As I opened my email inbox several days ago, I realized that I was holding my breath. (You know you’re stressed when your breathing is shallow or you’re barely breathing at all.) When I saw that there were only 1,162 messages in there, I was actually relieved. That’s just sick.
Despite reading, deleting, and spam purging hundreds of messages from my inbox I couldn’t seem to whittle them down. I decided to spend all that day, if necessary, deleting everything superfluous, starting with the top six messages in my reading pane.
One click and they were gone—but wait! I had mistakenly clicked the “Select All” box!
That triggered a miracle: Within less than two hours, I had only 93 keepers in my inbox—and I had learned a huge lesson about the deceptive power of perception.
For months, I had held onto emails unless I had a good reason to delete them. But suddenly those same emails were looking at me from my trash can, forcing me to have a good reason to retrieve them. That shift in perception made a huge difference in my mailbox and my stress level.
This lesson can be applied in more evolutionary ways. For example, many of us are holding onto beliefs in our mental inboxes and haven’t taken time to closely examine or purge them. Someone “sent” us their beliefs, and without discerning them, we simply let them take up space. Our space.
Perhaps it’s easier to maintain a daunting pile of conflicting beliefs that we don’t understand and can’t explain than to pore through them, study or verify it. One thing for sure, we can’t truly believe something we don’t understand. At best, we can only believe that we believe it. That’s fulfilling.
I was lucky enough to have been encouraged from an early age to be a lifelong learner: to explore, to question and to grow. As a result, it’s become important and evolutionary for me to understand what I believe, and be conscious of the implications of what I believe.
Years ago, I discovered that many of the beliefs that had poured into my mental inbox were in serious conflict with each other. While I believed that God was Love, I also believed that He did things that were vengeful, judgmental, genocidal, violent, sadistic, inconsistent, mysterious and unforgiving. I came to understand that believing that God would do anything that Love would not do had serious implications: My beliefs actually denigrated God.
As a baptized Christian, I didn’t dare question what I’d been told to believe; in fact, I was discouraged from doing so—told that asking rational questions meant that I didn’t have faith. But as a human with God-given intellect, I couldn’t rationalize my failure to use my intelligence to inquire, explore, understand and thus build a closer relationship with my God. Building my relationship with God was more important than pleasing the humans who were judging me. I concluded:
When we think that it dishonors God when we question our beliefs—and that we will be punished for doing so—what we really believe is that God is controlling and dangerous.
Let’s be serious, who wants to be in a relationship with someone who is controlling and dangerous? Do we please God by ascribing to Him behaviors that are associated with sociopaths, dictators and mass murderers? Is torture or genocide wrong when a human does it, but divine when God does it? Does a father accused of dropping his kids off in an unknown part of town without telling them how to get home any different from accusations that God has created only path home but only told his Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist, etc. kids how to find it? Is that what we believe about God, or is it just another reflection of humans’ propensity for discriminating against or one-upping each other?
What will be our breaking point—that one thing that will make us resolve to clean out the confusion in our mental inboxes? Is our desire to build a close relationship with God resolute enough for us to click the “Select All” button and start from scratch? Are we ready to pore through the contents of our trash folder, carefully examine each belief message and retrieve only those that match—whether they portray God as totally heinous or totally loving. Are we willing to give ourselves permission to use our God-given intellect to examine, understand and embrace our beliefs so that we are not dismissing God as an inexplicable mystery? How can we have a loving relationship with an inexplicable mystery?
Our beliefs shouldn’t overwhelm or confuse us; they also shouldn’t be unmanageable. How can we experience the peace of mind, body and spirit that comes from being in the loving care of a Higher Power if we’re juggling wildly disparate beliefs, often contorting ourselves to keep all the balls in the air?
Every moment is pregnant with opportunities and possibilities. The opportunity that is available to us in this moment is either to choose peace—or hold our breaths and feel our hearts pound every time someone asks us to explain what we believe and why in heaven’s name do we believe it.