometimes even at the same moment, have a very peaceful, godly thought full of love for God and neighbor, and then have a terribly sinful and embarrassingly nasty thought. How can this be? If God is alive in us, how can such terrible thoughts keep appearing in our minds? How do we combat this? One unhelpful way to combat this experience of good thoughts followed by bad thoughts is to become angry with ourselves, thinking that we must just try harder. Trying harder not to think bad thoughts only increases our bad thoughts.” (Fr. Michael Gillis)

“When we become aware of negative thoughts, we don’t combat them directly. They are larger than life and certainly larger than our strength to combat them. So we become aware of them, let them go, and surrender them to the Lord so He can combat them for us. Our negative thoughts can be our victory in the spiritual warfare. When we counteract harmful thoughts, we receive the crown of glory.” (Albert S. Rossi, PhD)

“…types of negative thoughts about the self, our environment, and the future do not necessarily correlate to what is actually happening in a person’s life. If someone is weighed down by negative automatic thoughts, he tends to be tormented even when things are going comparatively well. Similarly, if someone’s mind is filled with positive thoughts like appreciation, compassion, and contentment, then she tends to have peace of mind even when things are going wrong in her life. The difference largely comes down to the meanings we ascribe to our lives.” (Robin Phillips)

“…our tendency to add thought upon thought upon thought. We notice, for example, our anger and how it is quickly followed by another thought that judges it: “I should not be having this angry thought” or “after all these years I still can’t let go of my anger” or “I thought I dealt with this years ago.” This aggregate of thoughts must also be observed, and we must each see for ourselves that part of the reason we can’t let go is that we whip these thoughts and feelings into a great drama that we watch over and over again….We progress in overcoming the illusion of separation from God when we learn how to deal with the barrage of thoughts that pummels us into misery.” (Martin Laird)

“…our mind is like a man facing the rising sun on a cold winter morning. His face feels the warmth of the sun, but his back still feels the chill of the cold. Similarly, the Holy Spirit shining in our hearts warms our mind helping us to have thoughts of humility, thanksgiving and love for neighbor. However, because we have a habit of thinking wicked, judgmental and angry thoughts—like the cold of winter—we still feel and experience these ungodly thoughts. So how do we increase the good thoughts and decrease the bad ones? Like the cold man in winter, we continue to face the sun. By paying attention to our thoughts that tend toward the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faith, self control), we increase the warmth of God in ourselves. By paying attention to our wicked, angry, and judgmental thoughts and memories, we turn away from the sun, step into the shade—like Adam and Eve hiding in the fig trees—and thus our wicked thoughts increase. Our thoughts are a bit like muscles: the ones you exercise get bigger and stronger.” (St. Diadochos of Photiki, Fr. Michael Gillis)

“It is impossible to stop our mind, which is ever-moving, from having thoughts, although it is within our power to feed it either with spiritual meditation or with worldly concerns.” (St. Moses the Ethiopian)

“Without such quietude, which the Fathers call hesychia, we do not even realize how dominated we are by our thoughts. With it, we at last are given eyes to see how they flood through us and out of us with such abandon…Who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: that is, his own heart.” (Bishop Irenei Steenberg, St. Anthony the Great)

“The Scriptures teach us that Christ has already won the battle against these spiritual powers that seek to do us harm. He has already disarmed them by destroying their power of sin and death. The reality, however, that they are on the losing side has not led to the enemy surrendering, or seeking mercy from our victorious Lord. Rather, because they know that their days are numbered and their time is short, they thrash about all the more violently, harming and destroying anyone they can in the time left to them. As Christians, this requires us to be on our guard. It requires us to guard our minds, and to examine our thoughts and impulses, to practice discernment between them regarding which are good and guiding us toward the Kingdom, and which thoughts and impulses are seeking to leads us off of the path, and to a destination which we seek to avoid. Just as important as it is to remember that we are engaged in this spiritual warfare, however, is that we always remember that our fellow human beings are never our enemies.” (Father Stephen De Young)

“The enemy is always trying to distract our mind with where we have been, what we have done, what we have heard, even from our youth. The evil spirits have a way of combining these things; they have an entire archive of all our doings.... They cannot see our inner thoughts, but they can see the state of our soul. Therefore we need a huge effort to draw our hearts close to the Lord and to be with Him at all times. This is labor-filled prayer.” (Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica)

“Modern society tells us to listen closely to our thoughts and feelings, because that’s who we really are. But this psychologized model of anthropology squares neither with how humanity has understood itself throughout time nor with our daily experiences, in which we cannot always understand our thoughts and feelings and in which they often contradict from moment to moment. It also does not take into account the thoughts and feelings may be coming from the outside, i.e. demonic influence…You don’t have to live at the mercy of things you think and feel, no matter how deep they seem to go. Christ has called you to take every thought captive to rise in holy obedience to Him, to become like Him.” (Father Andrew Stephen Damick)

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