Replacing those Unwanted Thoughts with Something New

Usually I have these high hopes for a really good summer: one that is fun, relaxing, meaningful, and full of good times as a family, doing hobbies, and even catching up on some things that need to be done around the house. It is easy to go into the summer kind of “mindless” and just let the phantom summer hopefully take over.But rarely is it all I expect it to be.  What I want this summer (and beyond) is that it would be more full of life. A question for right now is:

What am I giving my thoughts, love and work to?

This post is about the first part: those unwanted thoughts that I want to be rid of, that tend to imprison, instead of give life.  A look at a few words will be helpful.


Captive? First, I need to recognize that I am being held captive. The other day I was driving back from dropping my son off at school. It is a routine and very short drive. But this time I was sitting in the school traffic and I caught myself in a whole mess of thoughts and emotions– what I needed to do that day, to next week, what will I do about such-n-such…. I was starting to feel overwhelmed, anxious and angry in my runaway mind. It wasn’t just about this one morning or this one car ride. Without realizing it, I was becoming captive to these thoughts.

I find my thoughts are often, well, on myself, what I need to do, or what is bothering me. Can you relate? I thought to myself in the car that morning, “What if I let these runaway thoughts define me? Where would that lead? Will I grow to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, self-controlled, if I keep in these thoughts?” I don’t think so.

As I stop, in various parts of my day, what do I find coming to my mind repeatedly?


Deluded. That is not a nice word. And who hopes to be deluded? But that is what we can become from our unchecked thoughts and emotions. They can cause us to start believing things that are plain not true. Choosing lesser things over good things. To begin patterns which are hurtful to us or to others. We begin to question God and His love. Does He even care?

The Apostle Paul actually uses these words, “captive” and “deluded” in Colossians as a warning, to describe what lies and false thinking can do to us. Lies are just that, lies.

Recently, my husband talked with a young man (who I don’t know), who was very angry– and he has been for some time. So many people had wronged him. The list was long, anger was growing and self-control was slim. I know there is so much that I will never know. But I wonder what he will end up doing. The freedom to think clearly seemed to be shrinking, as he was being held captive by thoughts, ideas and feelings.

We each can become a prisoner that is unaware of our bars. Maybe our bars seem more acceptable. Maybe it is our identity, how we feel about ourselves. We dislike ourselves or feel unloved or unvalued. Superficial things have a hold on us– the clothes, our stuff, having fun, the kid’s accomplishments, the salary… It seems to be all-consuming and all-important. We need these things. The future seems all-controlling, yet we can’t control it. It feels unbearable, full of anxiety, with too many unknowns. These things imprison, not give freedom and true life.


We don’t want to be a captive, nor do we wish to be deluded. So how do I turn those unwanted feelings, thoughts and emotions around? I wish I had an easy answer to that question for myself. I need replacements. I don’t need to just fix the thoughts and emotions, but I need to completely replace them with something different or new. I know, it sounds as simple and elementary as hearing, “Drink lots of water. Eat a balanced diet. Or get regular exercise.” Yet in practice, it often isn’t happening.

1. Stop.
The first step is just stopping and seeing what I am absorbed in. It is peering into the mess and seeing what is there. Those thoughts are shaping me. If I am dwelling on things that make me anxious, my thoughts are going to become anxious. If I am thinking about how angry I am with that friend or co-worker, I am going to become angrier. If my thoughts are bombarded by comparison, finances, what I don’t have, or what I “need,” then I will become more envious, insecure, and greedy.

I think we all know this is how it works. It is like the nutrition campaign when I was a kid, “You are what you eat.” (I never really understood that though when I was eating my PB&J in the lunchroom in second grade.) In other words, our mind believes and our heart feels what we dwell on.

What am I thinking about? What is making me anxious, mad, or distracted? Where am I being held captive?

2. Put the Truth in.
Don’t discount what really counts. As I get older, I am reminded more of my need to keep coming back to this:

 Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:2

It is something so fundamental that I can forget, overlook, or even stop fighting for. It seems too simple. We may think there has to be something more than changing what we dwell on or what we trust in.  But we have to go back to the beginning. “What are we trusting in?” “What are we dwelling on?” I have different verses that I come back to that begin like this:

  •  “I have been crucified with Christ…”
  • “Cast all your anxiety on the Lord…”
  • “Trust in the Lord and do good….”

These replacements help us to walk by faith in what is true.

Giving Life

The happy result of replacements is life-giving, not prison-making. Isn’t that what I want: to experience life in my thoughts and therefore can look outward with life to give?
As Michael Reeves says so well in his book, Delighting in the Trinity:

But the Spirit comes with a far deeper purpose: that I might know the Son, and that I might be like him–meaning that the whole point is that my eyes look out to him. Knowing him is life, and looking to him is what enlivens.

Our thoughts shape us. Our thoughts and emotions are powerful. Getting rid of those unwanted thoughts, can only happen if I replace them with good things, true things, with Christ Himself. This is life-giving.

Next time: Where am I giving my love to …

Overflow: allowing God’s ways to touch our lives and then our lives to pour out to others

  • What thoughts do you find are holding you captive?
  • What steps  do you want to take right now and over the summer for practicing “replacements?”
  • Who is someone who can help you with this?

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