Every December I invest fifteen hours or so to plan my life for the next twelve months. I review my current activities, I add some items, remove others, and I prioritize.
For the last ten years, I’ve budgeted about five hours a week in a small non-profit group. While planning this year, I began to question that investment. They are a great group, but I’m not sure I’m making a difference. I wondered if my weekly five hours is bearing fruit.
Actually, I did more than wonder. I obsessed. When my wife asked what to do for our weekly date, I talked about my question. While washing dishes, I mused on my concern. I emailed friends, talked with strangers, and tossed and turned all night. Obsessing.
A weekly five hour duty was grabbing fifty-percent of my mind. Probably more. I beseeched God how to budget that time. I just wanted an answer to my question.
Instead of telling me how to budget my time, God told me to learn to budget my brain.
Where does your mind go?
Do you share my frequent slippage into obsession? I carefully allocate hours each week for work, writing, chores, preparing my taxes (another fun December duty), and play.
But my mind has a mind of its own.
Failure to invest my time wisely results in tax penalties, a sink full of dishes, and an unhappy wife. And no book gets written. So I budget my time to accomplish my tasks.
But what are the consequences of not budgeting my brain? Where does my mind go when I don’t have a plan? My mind goes to anxiety, obsession, fear, anger, bitterness, and self-centeredness. (Don’t ask me where it goes on my bad days.)
As a brain budgeter I am a profligate, squandering my mind on whatever stirs it.
Choosing our thoughts
After a couple weeks of spendthrift, mind obsession, I read Philippians 4:8,
Finally … 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 worthy of praise, keep thinking about these things.
Paul is saying we can choose our thoughts, that we can budget our brains. I was deliberately planning my time but just letting my mind go where it wandered.
Why had I never budgeted my brain? (My siblings would say that there was never much to budget anyway.)
Paul’s thought-list was positive; my obsessive thoughts were largely negative (surprise!), dragging me down, and pulling with my friends along with me. I needed a change.
So I chose positive images: sunsets on warm summer evenings, family times together, and sailing on Lake Michigan. I nourished my mind with McHappy-meal thoughts.
But the real world interfered. The skies outside were grey; my kids were with their in-laws for Christmas; and my sailboat sank last spring. My mind left that happy place in a McHurry when reality intervened.
My self-hypnosis, happy thoughts evaporated like morning mist in the noonday sun.
So I tried a different approach
Instead of self-hypnosis, I tried abstract contemplation on the nature of truth (and purity and justice). What does truth mean? It is more than the opposite of deceit? Is knowing truth the same as grasping the reality of the world we live in, or is it more?
I had fun. For a bit. Maybe a day. But the cold, sterile concepts didn’t capture my heart.
My obsession over my involvement in that small non-profit kept meddling with my mind. The reality of a needed decision trumped the intellectual thoughts. They were abstract, but day-to-day life is tangible. It intruded upon my mind.
A couple days ago I read a passage in which Jesus rebukes the Bible experts of his day,
You examine the Scriptures carefully because you suppose that in them you have eternal life. Yet they testify about me, and you are not willing to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).
Jesus says that scripture (including the Phil. 4:8 passage above) is about him; not self-hypnosis, McHappy thoughts, and not abstract, philosophical answers. As C. S. Lewis said, “We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.”
So I began to think about the person of Jesus and how Paul’s list in Philippians perfectly reveals the person of Jesus. Instead of abstract truth, I thought of God’s promise to rescue us, and how he kept his word even at incredible cost. I began to trust him more.
What I needed most was not a watertight answer but a watertight person. And that’s what we have. As I saw more of Jesus, my preoccupations just sort of melted away.
I mistyped the title to this blog
The title of this blog is, I’m Learning to Budget My Brain. Just before posting it, I noticed I had mistyped “budget.” I had left out the “t.” It said, I’m Learning to Budge My Brain.
Perhaps it was Freudian. In this New Year, maybe I must simply get my brain moving.
But once it’s moving, I want to learn to choose my thoughts, to take every thought captive, to budget my brain. We live inside our minds 24/7, yet sometimes I wonder if it’s the true final frontier we must conquer; not outer-space but inner-space.
Nature abhors a vacuum—so does our mind. Let’s decide what fills it.