Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
I’ve never had much success with diets. I’ve tried most of the popular ones including the trendy Atkins Diet. I lost eight pounds, but quit it after my cholesterol went through the roof. Cutting out carbs can help you lose weight, but a diet of cheeseburgers and scrambled eggs apparently doesn’t do much for your heart. I was skinnier, but I wasn’t thrilled about adding Lipitor to my diet so I ditched the good Dr. Atkins in favor of exercise and portion control. I still have my hips but my cholesterol is doing fine, thank you.
This New Year, however, I’ve decided to begin a new diet. It’s not a low-carb diet, or a low-fat diet. It’s not the kind of diet where you only eat bananas or grapefruit until you can’t stand the sight of any kind of fruit. It’s not an all-salad diet or even an all fast food diet. It’s not a diet that promises to transform my size 12 frame into a size 2 overnight. There’s no catchy name for this diet and I doubt you’ll see Dr. Phil or Oprah host any shows or write any books about this diet — because it’s the hardest diet anyone would ever attempt to try.
The diet I intend to try is a transformation diet — a diet that promises not so much to transform my body, but to transform my mind. This transformation will be radical, life-changing, and who knows, I may actually lose some weight on this diet, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to change how I think, how I view the world, how I perceive events, whether locally, globally or personally. The goal is to change how I think about my friends, and more importantly how I think about my enemies. The goal of this diet is to so change my life that I may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Seven Day Mental Diet
I found this diet while perusing my bookshelves waiting for God to inspire me to write this article. My writing ritual often includes standing in front of my bookshelves, waiting for God to speak, waiting for God to move. I’ll stand and look and look and look — flip through book after book fruitlessly until my hand lands on the one that contains the answers I’m seeking. This method of inspiration never fails for me. God always speaks in some way. God spoke this time through the words of Emmet Fox in his book Power Through Constructive Thinking. Written originally in 1932, I think it’s time to resurrect Fox’s Seven Day Mental Diet to help me, and hopefully you, transform your mind in this coming year.
Fox’s Seven Day Mental Diet is simple: “For seven days you must not allow yourself to dwell for a single moment on any kind of negative thought.” By negative thoughts, Fox means “any thought of failure, disappointment, or trouble; any thought of criticism, or spite, or jealousy, or condemnation of others, or self-condemnation; any thought of sickness or accident; or, in short, any kind of limitation or pessimistic thinking.”
When I first read that I thought, “Great, so I’m just supposed to be a sunny Pollyanna. The world is a perfect place just because I think it’s so.” But, such a thought is to misunderstand Fox’s diet. Not allowing yourself to dwell on negative thoughts is not to deny the thoughts or pretend they don’t exist. The key to this diet is not to squelch any negative thinking, but not to dwell on negative thoughts.
We do this all the time. Something upsets us. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we take it as a personal offense. We feel the negative feelings welling up inside. “He knew I was in this lane, he intentionally cut me off.” We entertain this thought, we dwell on this negative emotion of anger and it grows. It manifests itself in yelling, honking or flashing obscene gestures to the offending party. Given enough fuel it can escalate into road rage where we provoke the other party enough to where anger overwhelms us both and we’ve set the scene for a nasty ending.
I speak from experience in this matter. I’ve been in this situation more than once because I am a slow learner. I stood nose to nose in the middle of the road with a man who had just scraped the front of my car as he cut me off in traffic. It was verbally violent and could have easily turned physically violent. I awoke the next morning to two flat tires on my car. I certainly can’t prove who did it but it stands to reason that my altercation had very real results the next day.
What would have happened if I had let it go, if I had not dwelled on the negative thoughts? Well, I would have had two good tires the next day for one thing. It doesn’t mean that I would have denied or suppressed my feelings of irritation and anger at this man — but I would not have acted on them. I would have let the feelings dissipate. By not dwelling on the anger, I would not have given it life.
What we think upon grows, Fox tells us.
