Being a district superintendent was not the piece of cake that I thought it would be, because it presented me with some difficult situations. Once, I was called to a certain church to help settle a controversial issue that was tearing the church apart. Assuming I could be the peacemaker, I went willingly. After much discussion, many intense feelings, and several outbursts of temper, I heard a clicking sound under the table. When I asked about it, one of the members said sheepishly, “It’s a tape recorder, and we are taping all conversations for future reference.”
I explained to them that this procedure was illegal, unnecessary and not in keeping with the Christian spirit. It was like “collecting insults” for the future. Someone handed me the tape and I destroyed it. I’ve thought about this scenario many times. I see it as a parable or an analogy. It seems to me that all of us have tapes that need to be abandoned. Mental and emotional tapes; attitudes and thought patterns; little voices inside our heads that seem like a tape recordings–all of these can be harmful. We need to put on better, more positive tapes. We need some “thought correction”.
I still hear the tapes from childhood: “Wash behind your ears”, “Eat everything on your plate, the children in India are starving” (though I failed to see the connection). When we are small, we seem to internalize the words we hear about ourselves. Someone said the seven worst words in the church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” That tape can squelch creativity and spiritual growth.
One of the deadliest tapes is the “sky is falling” tape. These are people who see only what’s wrong with our country politically, economically, etc., ad nauseum. Their negative side seems to hunger for bad news. They refuse to look on a brighter side of life, forgetting that we still live in a country where we have a standard of living our forefathers only dreamed about. We enjoy freedoms that many countries would love to have.
But back to our personal harmful and hurtful thought-patterns. “I can’t seem to do anything right”; “Everything I do turns out wrong”; “I’ll never amount to anything”. Usually, tapes like these come from adults, or from ourselves as we look at those who are beautiful, zit-free and handsome. Television can do that for us as we are bombarded with people who are famous, rich, talented, and so on. Someone said, “We either win or lose by comparison.”
One day, Jesus was talking to Nickodemus and he was trying to challenge him with the idea of beginning again, a new kind of birth. But Nick had his own tapes. “I’m too old to change now. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Can a leopard change his spots?” Let me list some tapes or “thought corrections” that some of us need to work on.
“Life isn’t fair.” No one said it was supposed to be. Bad things do happen to good people. Just because it’s not what I want, doesn’t mean it’s bad or unmanageable.
“Past problems continue to determine my feelings and behaviors.” We need to let the past be the past. Learn from it and move on.
“It is possible for everybody to like/love me.” This is almost impossible. Not everyone will like you no matter what you do or how you do it. Be thankful for those who do love you.
“I must be adequate and competent all of the time.” Perfectionism is the cause of a lot of depression because no one can reach perfection in this life. Make peace with your limitations, realizing that you can’t be right all the time.
“It is easier to avoid problems than to work toward a solution.” People will do almost anything to avoid changing themselves. Alcohol and drugs are not problem solvers. They just cause more hurt.
“Happiness and health can be realized by waiting for somebody else to make something happen.” Happiness is always an inside job. No one else can make you happy. You have to choose it. You can control your feelings.
“Other people are bad if they don’t share my values.” This kind of thinking is a real trouble-maker today. Some are boxed in with closed minds when it comes to religion, politics or any number of things. Others don’t have to agree with you! Everybody has the right to believe as they believe.
“All is lost when I am treated unfairly or experience rejection.” It’s strange how we let one negative event color our whole day, or sometimes, our entire life. Just because we goof up or mess up is no sign to give up. Mistakes can make you stronger, if you let them.
“I must blame somebody else for the mess I’m in.” Blaming is such a waste of time. It solves nothing and is a waste of time and energy.
“This is just the way I am.” How many times do we use this to excuse ourselves from something negative? This means we don’t intend to change, so forget it. I’ll just stay this way.
I saw the stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” a few years ago in London. It is based on the struggle between good and evil, using trains of all kinds. There is a little train, Rusty, who felt inferior and inadequate, living by the tape, “I’m rusted out and no good anymore.” Then, there is a wise train, Steam, who tries to talk to Rusty to give him some positive tapes. “You can be a winner, Rusty. You can do it. All you have to do is to believe in yourself and an power beyond yourself.” So the little train, Rusty, put on a new tape. “I can do it, I can do it, I can do it.” He won the race and became the Starlight Express.
This is what Jesus was saying to Nickodemus. “Nickodemus, you can be better than you are, you can do it. You can be born again and start all over.” Amen.