In the classic children’s game of Chutes and Ladders, the object of the game is to be the first player to reach the finish line. Each player rolls the die to move forward, hoping to avoid the chutes—which slide your game piece downward—or land on ladders—which bring your piece nearer to the finish line.
Controlling the direction of our mind is a bit like playing Chutes and Ladders.
Our thoughts go a thousand directions each day. Some thoughts are likes chutes, sending us into a downward mental spiral, while others elevate the direction of the mind like ladders. Unlike the game of Chutes and Ladders, the steps through our thoughts should not be determined at random; we should be training our brain to avoid the chutes and aim for the ladders.
Complaining—as noted in the first post—creates and solidifies neurological pathways to ease the flow of information through the brain, making it more likely that you will habitually complain.
To kick this habit, we’ve got to take two initial steps:
- First, we need to stop verbalizing our complaints.
- Second, we need to start building solid mental ladders.Many of us are familiar with the following verse from Philippians:
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthyof praise,
think about these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
~ Philippians 4.8-9, ESV
Most of us condense the list to, “I need to think about happy stuff.”
These eight things constitute more than mere positive thinking; they center the mind on what is good in quality.
Vegetables, for instance, are far healthier than chocolate chip cookies. Cookies induce a more pleasurable response than vegetables, but they do not nourish. In fact, refined sugar depletes nutrients, and—if consumed excessively—may lead to tooth decay, high blood sugar, and other health problems. Vegetables contain vital minerals and nutrients necessary to support the body. A regular diet including vegetables and healthy animal proteins support our physical health far better than cookies. In a similar fashion, these eight things listed in Philippians elevate the quality and purpose of our thinking, supporting optimal spiritual health.
In our efforts to curb complaining, we must reframe the circumstances in order to find something helpful or constructive in our situation. To do this, we need adequate source material. Fill your mind with what is worthwhile and you will have less room for what is worthless.
For the next thirty days, I encourage you to spend eight minutes each night listing something in your reflections that falls into one of these categories. It could be something that happened during the day, something you recall as you fill in the blanks, or something you’ve recently read. I plan to post some of my own reflections to the Elihu’s Corner Facebook Page each day to encourage you and keep myself accountable too!
Each night, after finishing your list, use it in your prayers. If you observed someone doing something selfless (admirable), you can petition God’s blessings on them. Maybe you’re facing an overwhelming situation (something true) and need God’s help. Whatever the case, this brief exercise is designed to center our mind on the Lord and think more like He does.
Below is a visual chart of these eight things, along with their brief Greek derivative and definition:
If you would like to journal your eight things, go for it! If you don’t have a journal, download this free printable and print enough copies so you can engage in this exercise daily. If you’d like a copy of the above chart, you can download it as a PDF here.
To help you get started, here are some thoughts about each of these points:
#1: Whatever is True.
Think of truth in terms of a ladder: A ladder must have stable feet and lean on a stable surface or else climbing it could lead to a nasty fall. Truth is both the solid ground and sturdy wall for our ladder. You don’t want to start climbing the elevating eight ladder based on fancies and falsehoods. Begin with truth.
As you write in this category, do not be disheartened if “what is true” is not equivalent to “what is happy.”
- High medical bills are a negative reality, but—particularly if I have means to eventually pay them off—they indicate that my kids are able to get the care they need, even if the expense is daunting.
- A three-foot stack of laundry may demand my attention at least eight days a week, but it is a reminder that I have people in my life that I love and have the opportunity to care for.
The best stories in literature involve grim realities like death, suffering, and trouble, but there is a redemptive purpose to the hardships that make triumph all the sweeter. The truth that faces you today may be overwhelming, but when put in proper perspective, it will give your thoughts solid footing.
Truth isn’t always a happy thing, but it is a grounding thing.
If your truth is overwhelming, take it to the Lord in prayer and write down his promises.
Do your best and trust God with the rest.
