I stumbled upon this fun word this week while reading an article from a friend: rumination. It stuck out to me, the way words do sometimes. To ruminate; it sounded like such a process. In its most basic form, ruminating means to think deeply about something. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think that is maybe one of my gifts that I offer to the world. So where does it go bad?
“Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions,” according to the Nolan-Hoeksema’s Response Styles Theory.
Yikes. That sounds all too familiar for me. How often am I focused simply on the symptoms rather than the root issue? I am tempted, in relation to anxiety specifically, to just remove the situations or circumstances or people that maybe cause some anxiety. But instead, God invites me into something better: He reminds me that the goal is not to just to treat the symptoms, but the sickness itself. For anxiety, it is not about removing any possible thing from our lives that could cause anxiety, but to fight anxiety itself. Easier said than done, but this perspective is still important to me.
I made “stop over-complicating things” one of my birthday goals, and what have I done every day since? Over-complicated. Every.Dang.Thing.
When I reflect on my life, some of the best things I have ever done or experienced also were the greatest seasons of fear and anxiety. Hard does not equal wrong. I looked back on my journal around this time last year and I wrote the exact same thing: “I’m learning that the hardest things, the things we have to fight for the most, are probably the things that matter the most.” Experiencing anxiety does not mean that I am necessarily doing something wrong or a part of something wrong, it means a whole host of other things – like, maybe I need to release control, or maybe I need to trust the Lord, or maybe I need to CALM DOWN. Maybe I need to reevaluate what I am believing about the Lord’s character in a particular area of life. What might I be misunderstanding or mislabeling?
The word “ruminate” comes from the idea of “chewing the cud.” Yes, we’re talking cattle. You know how cattle literally chew, swallow and then regurgitate their food and rechew it? Disgusting. But it is what works for their digestion. It does not work for our brains.
I ruminate on all the things. Especially at night, I will think about a situation. And then I’ll think about it again. And again. But I am not just thinking about it, I am analyzing and picking it apart and trying to identify potential issues and see how each thing is going to end and all the things that might make it end poorly. I am anticipating the worst. I am letting fear drive the car.
I ruminate on all areas of my life, particularly work and relationships, creating worst case scenarios in my head and finding all the possible ways things will probably blow up. When I let my brain ruminate in this way, I end up picturing myself as sad, lonely, unemployed, unhealthy, and liked and/or respected by no one. This is where ruminating will take me if I let it.
We have to find a better solution. We have to find a better way. I truly believe the Lord does not want us regurgitating and making ourselves crazy overthinking and over-complicating all the things.
This reminded me of a concept I read about a while back that I really, really love. Spiral upward. Turns out, this is a concept widely known and used in psychology, particularly to fight depression.
We use the phrase “downward spiral” all the time, it looks very similar to the process of ruminating. We start to think about or partake in negative things and it takes us down, down, and further down. What if we chose to do the opposite? In essence, we are always participating in writing stories in our minds. We are telling stories of what could happen, and most of the time we choose to take that story to its worst case scenario. We create pictures of all the bad ways things could go. We have just as much of a chance to tell a good, happy, and holy story as the opposite.
So this is the challenge. Spiral upward, friends. Let us tell a better story with our lives, and in our minds. Let’s not ruminate on the bad, the potential challenge, the worst case scenarios. Let’s ruminate on the good, the holy, the sacred. Choose to believe the best.
Here are some thoughts:
That hard conversation you have to have? Maybe it will lead to truer, deeper, healthier friendship.
That job that seems impossible – or difficult at the least? It could be just what you are made for.
That anticipation of all that could go wrong? What if, just what if, maybe things will GO JUST FINE?! And that if things go wrong, maybe you actually KNOW how to handle it?
What else are you ruminating on? What situations are you creating worst case scenarios out of – for no good reason? What if the story could, just maybe, turn out really, really great in the end?
Don’t waste time looking for red flags. Searching for a secret issue. Don’t spend your life thinking God doesn’t want the best for you, that He doesn’t want to give you good gifts, that He is going to ask you to surrender anything in this life that you love or enjoy. That is outside His character; don’t limit Him in that way. He does want the best for you (and His is better than ours). He does want to give you good gifts (better than you could ask or imagine). He wants you to find things in life that you love and enjoy – in fact, He will probably lead you toward those things if you listen to Him.
Tolkien created the word “eucatastrophe” to describe this experience for characters. Combining “eu,” a prefix meaning “good,” and “catastrophe” to create a word illustrating a “good turn.” This word stands firm, saying that even in the midst of hardship or challenge, we can find JOY and hope.
Choose to believe the best – about yourself, about your relationships, about God, about your life, about the world. Ruminate on the holy, and write a beautiful story.