Today I want to introduce you to two friends: Mae, a young women in her 5th year serving cross culturally, and the God who brings us back from captivity. As Mae tells her story, our hope is you will be filled with courage to trust this amazing God who created us with the capacity to renew our minds and literally change the hardwiring of our thoughts.
Mae, thank you for your willingness to share your beautiful story of transformation and freedom. Often, we get stuck in our story, either refusing to engage in the work of healing, assuming nothing can be done about our past. Or the past controls and overwhelms us to the point of hopelessness. What’s been your experience?
I had this one sided conversation with God for more than fifteen years. “Will I ever stop struggling with my sexuality? What’s going to keep me from doing worse things? I’m happy being single, so I don’t really need it. Can you just take it away?”
I started masturbating when I was around seven years old. I didn’t really have a concept of what I was doing, but as I grew into my teens it became a full blown addiction. At different times – overwhelmed with guilt and shame – I sought help from others. People would stare at me blankly and tell me there was nothing in the Word that addressed this issue OR they would start crying and share that they, too, struggled with it. Finally I decided this was a burden I’d be stuck with forever and there was no way out. I did what I could to live “free of it,” but I was never really free. I’d have periods when I would be doing well, then suddenly lapse into a binge. The after-effects would leave me feeling worthless, ashamed and wondering if anyone could love me after all my poor choices.
What changed for you?
One day the word “pure” popped out at me. It was being used to describe the Children of God. I literally chuckled and said, “not me.” I distinctly heard a voice say, “Yes, you. Now be who you are.” I responded by talking with women in my community about my struggles and being accountable to family. But I still held the view that I would always struggle with this. I didn’t realize it, but the struggle had become a part of my identity and it was limiting the victory I could have in other areas as well.
That connection to identity is key. Modern Christian culture has embraced the concept that we are sinners saved by grace– which is certainly true, but not the whole truth. The New Testament refers to us as saints, holy, new creations, friends and children of God, loved and chosen by God to be His image bearers. Sinners sin, right? But saints recognize that sin is an affront to our true nature, repent, and live in the light. How did this shift in understanding impact you?
Over three to four years the Father started opening up the word and changing my perspective. The first thing that nudged my heart was the call to “set our mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. Set your mind on things above, not on things that are below. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Col 3:1-4
At one point I was overwhelmed by the idea that I would always fail, and a friend asked me, “So do you actually believe your sin nature was crucified on the cross?” It was like a bubble of shame popped over my head and despite my logical objections, I started quoting verses that spoke of our old, DEAD man. Did I really believe it? Was I looking at myself with a heavenly perspective?
As I pondered these questions, the Father very clearly told me, “You have made this struggle a part of your identity. I took that struggle upon myself on the cross and destroyed it, so why are you still holding onto it? You are free.” For the first time, instead of asking him to take away my sexuality, I thanked him for taking away the struggle. He started to tear down the lies I had built up around my sexuality.
What did that look like in practical ways?
Challenged to “take every thought captive”, I interviewed people, listened to sermons on renewing of the mind and looked at the word. I kept wondering if the Father could erase the thoughts and fears I’d had before.
It hit me in my Chinese language class – I had to change the way I thought to learn this language. While I still had errors, I’d had a lot of success at changing my thoughts. Almost every Skype call with my family was full of laughter at the Chinglish way I spoke. I almost started cheering in class at this realization. If I was able to change the way I thought for the purpose of speaking a language, surely, with the help of His Spirit my thought life could be changed, even erased. Hope had entered the picture and suddenly change began to happen.
I love how hope catalyzed change. In recent years, neuroscience has exploded with research on the power of our thought processes – on memory in particular. Autobiographical memories are intertwined with our neural processing center for language, thoughts, concepts, and ideas. In Dr. Curt Thomas’ book Anatomy of the Soul, he explains “the manner and context in which you reflect on your story (in your mind) or tell your story (to others) become part of the fabric of the narrative itself. The process of reflecting on and telling others your story, and the way you experience others hearing it, actually shapes the story and the very neural correlates, or networks, it represents.” So, sharing your story with trusted listeners, journaling, and reflecting on your past in light of Scripture actually rewires your brain circuitry. Mae, how have you experienced this?
I started to obey Philippians 4:4-9: rejoicing, being thankful and thinking of good things. I intentionally reminded myself throughout the day that I was seated with Christ in the heavenlies, that his presence was ever with me and that my present and future rested in his hands (Col 3:1-4 Eph 2:6). I memorized and meditated on passages that told me who I was or what to think of. When I found my “absent thoughts” straying to unfruitful topics, I would begin to praise. At the end of each day I wrote a list of things I was thankful for: it was hard at first but one night I wrote over 40 items from the day – and several mornings I woke up face planted in my journal with a pen in my hand. I fought and I still fight to stay my mind on him, but in hindsight I can tell you of some changes.
I really started to appreciate my sexuality as a gift from God. As I studied the biblical words for intimacy and unity, I started believing that my sexuality and my desires were beautiful because they pointed me to him: the true and everlasting satisfaction that I needed. We were all created to be one with him, and the act of sex between a married couple is a picture of something much more eternal. Knowing him became the most passionate act I could imagine. When I found myself struggling with impure thoughts, I would respond by turning to him in praise or reading his word.
I stopped telling myself I was ugly. It is a rare day now, that I look at my image and don’t tell myself I’m a hottie (crazy, but true). I started saying no to temptation. Previously temptation would be an agonizing battle of “I shouldn’t… but oops, I did it again” followed by guilt and shame. Now when confronted with temptation, I simply say, “That’s not who I am.”
I will be frank and say I have failed, but those times are rare and have not turned into the binging I would previously have fallen into. And when I do fail, I repent and don’t have agonizing guilt hanging over me. Instead I am simply awed by the grace and mercy of our Father.
Beautiful! We used to think of memories as permanent fixtures, like a file cabinet you go back to pull out a memory, look at it, and put it back in the file. But actually, memories are dynamic. Each time you remember an event, your neural networks are following a particular pathway and reconstructing that memory in that moment. So, as our perception of a memory shifts, the power and understanding of that memory can be changed. What’s been your experience with memories as you’ve renewed your mind?
Recently I realized several things that used to traumatize me have disappeared. In situations where I might have reacted with anger or closed myself off, I’m now able to listen to his Spirit or recall his word. I honestly believe some of my memories have been erased. The ones that haven’t, have lost whatever emotional turmoil their recollection used to bring.
All this has taken place over a few years, but I know it is because of how the Father is changing the pathways in my brain and the way I think. He has so faithfully renewed my mind as I’ve chosen to believe and meditate on his word. I’m looking forward to all the changes he’ll continue to make in ALL of us as we allow him to change the way we think and allow him to breath life into the dead places in our thoughts.
Thank you, Mae, for sharing your story. May the telling not only bring a deeper freedom to you, but also to sisters struggling with their past.
Today we are at the Grove, a safe place we share together as sisters and friends. Where can we support you in prayer? What resources or keys have you found in renewing your mind and experiencing healing?
This is what we call The Grove. It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt. So join us in the comments. Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt. Click here for details and instructions.