“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I’ll say, rejoice!”
I grew up regularly singing that chorus at a little Baptist church in Richfield, Minnesota. Sometimes, when we were feeling fancy, the congregation even broke into two sections and sang it as a round. So when I hear anyone recite this audacious verse from Philippians chapter 4, I respond by inadvertently hearing in my head the age-old, jaunty little, corresponding tune.
On the other hand, for a long time, whenever someone referenced this verse in the presence of my husband Peter, his response was an inner eye roll and a silent groan. “That’s completely unhelpful,” he thought. “Unhelpful. Impossible. And pie in the sky.” Rejoice in the Lord always? Really?
A little backstory.
When Peter was in his twenties, he made a conscious decision to stuff his emotions. All of them. The good and the bad.
At the time, he was teaching the fifth grade class at a missionary school in Pakistan, and a romantic breakup sent him spiraling down a dark tunnel of despair. Eventually, his depression began to affect his teaching, so his boss called him in for a meeting. “Pull yourself together,” she warned, “or I’m sending you into Islamabad for counseling.”
Well, Peter didn’t want to go to Islamabad for counseling, so he instead took an ax to his feelings. Chopped them off. Buried them. And laid them to rest, as best he could. Or so he thought.
When I met Peter, he had been living in this emotionally detached state for several months. We talked about it, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. On one level, I was concerned. But, too, I felt some admiration at his resolve. His “emotional stability” seemed to make him a consistently safe place.
When his dad died three years later, Peter stayed so strong.
When we waded through infertility and I faced into wave after wave of hope and grief, Peter was my rock. He seemed immovable.
When a string of disrupted adoptions followed, however, Peter the Rock started to crack.
He began to have reoccurring nightmares. He experienced an increasing number of dark, and even destructive, thoughts. He had severe muscle tension and stomach pain. His mind and body were sending him strong messages that things were not as they had seemed.
Until, one day, he was attending a meeting at work, and panic overtook him. He felt an overwhelming urge to run back to his office and hide under his desk. That incident finally rattled him enough that he talked to a counselor friend, who told him, “You need help. Find a therapist.”
So he did.
Peter was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and adjustment disorder. Years of stuffing and ignoring his emotions had taken a toll. And what followed was a long road to healing that he continues to travel to this day. A long road of learning how to process emotion in a healthy way.
A key part of that healing process for Peter has involved revisiting, memorizing, meditating on, and applying Philippians chapter 4.
“Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul writes. It’s an imperative, a verb, an action. And it’s not conditional. Yikes!
“Be anxious for nothing,” Paul instructs. Again, with the absolute language!
It’s a nice sentiment, but how in the world do we do that?
The rest of the passage explains. Of utmost importance is the life of the mind.
Where we choose to focus our thoughts—on whatever is true and lovely and pure—whatever is honorable, commendable, and just—will influence, to a significant degree, how we feel. Emotion follows cognition.
Thinking rightly can help dispel our anxiety. Thinking rightly can increase our gratitude. Thinking rightly can help us rejoice—in the Lord. And thinking rightly opens the door for God to fill us with a peace that surpasses our understanding.
When we picked “Scripture memory” as a part of our February goal for “The Holiness Project,” it wasn’t because we wanted to go through the motions of mindlessly rattling off more and more verses.
It was because we have experienced the immense power and importance of training the mind—of taking every thought captive. And we have seen the role that Scripture can play in this process.
Last week we finished memorizing Psalm 23 as a family. This week we’re working on committing to memory Philippians 4:4-9.
What verses are you memorizing right now?
What verses might help you take your thought life captive?