When to think twice AND When not to

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

Thinking twice or even three times about a possible action or decision is often warranted wisdom. But are there times when over-thinking causes us to become stuck in rumination?

The time of year is upon us when many undergo their annual ritual of introspection. People ponder and consider how they can improve the way they live their lives.

Too much analysis, however, can be like kneading dough. And like dough, a problem can swell in size and seem larger than it really is. When this happens, a deluge of negative thoughts and emotions can overwhelm the over-thinker to the point of interfering with forward movement and progress.

The ruminator becomes so trapped in the past — focusing only on negative memories — that he also becomes pessimistic about the present and fatalistic about the future. So perhaps over-thinking is not the best way to keep New Year’s resolutions and reach goals.

Thinking too much can also result in indecisiveness. And indecision always leads to inaction. I’ve often wondered if the disciples of Jesus thought twice when Jesus asked them to follow him.

In the book of Matthew we read, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And the Bible tells us, “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20)

And yet another time we read, “And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:21-22)

It sure doesn’t sound like these disciples belabored much over their decision to follow the Master.

Again, I’m not encouraging rash and hasty actions. Certainly the prudence of thinking twice is unquestionable in many instances. Naturally we want to make responsible decisions and wise moves. But there does seem to be some truth to the expression — “the paralysis of analysis.”

If you are dissatisfied with your life, one of the best approaches could be to act more like the person you want to be rather than sitting around analyzing yourself. Aristotle put it this way: “We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.”

Maybe instead of wondering whether or not you have time to talk a walk, you go take a walk. Or rather than questioning if you should go back to school, you register for a class. Or in lieu of hesitating to put in for time off, you take that vacation you’ve not had in years. And instead of complaining about the paint on your house, you go buy paint and change it. And in place of dreaming about taking time for yourself, you make that appointment to get a pedicure or a massage.

Or even instead of belaboring over whether or not you should order dessert, you order and enjoy it, my friend!

Whether or not you think twice about something, the end result always needs to be some decision and action. Don’t get trapped by contemplating, deliberating, chewing on and mulling over to the point of doing nothing — unless doing nothing is your decision, of course.

It could be that sometimes, at least occasionally, our best self-instruction is: “Don’t think — just do!”

What if…?

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

How many of your decisions and actions are interrupted or halted by “what ifs”? Perhaps you’re like me and feel your life has been outlined too much by this often daunting question.My family and I went to Disney World in Florida a few weeks ago when Hurricane Gustav was heading toward Cuba and Tropical Storm Hanna was forming in the Atlantic. My husband, who is generally the voice of caution, proposed a “what if” question before we left —“What if Gustav or Hanna hit Florida during the dates we’ve planned for our trip? Maybe we should cancel.”

I just couldn’t cancel a trip we had planned for many months based on a “what if” synopsis. I reasoned that “if” we had to cut our trip short at some point, then we were capable of adapting our plans to do whatever was necessary or needed at any given moment.

So we went. And as it turned out, rain never dampened our activities, and the cloudy days and cooler temperatures were a welcome relief.

There have been many other times when I have belabored over the question — “What if I’m making a mistake?” I’ve agonized over this possibility to the point of becoming paralyzed by fear and consequently accomplishing nothing. This has been true for countless job opportunities that I’ve not taken — some of which I regret not taking to this day.

Certainly when trying to make a decision, we should always consider the consequences of every action — so some “what if” questioning is a good thing. But in the end, we do need to act. I suppose as with everything in our lives, there is a proper balance between questioning, analyzing and doing.

Have you ever wanted to know what might have happened if you had taken a different direction, perhaps asking, “What if I had known then what I know now?” This is usually another question that only leads to one conclusion — regret. I travel down this path when I start ruminating about the college major I didn’t choose or the law degree I didn’t pursue.

It seems “what if” is also one of the tantalizing questions in American history. Historians are often intrigued with contemplating what might have been for many defining moments in our history. And so they create in essence — alternate history.

“What if…?” is even the title of several comic book series published by Marvel Comics that explore “the road not traveled” by its various characters.

However, I’m not really certain what good is accomplished by creating “what if” histories since we can’t go back in time and change outcomes. We probably always know best with hindsight.

What does seem more beneficial is imagining “what if” scenarios for the future. I like the idea of being a visionary — a person who has the ability to imagine the infinite possibilities and to conceive how to make what at first seems impossible, possible.

So I think perhaps the most helpful “what if” questioning is when one is dreaming of what to do in one’s life. The range of ideas are endless when we start picturing our future from a “what if” basis without limitations or restrictions.

Perhaps “what if” questions do have their proper place and purpose in our lives —especially when they help mold our decisions into wise and productive steps forward.

Being an election year, I can’t help but wonder — What if every American voted?

But recently, I’ve been envisioning some “what if” prospects for myself…

What if I’m not too old?