#2: Whatever is Honorable (or Noble)
The words, “honorable” or “dignified” put us in mind of high and lofty deeds. We may think of soldiers on the battlefield, firefighters racing into a burning building, or—of greatest magnitude—Jesus sacrificing Himself on the cross. All of these things fall under the “honorable” category. Don’t underestimate the daily deeds of those around us who nobly keep their commitments and honor others through simple kindness:
- Does your spouse regularly go to work to provide for your family?
- Does your spouse give up things they love so you can do things you love?
- Are your parents caring for their elderly parents at great personal cost?
- Is there someone at church who selflessly shares their time, talents, or treasures?
- Has a co-worker or classmate given up their time to help you finish a project in which they had no stake?
- Is there a friend who calls to check on you from time to time just because they care about you?
There are many noble deeds we take for granted. Acknowledge these acts and give thanks for them. Send a message or card to someone to tell them they are appreciated. Focus on what people do well rather than what they do wrong.
#3: Whatever is Just
Jesus advocated simple acts of rightness and justice, such as, “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” or “forgive others their trespasses.” It’s important to be well-acquainted with the Bible to understand God what God considers “right” and “just.” When we consider the justice we should receive for our sins, it enhances the value of God’s grace in our hearts.
Maybe someone has wronged you today; thank God for His forgiveness toward you, and the opportunity to learn to extend the same grace to another.
#4: Whatever is Pure
The greek word for pure in this context is “hagna,” a derivative of “hagios,” meaning holy. This is one of the hardest categories because we may not perceive if something is truly pure or truly polluted.
Look for people behaving with gentle compassion. Instead of picking apart their behavior, thank God for a glimpse of goodness.
The love of God, and the Lord Himself are pure and holy. The Psalmist writes, “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
Look for things that are pure!
#5: Whatever is Lovely
One of the definitions of lovely is, “worth the effort to have and embrace.” This world teems with the loveliness endowed by it’s creator—vibrant autumn leaves, refreshing ocean air, breathtaking sunsets, majestic mountains. These things are lovely, and it does me good to revel in them, but we can take this category a step further.
What is worth the effort to have and embrace?
- The Lord
- Eternal life
- A spirit of self-control
- A love-filled, God-centered marriage and family
- Healthy relationships
- People who effectively share the gospel
Find something lovely and write it down!
#6: Whatever is Admirable/of Good Report/Commendable
This category covers the same ground as noble, but with less gravitas. When my son, who struggles to read and write, makes the effort to copy the verses that preacher has in his power point, I find that admirable. When my daughter employs all her good musical training in a performance, it’s commendable. When my spouse sets a good example for our children, it’s something “of good report.”
There are many commendable examples. Look for them, wrote them down and give thanks to God when you see them.
#7: If there is any Excellence/Virtue
Moral excellence takes time. We do not develop this trait overnight; it takes a lifetime of submission to the training and teaching of our Father. When you observe moral excellence or virtue in your daily life, in a book, or in someone you know, take note of it. We have a tendency to focus on all the evil around us and ignore the virtuous. In order to complain less, we need to have our minds tuned into what truly constitutes moral excellence. Examples include:
- converts who are slowly transforming into the image of Christ
- Children making wise choices
- People whose lives exhibit the fruit of the Spirit
What examples of excellence can you think of?
#8: If there is anything Praiseworthy
A lot of things fall into this category. I’ve watched world-class musicians, worked with selfless people, seen great architectural wonders—all of which are praiseworthy.
The Bible tells us the “tested genuineness of our faith” is also praiseworthy in 1 Peter 1:7. Other praiseworthy efforts include diligence, love, compassion, kindness, mercy, humility, and grace. I wonder how different this world would be if we took a little time to find something worth praising instead of spouting our every criticism.
This exercise is a simple way to renew our minds each day. Sometimes we need a change of pace to pull us out of the doldrums. I hope you will join me in this effort and share your results!
This post is part of a series on kicking the complaint habit.
Here are some previous posts: