An author, Bible teacher, and founder of the IF:Gathering has released a new book centered on helping Christians win the war against bad thoughts.
In Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts, Jennie Allen wants to help fellow Christians deal with what she describes as the “danger of toxic thinking.”
“We have bought the lie that we are victims of our thoughts rather than warriors equipped to fight on the front lines of the greatest battle of our generation: the battle for our minds,” she wrote.
"Whether you find yourself shut down or just haunted by nagging discontent, here is my declaration on behalf of both you and me: No more."
In the book, Allen says the three key lies people tell themselves are “I'm helpless,” “I'm worthless,” and “I'm unlovable.” The remedy, she said, is that Christians should “allow God to take up so much space in our thinking that our fears will shrink in comparison.”
She listed several ways to help capture one’s thoughts, including setting time aside for silent contemplation, serving God and others, and choosing delight over cynicism.
“Our goal is to be aware of our thoughts and deliberately build them into mind-sets that lead to the outcomes we want and the outcomes God wants for us,” wrote Allen.
The Christian Post interviewed Allen about her book and the topics it touches on, including “self-help,” mental health and the church, and spiritual warfare. Here are some excerpts.
CP: Early in the book, you examined the popular concept of "self-help" books. What would you say are some of the problems with the modern self-help movement?
Allen: I think it’s lacking an end. The greatest personal problem I have with it is it feels like the ultimate goal is believing more in myself and I don't find myself to be that awesome.
I think that all of us are looking to put hope in something more substantial than ourselves and so I think there's a lot of good to it, but I also think it can eliminate some of the things that are meant to draw us to our need for God.
Self-help without God at the end always falls short.
CP: You touched base on the issue of spiritual warfare. How do you respond to those Christians, especially in the United States, who might be uncomfortable dealing with this topic?
Allen: I think it is uncomfortable to some extent. It’s very mysterious. While the Bible does tell us some things about it, enough to know that its real and true and happening, there's still a lot we don't know. And yet throughout Scripture, what Jesus is clear about and what we know, is that we are the victors.
We don't have to be afraid of it, we don't have to be overwhelmed by it, that there is a winner and its God. We don't have to fear it because He's more powerful than the dark.
CP: Among the specific ways you list to help change one's mind-set in chapters 8-14, which ones have been especially challenging for you to master?
Allen: I think cynicism is probably the one that surprised me the most.
I saw it clearly happening around me but I didn't realize how much cynicism had invaded my own thoughts.
It has suddenly grown in all of us when we constantly live online and reading statistics rather than looking at real relationships right in front of us. The fear is that cynicism would rob us of joy, it would rob us of trust, and therefore it would rob us of connection with people. I think it’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit for.
There really is an abundance of it everywhere. I think we would all agree with that, but we're slow to see it is in ourselves.
The antidote in the book for cynicism is delight and beauty, because I have seen that again and again pierce my cynical heart in a way that nothing else can.
Whether that's nature or art or music, you just constantly see that beauty and art can pierce the intellect and the walls that we construct. And I have seen that in my own life and its caused me to have a higher value for it where before I might have thought it a luxury."
Now I see it more as something I need to continually put in my life to balance the negativity and the war for my mind.
CP: On the opposite end, what has been fairly easy to master?
Allen: I love people and so connection for me versus isolation is something that is not easy, but it's so important to me that I do tend to naturally gravitate toward people."
But even as an extrovert, as somebody who does value community and connections so highly, it still takes effort and it still takes a disciplined life to where I put that in my week and my month. I scheduled it in. I have to be proactive about it.
CP: When struggling with one's thoughts, as you describe in the book, at what point do you believe it might be necessary for a person to seek professional counseling to deal with these thought issues?
Allen: My husband battled with a few years of depression.
He would say that at some point he realized that it didn't matter what the right thing was to do, he couldn't get to the surface to do it.
If you find yourself paralyzed, where you feel like “I can't get out of bed, I can't choose connection with persons, I can't will myself out of this,” I think that's when you need to say “OK, maybe I need some help to get me to the surface so that I can swim.”
I think what medicine and counseling can do is provide that. They are not the end-all, be-all, but they can be a tool that God uses to bring you to a place where you can practice the spiritual disciplines and connection with God.
I think the Church has not done a great job with mental illness. This isn't a faith problem; this is a chemical imbalance. And go back to the fall in Genesis. Our bodies are fallen; our minds are fallen. We're fighting things.
Its equivalent to saying “let's Band-Aid cancer.” You can't just will yourself out of cancer. There is a need in Christendom for godly counselors as well as psychiatrists and for many people, their body's chemistry needs medicine to help them. And I think the Church can do a better job at talking about that.
CP: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Allen: That we are not victims to our minds. That these toxic spirals that we need to notice them and we need to take authority over our thoughts, because how we think becomes who we are.
This matters more than we realize and it’s possible to change. It’s not just possible, it’s a call of God that we take our thoughts captive and set our minds on what is true and good.