We “give birth” to what we “see” in our imaginations

Posted 11 Mar 2013

There is quite a strange sounding story in Genesis, chapter 30, which contains a spiritual truth:

Genesis 30:37-43 (NLT)
‘Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. Jacob separated those lambs from Laban’s flock. And at mating time he turned the flock to face Laban’s animals that were streaked or black. This is how he built his own flock instead of increasing Laban’s.
Whenever the stronger females were ready to mate, Jacob would place the peeled branches in the watering troughs in front of them. Then they would mate in front of the branches. But he didn’t do this with the weaker ones, so the weaker lambs belonged to Laban, and the stronger ones were Jacob’s. As a result, Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, male and female servants, and many camels and donkeys.’

Genesis 46 - Jacob goes to Egypt - Scene 05 - Jacob meets Joseph PB 194x135px col
A geneticist would tell you that sheep & goat’s don’t produce offspring of a particular colour & nature (streaked, speckled, and spotted) simply because their parents see some peeled branches! However, in this instance they did. The “how’s?”, “why’s” & the “wherefores” are incidental.

So what’s the point of the story? Well, one thing we can take from it is this: the sheep & goats produced offspring BASED ON WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING AT; literally, what was before them. Is there a lesson in this for us?

For us, I wonder if the same is true: that which we allow to reside in our minds (in our imaginations) is what comes to pass in our lives. There are lots of instances of this happening, here is just one example: many of us can think of someone we know who seems to have experienced a string of unfortunate events centred around conflict & negative outcomes with other people. Such people seem to have more than their “fair” share of conflicts & “run ins” with the people they come into contact with. They can readily reel off a whole string of events that have happened to them where they have conflicted with other people: people from all walks of life. We might even say that people who can recount such vivid tales of woe have a “victim mentality”, in that they almost expect bad things to befall them, rather than maintaining a more balanced, positive outlook on life.

Now I’m not suggesting that such people deliberately manufacture their own misfortunes, nor that we can always conclude that such people “bring it all on themselves”. Nor am I saying that these bad things haven’;t happened at all. It isn’t just in the victim’s mind, I’m sure these are real events. I am just suggesting that such people may be concentrating their memory, & recalling MORE of the negative events that have happened to them than the positive ones which have also happened to them. To be sure, we all encounter both positive & negative events in our lives: good things & bad things happen to us all. I think we probably encounter a fairly even spread of incidents & “happenings” through the course of our lives.
The difference between someone with a negative outlook, & someone else with a more balanced, or even more positive outlook, is this: the former spend more of their “memory time” recalling the “bad” events that have occurred than the “good” ones.

Conclusion & interpretation of the events that befall us.
Very general assertion: Good & bad events happen to us all. We probably have a fairly equal spread of both through out our lives.
So the real question is: what do we CONCLUDE about such events? What do we take away from such events? What conclusion do we come to regarding what has happened to us? This is not so much an impartial, factual recall of the events, but more a subtle biasing & personal INTERPRETATION of the events.

Also, our personal bias (be that generally positive or negative in regard to what happens to us) PREDISPOSES us to view the facts of an event in our lives as being largely “good” or “bad”. We may even largely “play down”, or totally disregard the positive events, in favour of interpreting events with a negative, destructive-to-us “spin”.
Two people may have the same event occur in their lives, but draw VERY DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS about what has happened (& what that “means” to them) afterwards. A person with a more positive outlook, even when a “bad” thing happens to them, will somehow manage to draw out a positive result & conclusion from the incident. Whereas the more negative thinker will invariably draw a damaging, scarring, negative conclusion from the SAME incident.

My question is this: if we elect to concentrate our attention on “bad” events (those incidents of conflict which we have lived through) & we readily recall those incidents (they are uppermost in our memories), what will that turn us into, in the end? If we most readily recall conflict & other incidents when we view ourselves as having been down-trodden, victims of circumstance, helpless to effect a positive outcome, etc, then surely we will begin to develop a fatalism; a general tendency to expect similar (or worse) events in our own future, won’t we?
On the other hand, if we can maintain (or effect) a more positive outlook on our lives, then the reverse will come into being: if we deliberately maintain a more positive conclusion about the events of our lives, surely we will begin to condition our minds to look for the positive, rather than looking for the negative interpretation of the events of our lives.

My concern is this: if we concentrate our recall/memory almost exclusively on negative events (rather than positive), what will that do to our OUTLOOK ON LIFE? We might think it will have no effect at all, that events will unfold in our future anyway, totally regardless of our outlook. And perhaps they will: we will indeed encounter both positive/happy & negative/conflict events in our own future…
… But what if our outlook DOES effect our future?…
And even if it doesn’t, when you think about it, don’t we have to ask ourselves, do I really WANT to concentrate my memory, & recollection on the negative events of my life… how will that make me FEEL today, after the event? Aren’t I worth more than that largely negative bias? Surely we can conclude that concentrating our memory/recall on all the negative events of our lives will only make us feel MORE low, MORE depressed, MORE negative. DO WE REALLY WANT THAT FOR OURSELVES?
Surely we can see that recalling the more positive events of our lives helps us to remain more positive, optimistic & happy, doesn’t it? Don’t we want to be those things?

