I was lucky enough in college to meet Jerusha, who had a penchant for ridiculously cute hats, laughter, and incisive questions. I stalked her for a little, and when that didn’t scare her away, she became my friend.
Not because Jerusha’s a bad writer—not at all. But “Christian” everything gave me hives for a long time.
And the book that gave me the hiviest of hives was entitled Every Thought Captive. Oh, just the title felt like fingernails against a blackboard to me (I know: it’s straight out of Scripture. Don’t get me started).
When I began to read it, I couldn’t finish—knowing Jerusha’s heart, knowing that she’d sat with me through my deepest doubts and darkness and shared her own darkness with me. I know the author personally, AND knew she wasn’t condemning me.
I STILL couldn’t read her book without feeling panicky.
At the time, I just felt like a terrible person and a terrible friend. Lazy, possibly even jealous of my friend getting published before me.
But now I realize, of course, that Christian Things just had a lot of baggage for me for good reason, and that it wasn’t either Jerusha’s or my fault.
Now, years later, I came up with this series. And I immediately thought of my dear friend’s book and realized that verse is something I really didn’t want to be true.
Here’s why: “every thought captive” sounded like thought control to me. Like God was a Big Brother monitoring our brains. Until we consented to have our thoughts programmed to blink in time with Good Christian Brainwaves, we’d always be dirty, always be failing.
Jerusha probably unpacked that lie on page two, but it wouldn’t have mattered—my aversion wasn’t conscious, my reading not intentional.
My spirit wanted to get as far away from mind control as possible. Because I have experienced it first-hand.
Look, I feel very lucky to not have suffered any very serious sexual or physical abuse in my life. But I have experienced emotional abuse. And for a long time, I didn’t really realize what I’d experienced was abusive at all. I didn’t think it was a big deal.
It is terrible when people try to control how you feel. It hurts you just as much (sometimes more) than when they hurt your body, because they get at your spirit, your heart, your inner life. Emotional abuse can terrorize your very core.
I thought (not super-consciously) every thought captive was God trying to do the same thing to me. Because when I hear about God’s “power” I don’t imagine healthy power, but abusive power.
Dear sweet Jesus, no wonder Jerusha’s book gave me hives.
Now that I know better, now that I’ve started (by accident) letting Jesus transform my mind, I realize this verse isn’t about mind control.
It’s about undoing the bondage of our brains. It’s about having peace at the very core of who we are, and allowing our thoughts not terrorize us anymore.
It’s the antidote to emotional abuse.
The other day I got an email from someone with whom I have a very fraught relationship. The email was short, but it upset me terribly because it dredged up a lot of garbage from the past. I could feel myself getting short of breath and panicky.
I’d been about to go for a walk anyway, so I headed out into the cool fog. And I started some breath prayers—Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
I walked. And I breathed. I breathed in God’s identity (Lord) and I breathed out my anxiety and fear (have mercy). Every time I started fretting about the email, about the relationship, about what to say, I turned my thoughts back to LORD HAVE MERCY. To the air, to my pace, to the buildings around me, to my breath.
When I couldn’t manage that, I thought help help help.
I got back, still upset, but no longer panicky. I knew the email, and the person behind it, did not have any real power to steal my peace and joy. What’s more, I could believe they probably had no desire to do so in the first place.
This is what taking my thoughts captive means.
Taking my thoughts captive means that when I fight with my husband, I notice when I’m assuming the worst of his motives. It means that when I get whiny and entitled when my kids need me again, I ask for God’s help to be generous-hearted. And when I’m afraid, I focus on gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, and asking for help, help help.
For so long, I was at the mercy of my thoughts. They shot down all my best ideas. They kept me terrified of speaking up for myself. They nudged me towards selfishness, bitterness, and cynicism.
Taking every thought captive is not about us becoming captives. No: it’s about being intentional about how we talk to ourselves. It’s absolutely transformative.
I used to hate the idea of Jesus taking control of my brain. But I just opened my dear friend’s book a decade late, and I’m laughing. Because if I’d only had the ability to read it, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Image credit: Dia