The more you think about your grievances or the injustices that you have suffered, the more such trials will you continue to receive; and the more you think of the good fortune you have had, the more good fortune will come to you.” (p. 27 of Make Your Life Worthwhile)
Fox’s diet can help us starve the negative thoughts and instead give life to the positive and loving thoughts that we can choose to think instead. Again, this is not a denial of reality. Instead, this is a positive way to react to reality and transform situations. Indeed, the man who cut me off in traffic did do it on purpose, because our altercation began a short distance from the accident site. The accident might never have occurred if I had not given life to my anger beforehand. If I had let my anger go, if I had simply smiled and waved at the first sign of offense, I would not have denied my original feelings of irritation, but instead chosen to feel a positive emotion instead of the negative emotion. We have a choice about what we feel and how we act on our feelings and our choices can affect our entire lives, and even the lives of others.
… you choose your life, that is to say, you choose all the conditions of your life, when you choose the thoughts upon which you allow your mind to dwell. Thought is the real causative force in life, and there is no other… This then is the real key to life: if you change your mind your conditions must change too… (p. 183-4 of Power Through Constructive Thinking)
Again, lest you think this is all new age, positive thinking, mumbo jumbo, let me give you another example. After this past election I was very depressed. The candidate I supported did not win the presidency and eleven states passed measures to amend their constitutions to deny gays and lesbians the right to enter into marriage. I had every right to be depressed. The world, in my mind, was going to hell in a hand basket, run by people who wished that people like me did not exist. I dwelled on this for most of the morning. I felt awful. I could have let my anger and depression fester and turn into bitterness and disillusionment. That would have led me into a dark place, a place where I would give up and simply not work anymore for my own equality in this land. I could not fathom going there. Instead, I sat down and worked out my demons. I penned a note to some friends that eventually wound up on my blog. It was a message of hope, a message of love and a message of life.
The defeat of gay and lesbian rights in this past election is a setback, no doubt about it. It shows there has been a backlash to our efforts, but it also shows that our efforts are succeeding. The struggle for equal rights always comes in fits and starts. It’s always one step forward and two steps back. I could not give in to my despair because I know that one day we will prevail. The genie is out of the bottle and it won’t be put back. The last thing we should do now as a community is dwell on negative thoughts, because by dwelling on them we give them life. Instead, we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, by the renewal of our commitment to dwell only on thoughts of equality, justice and victory — and by doing so give them life. This is not a denial of the disappointment we feel, but a transformation of that disappointment into hope and finally into action.
Fox’s diet can be instrumental in bringing about revolutionary change not only in our personal lives but in the world around us. It is only through the power of constructive thinking can we build a movement that brings equality to our community and transformation to the world at large. In short, Fox’s diet invites us to change our minds, to follow Paul’s advice and refuse to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
But, what does it mean to not conform to this world and be transformed by the renewal of our minds? A closer look at the passage reveals what Paul is talking about.
The Greek word for “conform” is “suschematizo” which means “to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern.” When we conform we take on the ideas of someone else, even if they directly conflict with our own ideas, thoughts or feelings. We conform to our society’s demands, even if we disagree with them, because we don’t want to rock the boat or cause trouble. But those who refused to conform have caused some of the biggest transformations in our world. Non-conformists ended slavery, ended denial of the vote to women, ended the sodomy laws that made gays and lesbians illegal by their very existence. Conformity isn’t always bad, though — we conform to society’s idea that murder and theft are bad, not just for the person victimized but for society as a whole. Conformity to ways that help society is not bad. Conformity to bad laws and society’s rules of discrimination, however, are not constructive.
Paul is clear that we are not to be conformed to “this world.” The Greek word here is “aion” which does not refer so much to a place as a time. We are not to be conformed to our times — to the things that society says we should value. In our time society dictates we conform to the rightness of war, discrimination, imperialism and might. Our world is in a fit of seemingly never-ending violence. War and conflict are hailed as our only options to end unrest and bring peace to the world. Our patriotism, our humanity, is called into question when we assert that war is never the answer and that peace only comes through non-violent reconciliation. We are called weak, timid, un-Christian or un-American. But, we are warned not to conform to this world — not to embrace what it embraces, not to let our minds get caught up in believing that violence is the only way to bring about peace.
