In 2013, I embarked on a great adventure. I committed to running a full marathon. Running a marathon requires a significant amount of endurance. You are on a grueling 26.2-mile journey, mostly by yourself. Yes, there are people cheering you on (both strangers and friends), fellow runners moving along with you. But it is ultimately your ability to endure that determines whether you will cross the finish line. Many are unable to push past “the runner’s wall,” a physical and mental block which typically comes after mile 20.
While physical training is essential, if you aren’t mentally prepared you will not be able to finish. Why? Because what we think often determines how we respond when we “hit a wall.”
When we think of the children of Israel in the Old Testament, we often think of their disobedience and struggle to hold fast to the promises of God. When times got tough, they lacked the mental endurance to stay the course.
In much the same way, we may encounter life challenges that require endurance. During those times it is important to be mentally prepared. As a mental health professional, I’ve seen that someone’s inability to cope with their circumstances is often caused by faulty thinking. In our field we refer to this as cognitive distortion. The American Psychological Association defines it as “faulty or inaccurate thinking, perception or belief.” This faulty thinking, or cognitive distortion, is often negative in nature. Sometimes these thought distortions are temporary, but other times they are long-lasting.
Even as followers of Christ, we may struggle with cognitive distortions, believing false things about God and ourselves. Despite our faith in Christ, we hold on to beliefs that are faulty and inaccurate. We may even try to rid ourselves of these thoughts, but just can’t seem to find resolution.
During trials, seeking the help of a professional counselor can be key. We can also help correct our faulty thoughts, and mentally prepare for future trials, by spending time daily in God’s Word. In Psalm 136, we are encouraged by a repeated truth: “His love endures forever.” This chorus repeats 26 times in this Psalm. This beautiful hymn takes us through the journey of God's faithfulness to His people. The children of Israel, from generation to generation, are reminded of God’s nature and how He brought hope and delivered them from oppression.
How do we prepare mentally for trials? I’ll take you back to something I discovered while training for that marathon. Despite all my training, I was surprised when I hit the “wall” at the 7-mile marker, overwhelmed with pain and mental anguish.
All the training techniques and solutions I’d developed were not working. My mind and body were ready to quit, when the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Worship Me.” So, I began to worship the Lord out loud. I began singing and praying about what I had known God to do in my life and in the lives of those before me. Instead of letting my mind give in to faulty thoughts, I spoke God’s truth and let His words replace my despair.
Maybe you can’t relate to my marathon experience, but we will all encounter some form of faulty thinking that shapes how we react to difficult times. Let us take courage in knowing that we serve a God who is at work and has been at work in our lives. Because repetition is a key learning aid that helps transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious, let’s make a daily habit of calling on God and remembering that His love endures forever!