What if I could do whatever I wanted with the rest of my life?

What if I knew I couldn’t fail? What would I do?

This kind of “what if” thinking is giving me the encouragement I’ve needed to replace fear and uncertainty with the courage and assurance of success. I can’t help but think of Paul’s words, “Behold, now is the accepted time.” (II Corinthians 6:2) One definition of accepted is preferred. So now — not later — is the preferred time.

My “can do” attitude is gaining confidence. Now I only need turn my answers into actions!

What influences your vote?

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

I’ve come a long way, baby! I’m very happy to admit my vote for the next president of the United States will be without regard to race, gender, religion or age. Bias in regard to political party has never been my problem. This may be partly due to my family’s extreme one-sidedness in this respect. So, in my voting career — now some 32 years long — I love being able to say I’ve voted for so-called Independents, Republicans and Democrats.

There was a time, however, when I would have based my vote on race, gender, religion and/or age — for or against. But those days are gone, and I’m wondering: How did I get here?

It occurs to me that perhaps I’ve made some significant headway in my own personal fight against prejudice.

Prejudice can be defined as unreasonable opinions before sufficient knowledge is obtained. It can be irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular race, religion or group, including political party, and any person affiliated with a select party. And prejudice causes someone to judge prematurely, thereby unduly influencing decisions and actions.

I think this is what has caused me to endeavor to keep my viewpoints in check. I don’t want to be prevented from objective consideration of an issue or situation or presidential candidate. And prejudice always distorts and confuses reason and judgment.

Our world is filled with prejudice and intolerance. And it seems to me, if I am to believe global prejudice can be transformed into justice, respect and fairness, I need to begin with eliminating intolerance in my own attitudes, opinions and behavior.

I’ve not always succeeded in my personal fight against prejudice. But I have made progress, and this presidential primary season is proving this to me.

In Paul’s first epistle to Timothy, he instructed, “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality” (1 Timothy 5:21). This sounds like good advice in how to give each presidential candidate his or her due consideration.

I read a poem several years ago that I’ve never forgotten. It was describing a scene featuring Jesus as the guest speaker on a local hillside. The poem was written in first person as if by a person in the audience that day.

As this attendee sat at the event, he criticized the clothes Jesus was wearing, complained about some of the word choices Jesus used, and then starting critiquing everyone else in attendance. He even griped about the weather, saying it was hot, dusty and the sun was in his eyes.

By the end of Jesus’ talk, this person acknowledged that others around him seemed inspired by what Jesus had to say and that some were actually healed, too. And he concluded by saying something I’m often reminded of: “I’m starting to think I might have missed something.”

Indeed! That poor person sitting at the feet of Jesus allowed prejudice to distract him from hearing what no doubt would have been a life-changing message.

Jesus, of course, was met by many prejudices against him during his three-year mission, and he certainly knew the effects of prejudice. He said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15).

Prejudice closes eyes and ears to the truth in any situation or about any person and can cause us to make careless and flippant decisions.

When I make my presidential selection in November, it will be an informed choice based upon as much information as I can gather and earnest consideration of the motives and merit of each candidate. Whether my candidate of choice wins the election or not, at least I can feel I’ve honored and celebrated this democracy of ours sincerely and completely. And I will support my next president in my daily prayers, whoever he or she may be.

In the meantime, I will keep my heart, eyes and ears as open and attentive as possible as I listen intently to every candidate — without prejudice.

I don’t want to give up on life

by Annette Bridges. ©2006. All rights reserved.
When our care becomes the responsibility of loved ones, they could be faced with decisions that shouldn’t be theirs to make.

During the past few weeks, we’ve heard the life ending-sustaining debate between Terri Schiavo’s husband and parents. While each side wanted a different outcome, they seemed united in motive. Both felt they were carrying out Terri’s wishes and honoring her rights.

Supporters of each position were also united by their empathy toward Terri’s family members, their saddened hearts toward her plight, as well as their passionate beliefs about life. Yes, even the argument for death was about life – the belief that Terri’s own wishes would be to end a life that had a medical prognosis for a hopeless and dismal future.

This case has received much political and media attention. Through its course, folks have been encouraged to take the legal steps required so their families will not have to endure the decision-making battle of Terri’s family.

As I give thought to such decisions, I find myself arguing on the side of life. But more, a desire to make certain my own care and healing possibilities are not necessarily limited to one source of treatment. In so saying, I don’t want to belittle medical treatment or any other source of treatment. It’s more about a “leave no stone unturned” approach in a search for cure and healing.

I’ve read of numerous cases in which medical treatment had reached its limits and still healing appeared unattainable. And in these same cases, whether quickly or slowly, healing came about through persistent prayer, treatment in Christian Science or other alternative healing practices.

