By Michael Angelo, LPC

“Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will.”

Vernon Howard, American spiritual teacher, author, and philosopher
I live by this motto. To me, there is nothing more challenging or rewarding than keeping my eyes open to the new experiences before me.

However, to see them is one thing; to take a risk and embrace them is something entirely different.

I may fail at what I try. Then again, I may succeed.

Do you live for the failures, or are you willing to open up yourself to the possibilities of success? I tell my clients that they wouldn’t be in my office if they chose to not live in fear of succeeding. Heading into this venture called “going to counseling to fix something that’s wrong with me” isn’t easy. But neither is remaining in the situation they are in, which may be comfortable but is in no way satisfying.

Please consider the importance—and necessity—of change as you welcome 2013, with all the chances for personal growth and healing that it offers. No matter how hopeless you may feel about the situations you face, know that resources are available to help you survive and even thrive. I’m not just talking about what you may get from your counseling sessions, either. Consider, for example, how you might apply what you learn from your therapist or on your own as you meet head-on the struggles you may face at home, work, or elsewhere. Will you let your anxious or depressive thoughts consume you, or will you take control of them, renewing your mind?

Let God answer the question for you. He tells us in Romans 12:2 that if we allow him to do so, he will transform us into a new person by changing the way we think. Then, the verse says, we will learn to know his will for us, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Through our obedience in reframing our thoughts, seeking alternative ways to view issues, situations, and persons, we become, as the passage indicates, a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he finds acceptable.

Could it be that easy? If it were that simple, why do so many clients continue to insist that I tell them what God’s will is for their lives?

I don’t waver from my message that they have no real way of knowing what his will is without putting their thoughts and feelings in balance. By this, I mean that the best decisions occur when a person’s thinking mind is equally poised with his or her feeling mind. Only then can he or she find true wisdom for whatever dilemma is in front of them.

Anyone who has been a client of mine for any length of time has seen my thinking / feeling / wise mind drawing. It is the Venn diagram that places the thinking mind in the circle to the left, with the feeling mind occupying the circle to the right. The wise mind is perfectly situated in the overlapping area in-between. The diagram is based on concepts inherent in the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques espoused by Aaron Beck, and others—strategies that allow us to examine our distorted thoughts instead of simply reacting to them. By choosing to base our decisions on a more realistic understanding of the circumstances—one where logic has as much of a say as emotions—we have a much better chance of making a wiser decision, one that aligns with God’s will.

The origins of CBT are not new. They predate Beck by thousands of years, going all the way back to the first man, Adam.

God made him with an intellect, emotions, and will. As Adam’s descendants, we carry the blueprint of his DNA in us, and honor the Lord when we employ our thinking and feeling minds in equal portions, enabling our will to match God’s purposes for our lives.

We can’t do so if we live primarily in our feeling mind, afraid or depressed. Fear shifts the balance of power, letting emotions dominate behavior, throwing logic to the wind. Prudence and practicality are set aside, leaving little hope of achieving anything positive in God’s economy, or ours.

For example, though we may not feel like listening to our boss, really hearing what he or she has to say, we take a deep breath anyway, asking the Lord to help us get attuned (quickly) to the words coming out of his or her mouth, instead of counting the seconds until he or she is finished so we can defend our position. Or, though we might care less what our spouse has to say about something, we find a way to bring our feeling mind in equilibrium with our thinking mind, and really hear what he or she has to say. This includes the real meaning behind his or her statements, and not what we think they might mean.

If we want to make sure we “really get it,” we can paraphrase back what we heard the person say. He or she will correct anything we got wrong. We may need to calm ourselves again, easing the defensiveness that comes with being wrong, so we not allow our emotions to block what the other person is telling us.

The examples are numerous and aren’t limited to our interactions with others. We can be so stuck in our anxiety or depression that we may be frightened of approaching people and even scared of ourselves!

We must never be afraid to be honest with about our feelings. Jesus shared his freely with the heavenly father. The Lord spent more time in prayer than in ministry work. Praying to the father was for him, more than anything else, a time of dialogue steeped in emotions and not just in content.

And yet, Christ did not let his emotions get the best of him. Had he done so, doused in apprehension or worse, he would have rejected God’s plan of redemption for us through the cross. It wasn’t possible since Jesus was God, and perfect in every way.

We aren’t perfect, so pity on us if we allow our feelings to run wild! We would have no hope of living the kind of balanced life Jesus did while on earth. We would not have peace—despite the circumstances—if all we did was react.

Remember this as you attempt to make your life better this year. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith. The Lord will help renew your mind, bringing your feelings in line with your thinking so you can continue to more and more like Christ.

I also will be there for you, helping you recognize and readjust your thinking so you can stabilize your emotions. Wisdom and happiness await!