March 30, 2011

'PERFECT'...

I’m a great fan of Pink’s music, an unabashed confession that may come as a surprise to many because her lyrics, apart from the occasional spattering of profanity, can also be quite raw and confronting. Whether it’s her straight talking commentary on political ideology in Dear Mr President’, or her painful, and often self-revealing reflections on societal dysfunction, relational discord or marital breakdown in songs like Stupid Girls’,Family Portrait, and I Don’t Believe You’.

Apart from great rock music, that’s exactly what I like about her. She doesn’t avoid the ‘uncomfortable’. Her music doesn’t lean towards an insipid romanticism or an anaesthetised placating of the sensibilities, but speaks honestly, bluntly, and often insightfully about the struggle of living as imperfect people in a far from perfect world.

In her words…

“My favorite books, art pieces, films, and music, always have something jarring about them. I want art to make me think.

In order to do that, it may p**s me off, or make me uncomfortable.
That promotes awareness and change, or at least some discussion. 

That’s my intention. 

You can't move mountains by whispering at them”.

And I think it’s Pink’s audacious attempt to ‘move mountains’ through music that accounts for her extraordinary popular appeal today. Her latest song - ‘F**Kin Perfectis certainly no exception to this hard-hitting rock mantra. Confronting to say the least, ‘Perfect’ canvasses the ugly reality of bullying, alienation, self-loathing, self-harm, and suicide that appear all too common in the lives of young women today.

I must say I found the song, and particularly the corresponding video profoundly unsettling, not just because of its deeply disturbing content matter, but also the sadness it evoked in recalling the countless faces of young women I’d pastored who struggled with everything from low self-perception, gnawing self-doubt, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and persistent and deep seated feelings of self-hatred.

Listen for a moment to the lyrics (or for those brave among you, the enclosed censored version of her video).



“Made a wrong turn, once or twice
Dug my way out, blood and fire
Bad decisions, that's alright
Welcome to my- silly life

Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood
Miss -'No way, it's all good',
 it didn't slow me down
Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated
Look, I'm still around

Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever ever feel
Like you're less than f*n' perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you're nothing
You're f*n' perfect to me!

You're so mean, when you talk about yourself, you were wrong
Change the voices in your head, - make them like you instead
So complicated, look happy, you'll make it!
Filled with so much hatred...such a tired game
It's enough! I've done all I can think of
Chased down all my demons,
I've seen you do the same

…Done looking for the critics, cause they're everywhere
They don’t like my jeans, they don't get my hair
Exchange ourselves, and we do it all the time
Why do we do that?

Why do I do that?...

Some might right-off ‘Prefect’s’ life narrative as yet another gratuitously sensationalist rock vid, aimed to shock and self promote. But the truth of the song to life as I’ve found it for many young girls (and not a few older women) who carry the scars of emotional and psychological distress depicted here, resonates. To quote one young listenerIts sad. Cause this is basically my life, made into a music video”.

And if statistics, or the plethora of ‘confessional’ internet forums are an indication, it seems that many would agree with me.

We know from the Australian Government’s Response Ability’ website that…

“The prevalence of self-harming behaviours has increased. In 2005-06, there were 7,299 hospitalisations of young people due to intentional self-harm - a rate of 197 per 100,000. The increase was greater among females (51% compared with 27%) with the female rate consistently twice as high as for males.
In the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 1.8% of males and 2.7% of females reported having experienced thoughts of suicide in the previous 12 months. 
Extrapolating to the whole population, that’s an estimated 146,000 men and 222,000 women.
And, if those sobering statistics aren’t enough to rattle the senses, read these chilling self- revelations from the - I Battle Self-Hatred’ website…

Every day I look at myself and feel sick…I've self harmed in many ways…I hate the way I look. I hate my stomach…I hate my stupid head problems…I hate the way I never seem to be able to say the right thing…I hate the way I never seem to be able to keep friends or get along with people.”  - Popkins

Or
“People are weird with me.  I get a lot of attention and told I ‘m pretty, but lots of people don't seem to like me.  I feel like I don't really connect with others… I always feel like people don't want to include me in their conversations.
Instead of thinking it's their problem, I internalize it to think - there must be something wrong with me.  I start thinking of myself as a worthless loser with no friends.  In turn, I try so hard to please everyone but they end up using me and disrespecting me more because I have no back bone”.  –’ Patchworkofmistakes ’-.
'Perfect’ starkly echoes the sentiments spoken of here, those moments feeling “mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood” that threaten to undo us. And the futile pretence of adopting a “Miss – ‘no way, it’s all good” attitude that cripples all genuine honesty, and ultimately leaves us void of any meaningful resolution to our growing sense of failure or alienation.
The song not only portrays our struggle to surmount these mistakes and challenges in life, those wrong turns” and bad decisions”, but more importantly, it profoundly captures our seeming incapacity to conquer the destructive drives and negative self-talk that flow from them. The always second guessing…feeling like you’re nothing thinking that paralyses the mind and debilitates the human spirit.
PASSIVE THOUGHT BINGING:
We see here that the mind is a very powerful thing isn’t it? Our thoughts often drive our feelings. They shape our attitudes, our beliefs and ultimately, our behaviours (sometimes destructive ones!).
Ralph Waldo Emerson once described the potential influence of thoughts to shape our lives this way…
”To sow a thought is to reap an action; to sow an action is to reap a habit;
sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”.
Both Emerson and Pink draw attention to a layer of talk that’s potentially deadly and dangerous if left unchecked. And that’s the talk that goes on in our heads. Our ‘self- talk’, our ‘inner dialogue’ if you like. Those ‘internal conversations’ we have with ourselves. The mental ‘words of life’ and ‘words of death.’
Mental words of death like…

