In a few short months it will be spring. In my small town in Eastern Europe, the snow will melt, the ground will be soft with mud, and men and women will begin working countless hours in the fields. Whether it’s a one-acre backyard subsistence plot or acres of wheat in a field miles from home, laborers bend over, turning the earth by hand with methods unchanged for centuries.
In Romania and countless other countries across the globe, come spring or planting season, I have observed people engaged in subsistence farming and, what some might call ‘mind-numbing’ labor. The fruit of the labor comes at harvest. In the meantime, this necessary work can seem menial and tedious, maybe even degrading and servile. That’s how I felt about my necessary work recently when I returned from a trip.
While away from my family, I did not change one diaper, wash one dish, sweep, cook or do laundry. Someone else did all those things for me. When I stepped back into the routine, I resented those essential aspects of life. Fighting this drudgery, this resentment, was an ongoing battle in my mind the first few hours back when, within the first hour, I had to start a load of laundry, sweep and do dishes. What happens in our mind, our thought life, is where God and His truth can be active, alive and transformational.
How we spend our time is important, but how we spend our mind is even more important. We so often prioritize productivity and measurable results, while in the meantime let our minds wander into anger, worry, resentment, bitterness or comparison. I can’t tell you the number of times, in the solitude of my kitchen while being useful cleaning and washing dishes by hand (we don’t have a dishwasher), my mind stewed in prideful anger over a specific situation. I would not let it out of my mind. I wasn’t angry about my labor, but because my task did not require intense focus, I let my mind wander to where it was most naturally inclined.
The time we spend working, toiling, laboring can be redeemed by what we do with our minds. There is no such thing as mindless labor. The ground is cursed, but we can redeem our time spent working the cursed ground – or washing dishes, hanging laundry, cleaning toilets, wiping down toys in the nursery, changing a tire, picking up trash in a neglected alley, pulling weeds, or reworking a difficult homework problem for the fifth time. In these endeavors, the Spirit that dwells in Believers of Jesus enables us to take our thoughts captive. Seize them and surrender them to Christ. As Paul exhorts followers of Christ in Corinth, we must "take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
When those thoughts come, acknowledge them for what they are. Standing at the sink I had a wake-up call. What am I doing? What am I thinking? This bitterness and anger is not of God, even if I feel I am in the right or entitled. For the Christian, that wake-up call is a prompt by the Holy Spirit. Don’t ignore it. Take the opportunity to make the next breath a prayer. It was half-hearted and I certainly didn’t feel like giving up my thought cycle, but I quickly prayed for God to transform my mind. Those thoughts were comfortable, but not ones that led to freedom and joy. They needed to be released.
Don’t hold those thoughts captive, ruminating and dwelling on them. Because, in reality, they hold you captive. The longer you keep them, the harder it is to let them go. We train our minds to love them and be comfortable with them. We identify with them and hold on to them as part of our identity.
Let us do our toil and labor honorably and well. Let us call upon God’s grace to lead our minds to be equally faithful with a thought life that honors and brings glory to the Lord of the Harvest. He created our minds for His glory. He is the only one who truly knows what goes on in our heads and can transform our minds to bring Him the glory He is due.
If you identify with me in the battle for your mind, I encourage you to dwell on these words of truth:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 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, think about these things.”
(From Romans 8:5,6; Galations 5:22, 23; Romans 12:2; and Phil 4:6-8)
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Heidi Carlson is a third culture kid and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. She holds a master of arts in security affairs and currently resides in rural, southern Romania with her husband and three children, ages 6 and younger. She blogs at Will Travel with Kids.