On “Mental Hoarding” (Encouragement)

Phyllis Nissila

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Recently, I caught a few minutes of a “reality show” on hoarders. Hoarders are people who stockpile, save, and collect things, but to the point the stuff takes over their homes and their lives.

In many cases, hidden inside, around, and beneath the boxes, bags, and bins packed with the accumulations of years are mold, vermin, and other toxic substances. In some cases, HazMat teams are called in to rid the home of waste and filth that endanger the health of the inhabitants.

Hoarding is a form of mental illness, part obsessive compulsive and part other realities inside the hoarder’s mind. It affects not just the afflicted but his or her loved ones as well who try to help but whose efforts are rejected. Things come to a crisis when the city orders the homeowner to clean up or pay hefty fines. This is the point professionals are usually called in, at least on this show. They clean up the place, get psychological help for the hoarder, and hope the changes last.

As I watched the sad case presented on the program that night, I couldn’t help but think about another kind of hoarding, “mental hoarding,” if you will. This kind of “collecting,” out of sight but very much in the mind, has to do with the “cruel words” like “deadly arrows” (Psalm 5) aimed at us by enemies visible and invisible and by our own self-condemnation.

This collection of toxic thoughts and our attention to them can, like physical hoarding, become addictive as well, at least habit-forming, the professionals tell us, particularly if the onslaught begins at a tender age. “You’re a stupid brat,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” “You don’t have anything to complain about” (a more subtle invalidation) and worse, are flung at the impressionable child who shapes his or her view of self by the words of the powerful adults in his/her life.

Later on, bullies, mean people, and even authority figures at school, in the church, on the job and in every other nook and cranny of life hurl different kinds of accusations, put-downs, and unwarranted abuse. Feigned subtlety doesn’t matter. We still get it.  It’s a fallen world, after all. They’re everywhere. They’re us, if we have not learned compassion, kindness, tact. If we’ve not learned to say “I’m sorry,” and how to stop the behavior.

Sometimes those proffering the harsh words even believe it’s quite all right to “help” others by blaming and shaming, and by taking every opportunity to impart the “shoulda/woulda/couldas.” Maybe it’s the culture in which they grew up, and so it “seems right” as the object of their “advice” withers, goes over and over the same questions when the business of life stills for a few moments: “Maybe he/she’s right about me. Maybe I am to blame. Maybe I am to shame. Maybe if I shoulda/woulda/coulda…”

At a more serious level, such thoughts, like a computer virus, gradually infect our psychic hard drive and soon our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual “dwellings” become infested with angst, illness, even despair.

In the way we come to fulfill another’s expectations, we might wake up one morning, look in the mirror of reality, and see the reflection of someone we hardly recognize anymore. But, we think, “Maybe it is true. I’m just too sensitive, or too (insert accusation, here).”

We valiantly pretend this is all harmless by inventing adages such as “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” We put on a brave face when cruel people sneer. But inside we die a little. Then we die a little more. Some of us turn on ourselves to self-medicate the pain with alcohol, drugs, withdrawal. But peace remains elusive, especially when our best efforts fail.

“Get over it,” some say.”It’s not personal, it’s business,” say others. “Just give him/her a taste of his/her own medicine and fight back,” still others advise. But we have not found any of that particularly convincing or effective and we just don’t want to argue anymore, add to the fray. We just want to finally figure it out and fix it, or at least find respite…

Meanwhile, the harsh words accumulate in boxes and bins and bags in the corners of our minds and hearts ready to surface and re-infect at some trigger or another.

Depending upon the extent, longevity, and severity of the attacks, our “mental home” becomes crowded with shame, doubt, confusion, and despair. And there we live, sometimes for days, months, years, wondering if we will ever find that peace.

As for Christians, we sometimes forget our worst aggressor: “him” of the “principalities and powers” crowd who seeks not just to give us a bad day, but to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). And it starts in the thought life. Consider his very first attempt in that garden: “Hath God really said…?”. Make a modern-day list, here: (hath God really said you are loved? You are redeemed by the blood of His Son? That His thoughts are for your good?) And the list goes on through sixty-six books of a love letter from God to His people the truths of which our arch enemy continually tries to disparage. Fortunately, that letter, the Bible, also includes the antidote to the mental onslaught, as well as the means of restoration and peace.

Recently, the Philippians and Corinthians scriptures used in the epigraph have come to mind several times. As the world seems to turn increasingly sour on virtue, “men’s hearts wax (increasingly) cold,” and “wars and rumors of wars” are on the uprise, including wars against people of faith, many preachers, teachers, encouragers, and healers in the Body of Christ seem to be echoing the same reminders.

My fellowship group and I have joined the chorus, reminding each other of the importance of keeping our eyes on Christ and our minds on what He says about us through His Word, taking St. Paul’s exhortations, above, to heart.

We are encouraged not just to try to rid our minds of the toxic waste dump of distortions, lies, and accusations that fester there, or at least to change the subject, but to replace them with the truth of who we are in Christ Jesus.

When “the words in our head” are quite true, however, that is, when we know our sin, our culpability, we can still find the peace that rises above understanding in the same Word of God: “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed'” (1 Peter 2:24). In other words, Jesus took care of that sin, once for all. We need not live amid the guilt and the shame, but can, by faith, proceed to the exit.

We can replace the condemning thoughts with redemptive thoughts and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us further into restoration, as Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) continues His work in us as when we yield to Him, by choice, each day…

bible I can find no better way to aid and abet the  restoration process for you, gentle reader, who might also be dealing with a toxic mass of mental angst, than by sharing more of God’s antidote, His healing Word. I encourage you to think on these things when the dark voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil attempt to crowd out your peace in Christ today:

John 3:16–For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Romans 5:8–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Galatians 2:20–I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 2:4-5–But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—

1 John 4:9-11–In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Zephaniah 3:17–The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

1 Peter 5:6-7–Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Psalm 86:15–But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

1 John 3:1–See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Romans 8:37-39–No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


image from the public domain: https://www.google.com/search?q=public+domain+images+of+the+bible&client=firefox-a&hs=eca&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=vEoXU9ShNNbgoATrm4L4AQ&ved=0CCYQsAQ&biw=1024&bih=638

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