“I ‘m ugly”
“I ‘m useless”
“I can’t do that”
“No one likes me”
“I ‘m no good at anything”
“I ‘m a hopeless mother”
 ….“I’m nothing”

Or maybe it’s those ‘doubting words of death’ about our heavenly father…thoughts like…

“Why did you make me this way…why didn’t you make me more like her?...”
“God you don’t really care what’s happening to me…”
“I just don’t think I can trust him any more…”


Have you ever had thoughts like that?

We call these thoughts ‘words of death’ because they’re destructive, debilitating, de-motivating, toxic and deadly to our souls. Like cancer, these negative thoughts feed on our minds, and spread throughout our wills, and emotions.

If we allow ourselves to ‘passively binge’ on these kinds of thoughts long enough we begin to believe them. The mental words of death and doubt gradually and insidiously start to displace the ‘healthy truth’ God feeds us in his Word and through his Spirit. Eating away at our trust in him. Slowly but surely, we can begin to move away from God…and from others as well.

I wonder what your ‘self-talk’ looks like?
What your ‘words of life or death’ might be?

Well, how can we begin to hear more of ‘God’s talk’ in our heads and less of our own?

Can I suggest 4 ways we might do that.


SAGE SELF-TALKING:
1. Reining in our thoughts:

We can begin by making mental choices NOT to be a ‘passive thought binger’. Literally just consuming every thought that passes through our heads without check, restraint or question.

We’re soberly reminded in Rom 7:23 and Is: 55:8 that our minds, our thoughts, do not always speak truth into our heads about God, about the world or about ourselves. In fact sometimes they speak lies!

My little mental world of reality is not always reality as God sees it. Therefore I must ACTIVELY decide to “submit myself (my thoughts) to God, resist Satan’s inroads, and draw near to him”. God promises that when I do, the destructive undermining work of the ‘father of lies’ at work in my mind will begin to “flee from me” (Jas 4:7-8, 1 Pet 1:13).

2. Replacing in our thoughts:

Pink’s solution to the lies we speak to ourselves is to replace those negative thoughts with positive ones, to- change the voices in your head, make them like you instead”. Interestingly, theologian Martyn Lloyd-Jones proposed a similar strategy stating: “Most of our unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we’re listening to ourselves rather than talking rightly to ourselves”.

For Christians this will mean, that when I’m tempted to entertain negative self-talk, I’m to eject the false tapes set on ‘continuous play’ in my head, and replace them with tracks of God-talk. I’m to install, then hit ‘re-play’ with God’s truth about me. Or, drawing upon Pink’s sentiments - “change the voices in your head, make them - like God’s instead”.

In this way, let’s not allow ourselves to mentally “conform to the pattern of this world, BUT be transformed BY the renewing of our minds” (Rom 12:2).

3. Feeding our thoughts:

In Phillippians the Apostle Paul invites Christians to engage in a spiritual mind binge! 
He urges them to actively apply their minds to these thoughts…

”…whatever is true, what ever is noble,
whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy…
                                          think (or feed) on these things” (4:8)

Is Paul’s encouragement to ponder such attributes just a psycho-spiritual exercise for the mind? The Scriptures say NO! For when we adopt, feed and meditate on these qualities, these truths - God’s truths, we begin to both incorporate them into our actions, and slowly but surely change and displace old, fleshly and destructive patterns of thinking (Rom 8:5). 

4. Rest our thoughts:

Lastly, the beautiful words of Lamentations 3:21-21 have this to say…

“I call this to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love,
We are not consumed (even by our own thoughts)
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion’;
therefore -I will wait for him”.


We’re reminded that even though disappointment, chaos and self-doubt may still linger uneasily around us at times, with God’s help it IS possible to ‘still our anxious thoughts’, to find ‘settledness of mind’, because we ultimately trust in his love, his compassion, his faithfulness towards us.

We can know peace of mind because we put our trust, not in self-belief, not in the fickle critique of others, not even in the feint hope that someday someone might possibly say - “you’re perfect to me”.

Rather, we entrust ourselves, our lives, our bodies, our minds, over to the only one who was made perfectfor me, gave his life ‘for me, and places his transforming Spirit ‘within me.

To the only one who can, and has, declared…

“Pretty, pretty please, if you ever- ever feel like you're nothing

You ARE perfect - IN me!”

Let’s call this to mindand set our “hope” on HIM!


* Copyright: Please do not use or reproduce without permission:


Note:
I want to say in passing that for some there may be additional medical, emotional or psychological factors that can significantly impact a persons functioning, & can drown out their capacity to hear and know God’s truths spoken of here.

If that is the case for you, or for someone you know or love, know that you are not alone and that help is available that can make a difference. Can I recommend these helpful contact organizations, or feel free to contact me directly by posting a message with this blog.