Instead our minds are to be transformed or “metamorphoo.” Transformation is equivalent to transfiguration. Mark (9:2) and Matthew (17:2) recount the transfiguration of Christ when Jesus’ true nature as the son of God is revealed. Our transformation reveals our true nature as children of God — children who seek to bring God’s distributive justice to a hurting and dying world. If Fox’s diet does not instill in us a sense that we need to be at work in the world bringing God’s justice to those in need then our transformation is not real. Only the transformed — the transfigured — can bring transformation into the world.
Transformation brings a renewing — an “anakainosis” — to our minds. This Greek word means “a complete change for the better.” When our minds are renewed — truly transformed — then our lives are completely changed for the better. There is no longer any need or any desire to think, do or say anything that brings strife, bitterness, hatred or anger. Our minds are completely changed for the better — we are fully renewed in Christ.
This transformation, this renewal is of our mind — our “nous” — which is our “faculty of perceiving divine truth,” our “capacity for spiritual truth.” When our mind is renewed we perceive things differently. No longer are we offended by petty remarks, political setbacks or another person in traffic. We are not seeing things in the old ways, but instead we perceive spiritual truth. We see past the surface of situations and understand the spiritual dimension behind everything in our lives.
When our minds are seeing spiritual truth instead of human frailties and foibles our lives become genuine and prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. By perfect, we do not mean without error, but instead “teleios” which means “complete.” When we do not conform to this world and instead are transformed by the renewal of our minds, we bring about God’s will into the world. By giving our lives over to the spiritual truths revealed to us through our walk with God, we complete God’s work in the world — we become beacons of hope, seekers of justice, lovers of mercy, and humble servants of God.
It all begins with Fox’s diet: “For seven days you must not allow yourself to dwell for a single moment on any kind of negative thought.” What should we dwell on? How can we divert our thoughts from the negative thoughts that seem to float, unbidden, into our minds? Paul has good advice:
… whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
These are things we need to think about when negative thoughts come our way. Focus on God instead of the negative thoughts. Focus on God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s justice, God’s peace. Find a Bible verse that gives you comfort and strength and repeat it when a negative thought comes your way. One of my favorites is:
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. (1 John 4:16)
Fox suggests such phrases as “There is no power but God,” or simply, “God is with me.” These phrases serve to defuse negative thoughts, to dissipate the emotions before they take hold, get our attention and take on a life of their own.
If you choose to go on Fox’s diet, it is probably the hardest diet you will ever undertake and probably the one most tempting to abandon at the first sign of failure. Fox advises us to drop the diet if we have a major stumble and take it back up again in a few days. Do not berate yourself for failure. We’ve been conditioned in negative thoughts our entire lives. Society wants us to feel bad about ourselves so we’ll buy products to make us feel better. Makeup to hide blemishes, cars to compensate for personality shortcomings, clothes to hide the shame we feel about our bodily form. Negativity is all around, so don’t be shocked if you begin this diet and all you seem to be thinking are negative thoughts. It’s to be expected. Drop the exercise for the day and take it up again tomorrow or the next — but take it up again. Work at it, pray over it. Ask God for guidance and strength to change your mind. Ask God for transformation, for renewal of your mind.
Fox also advises us to not tell anyone that we’re on this diet (a rule I had to break to tell you about it!). This transformative process is between you and God, there is no need to bring the judgment of others into the process. Neither their support nor their criticism will be of help to you. According to Fox we should only talk about the diet after we’ve been successful for seven days. Sharing our success can then provide guidance for others who may want to go on the diet.
Even if you decide against doing Fox’s diet, always remember that what you think on grows. You cannot bring peace to the world with thoughts of violence. You cannot bring happiness into your life with thoughts of despair. You cannot bring love into the world with thoughts of hatred for anyone. You cannot bring justice into the world with thoughts of revenge. You can only bring yourself love, peace, hope and joy by thinking on these things, opening your heart to the endless possibility of God’s love and acting when the Spirit moves you. Only through your own personal transformation of your mind will the world ever be truly transformed.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.