Such examples strengthen my hope and fortify my consecration to live. They teach me to never give up on the possibility for a life of health, productivity and potential. I guess my desire is for no one to give up on my life. Could this be selfish of me? I have known the anguish of caring for a loved one with a medically-concluded terminal diagnosis, watching them grow worse until their passing. But I can’t help but believe and hope that healing remains possible for every one and in every case.

While I feel I’ve reached a decision for my life, I do believe everyone must come to terms for his or her own life. That no one else should have that authority —or imposition — placed upon them.

Recently, I heard a song by Christian folksinger, Mindy Jostyn, called “Pool of Bethesda.” It tells the story from the book of John in the Bible, of a man healed by Christ Jesus. What inspires me about this story is that although this man was, as the song says, “crippled for most of his life, twisted by time, dammed by despair,” he apparently still waited for healing with some glimmer of hope. And his hope was finally realized through Christ Jesus. Yet, being healed by Christ Jesus was not how he expected to be healed.

He had been waiting to be placed in the pool of Bethesda at a certain time that brought the promise of healing. But years went by with him missing that perfect time. Still, he didn’t give up. While his healing came in an unexpected way, it did come.

For me, this Biblical healing account, while teaching not to give up on life and remain firm in hope, also teaches me to remain open-minded about the method in which healing can come. Not to limit my options and helplessly accept any diagnosis or fear as the final word on my life. Mary Baker Eddy, who named the healing system she discovered and practiced Christian Science, wrote, “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love.”

I don’t know what the future holds for my life. Nor can I outline with certainty the source of treatment I will choose through the remaining years of my life. But my hope is that I will never lose hope. That I will never give up on life. That I will remain expectant and firm in my faith that healing is possible.

“…..all things are possible to God….”

Yes, I do choose to put my faith in that promise. And I ask my loved ones to understand, accept and see my wishes through.

Yes, you can go to college!

by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

We all have choices to make. Some choices are not easy. Some take us down roads less traveled. Some choices require confronting and overcoming our fears. If many new graduates are like my niece, they are wondering how to come up with money for college. I remember when I was a high school grad wondering the same thing, some thirty years ago.

I never thought about not going to college. But it wasn’t obvious how I was going to afford it.

Even with loans, grants and work, it still appeared I would be short what would be required. With my mom’s help, I had enough money for the first semester, but would I be able to pay for the next?

Jesus might answer, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”

My mom and I had witnessed the truth of those words many times. She and my dad divorced when I was ten years old. With no formal education or work experience, she managed to build a new life for both of us. She firmly trusted in God to provide whatever we needed. And along the way, she made a believer out of her daughter — me.

Prayer to God had always brought solutions in the past, even in financial matters. Why should I doubt now? Could I believe there might be a situation or condition when God had no control — where God was powerless?

The healings and teachings of Jesus recorded in the Bible had been a source of guidance to me all my childhood, and they still are. I read again about a man who was waiting at a pool called Bethesda. It was believed that, at a certain time, the water there was stirred by an angel. Tradition said that whoever got into the water right after the angel had visited the pool would be healed.

A crippled man had been waiting 38 years — probably most of his life — to enter the pool. But each year, he missed the perfect moment and others got to the water first. Still, he didn’t give up. And his hope was finally realized through Jesus. His healing came — but in an unexpected way.

This account, in John’s Gospel, gave me a new perspective on my worries about college expenses. Was I limiting my options? The man at Bethesda had thought the only way he could be healed was if he got into the pool at exactly the right time. Yet that wasn’t the “only way.” When Jesus redirected his faith from a pool of water to the Christ-power that uplifts and heals, the man found the freedom he had longed for.

Where was my faith, I asked myself? Was it tied only to loans and grants? To finding ample employment? Getting a scholarship? What were my options? Did I face an uncertain future?

What I learned from thinking about Jesus’ encounter with the man at the pool of Bethesda was that God is continuously sending me — and everyone — infinite possibilities. I needed to open my thought to them. Not define or limit the ways my needs could be met.

I could replace fear and uncertainty with the knowledge that God was governing my life. Affirm that God makes all things possible. Including a college education!

So I headed off to college on what some would call a leap of faith. But it was more like a confident and expectant trust that solutions would come, even though I couldn’t see them immediately. I focused on one semester at a time and worried less about the future.

As it turned out, it was semester by semester prayer that led the way to my college degree. And expenses were paid each semester in countless — sometimes unexpected — ways.

One unexpected solution came in the form of a note in my school mailbox. An anonymous donor had paid the remainder of my tuition that year. There were many loans, grants, scholarships and awards. Plus a variety of jobs — some of which gave me valuable experience that served me well in future endeavors.

My college years strengthened my trust in God, divine Love, who truly does meet every need. And I know this is true for my niece and other college-bound grads. Everyone. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves — His ways are infinite and sometimes quite unexpected.