These days in Houston, road rage is… well, all the rage. For several weeks, the news has reported women getting out of their cars in order to physically attack one another. In one almost comic plot twist, a man stole the car of one of the brawling women. After all, she left the car running in her haste to bring it home to the woman who offended her. But road rage isn’t that uncommon, although thankfully, yielding to its siren call is less usual. But that anger at the jerk who cut in front of you, endangering your passengers as well as you, in his or her rush to get that parking place you patiently waited for may not be coming from where you think. And decluttering may be the unexpected answer.
In order to gain an understanding of where inappropriate emotions come from, we need to understand two things. One is a little neuroscience, and the other is a little typology from the Old Testament courtesy of C I Scofield and Nancy Missler. Understanding how our brains work and what the Bible says about it gives us some valuable tools in winning the battle over road rage, overwhelming guilt, anxiety, and a host of other painful emotions. First some Biblical metaphor…
In Solomon’s temple, on the outside of the building that housed the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, winding around the sides and the back, were large closets. If we look at the temple as emblematic of the believer, the Inner Court is the place of our soul, or psyche. The Holy Place is our heart and the Holy of Holies is the place of the spirit, both ours and the Holy Spirit who has breathed new life into us. These closets, however, do not open into the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies. Instead they only opened on the outside into the Inner Court. They were called the Hidden Chambers. While the word, subconscious, is not a concept with which ancient Israelites would be familiar, the word, cheder, is the same one used in the verse in Psalm 51:6. It reads, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”
God instructed the priests to store all of the prizes of war and the histories of Israel in these hidden chambers. The closets’ original purpose was to hold the good memories and glorious records of the victories of Israel. Instead, the idolatrous priests used the chambers to hide their gods. I cringe when I think of the petty and violent pagan idols, squat and ugly, crowding up the shelves and baskets in the receptacles. I also cringe, however, thinking of the idols I occasionally find lurking in my subconscious. I wish all my memories were good, and I wish that the lies, fears, and angers from my life didn’t crowd my mind, falling out of their hiding places when I least expect it. I find that there is always more decluttering to accomplish.
But here is where the neuroscience comes in. A picture of how our brains handle emotion is the file cabinet. Each night, our brain goes into secretary mode and sorts out the memories of the day. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory, and the more space needed in the file for that emotion and memory. Some files are pretty big depending on your childhood, your subsequent life experiences, and your temperament. I find that those who grew up in angry homes have really large anger files. Duh, right? And somehow that anger file gets cross-referenced with the hurt file a lot. So here is how road
You get cut off by some imbecile talking on the phone, blaring the radio, and not paying attention. Your brain makes the anger connection and then goes to the anger file and pulls out the whole darn thing. What should have been a one sentence document gets added on to the long list of grievances and just imagine the mess of the whole file slipping all over the floor of your brain. Rage! Our brains do not discriminate easily which is why when your best friend casually criticizes you, you go into fetal position later that evening. Or when you slip up and make a mistake, you become your own firing squad. And these files grow. Experience more angry incidents and your file will start to take over the whole drawer and then the whole cabinet. You will lose your temper with increasing regularity. These memories beget more memories. Decluttering is your only hope.
So in the filing cabinets in your hidden chambers, to mix the metaphors all together, do you have any files that need decluttering? Sometimes we know the contents of the files. A few moment’s reflection will show you which angers need releasing, what original trauma triggered the anxiety, and what dark moment continues to leak all over the guilt file. But sometimes they are not so obvious.
When I first began to ask the Lord to empty out my hidden chambers, I began to remember things. Sometime I dreamt them. And others just happened. For me, the shame drawer was always the go-to drawer. If something bad happened, I knew it was somehow my fault. Then one day my mother called. “Alice,” she said, “do you remember the gerbils?” I did not. I still do not remember any gerbils. She sighed. “Well,” she said, “they had babies one night when you were about three. When I came out in the morning, you were holding one and it was dead.” I could tell my mother felt terrible about this experience.
I tried to remember a dead baby gerbil. Still nothing.
I thought you had killed it. I said, ‘Oh Alice, what have you done?’” my mother continued to explain.
Then it happened. I knew that feeling. I think I have said to myself, “Oh Alice, what have you done?” so many times that I had to get another filing cabinet.
My mother went on to explain that it was not until later that she realized that all the baby gerbils had been born dead. I was not the gerbil killing three year old she had assumed I was.
But after that phone call, I asked the Lord to look over that page for me. He leaned over my shoulder and wrote, “Alice was a good little girl.” So silly that a thirty year old woman would weep at being told she was a good girl. But so wonderful that the terrible page in my shame file got refiled under “Experiences with the Lord”.
Do you have some decluttering to do in the vast files of your mind? Part of taking every thought captive is looking at it for what it is. The other part is surrendering it to our loving Father. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Clear out those hidden chambers and fill them with the victories from God, the intimate experiences with the Holy Spirit, and the good memories you have with those whom the Lord has called you to love.