Again, I’m not saying we take this to some absolute Nth degree, where we “blind” ourselves to anything negative at all! I’m simply suggesting that we DELIBERATELY foster an attitude of BALANCED THINKING, where we choose to interpret events in a more positive light (LOOKING FOR THE SILVER LINING IN THE CLOUD) & recalling at least as many happy, positive events as negative ones. That way we will maintain a more even keel in our attitudes & expectations of life.

The Bible has few verses along these lines:

Galatians 6:7b (NLT), ‘ …You will always harvest what you plant.’ We recall this verse as ‘You reap what you sow.’

Hosea 8:7a (NLT) , “They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind….”

Then there is the story in Numbers 13 of the 12 spies who were sent by Moses into the promised land. They spend 40 days looking at the land & assessing it, then they return to the wandering nation of the Hebrew people & report their findings. They all report how good the land is, how full of abundance & fertile soil, but 10 of them said that the Hebrew people can not possibly take the land, whilst only 2 (Caleb & Joshua) say that they can. Remember, the 12 men have ALL seen EXACTLY the same thing, but they draw VERY different conclusions from each other. The 10 men say (in Numbers 13:33 (ANIV)) “We saw the Nephilim there [giants]. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Notice their INTERPRETATION: that the people living in the promised land must have looked at these 10 men as being very small; like grasshoppers.
The truth is, these men DIDN’T actually know what the Canaanites thought; they simply allowed their own negative interpretations & wild (negative) imaginings to inform them.

That’s the incredibly POWERFUL & DANGEROUS nature of allowing your imagination to inform us of “facts” which aren’t facts at all. Therefore, what we THINK is vitally important. What we allow into our minds & imaginations “colours” our views, & if we are in the habit of spinning a negative interpretation on the events & things we have seen, then we can only expect trouble a negative attitude in ourselves, which is likely to take us on a wholly different, & negative track when it comes to our deeds.

What are we to do about our negative attitudes – can anything be done?
Can we deliberately RECONDITION OUR THINKING, so that we start to look for more positive lessons & interpretations to the events that befall us?

Romans 12:2 (ANIV), ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…’

This verse tells us how to effect a more positive outlook: we need to RENEW OUR MINDS. Our outlook will be transformed (from largely negative to more positive) by the renewing of our minds. It can take a lot of effort to deliberately recondition/transform your mind, but it’s worth it, especially if you can see that your own negative bias has costed you a lot in terms of your own life’s happiness, peace & contentment.

How do we renew our minds?
It comes back to what we DELIBERATELY CHOOSE TO DWELL ON. That which you focus your attention on; fix & hold in your imagination more often than not; THAT is what determines your whole outlook.

We all know people who seem to have more “bad luck” than anyone else. Could it be that they allow their minds to dwell on past “defeats”, errors, mistakes, & other misfortunes, & by REPEATEDLY REPLAYING those negative events, they begin to condition themselves to EXPECT similar outcomes in their own future? Whereas, those people who quite deliberately condition their own minds to interpret the incidents & events that befall them positively, & try to draw out the more positive “lesson” or conclusion, will invariable maintain & build a more positive outlook on those events of their lives.

For the Christian, renewing your mind is best achieved by reading the Bible. That is the source of THE TRUTH which we need. As Freedom in Christ [1] explains, ‘Find out what is already true; choose to believe it whether it feels true or not; and your Christian life will be transformed.’ It goes on to explain that if we chase after our feelings about truth, rather than the truth regardless of what we feel about it, we can end up on a roller-coaster ride of up-&-down emotions. So 1) discovering what is true (in the Bible) & 2) deliberately choosing to believe in that truth, regardless of what we feel about it, will lead to the renewing of our minds. Let’s face it, if we are suffering from negative interpretations up to this point in our lives, then we haven’t exactly been thinking things that benefit us so far, have we?!… Time for a change of thinking!”

Back to Jacob’s flocks…
Remember that story at the beginning of this blog, about the sheep & goats produced offspring BASED ON WHAT THEY WERE LOOKING AT; literally, what was before them? I hope that now we can see that the same is true for us: what we DWELL ON, most of the time, is what we “give birth to” in our lives. If we CHOOSE to dwell on negative events & matters then surely it should come as no surprise that what we “give birth to” in our lives is also going to be largely negative. On the other hand, if we CHOOSE to dwell on positive interpretations of our live’s events then what we will “give birth to” in our future is also going to be largely positive.

At the end of the day you have to decide what you want for yourself. Do you want to change your outlook & have a sunnier, more positive disposition? If so, the Bible can help; God is MORE than willing to help too!
I pray you will find that more positive outlook.

Freedom in Christ (FIC) is a course of discipleship which I highly recommend. It helps us to overcome often life-long habits of thinking which have kept us from achieving our best; our potential. Many people who have been through the course report significant & astonishing positive change in their lives.

The quote above is from page 81 of the FIC Leader’s Guide.

Here’s the link to FIC – well worth a look: http://www.ficm.org.uk/


Comments are turned off for this article

Go to Blog Archive page