Finals, Jaw Pain and Negatvity

As I pull into the driveway, my mind races with all of the things I need to do in the next 24 hours. It’s the dreaded finals week and there are simply too many things, I decide.

It’s not until several minutes later when I’m sitting upright on my bed with papers strewn everywhere and my laptop heating up when I notice it- I’m starting to get a headache. While I’m usually stubborn enough to try and “wait it out,” this time I instantly walk to the kitchen and reach for the Tylenol. There is  no way I’m going to let a headache keep me from acing this exam tomorrow, I thought. But when I opened my jaw to take the pills, I was met with pain much worse than my newly discovered headache.

I soon realized that my teeth had been clenched shut so hard and for so long that I no longer realized it was happening and it was now causing me a headache. I tried an old trick that i had learned to see how bad the situation was, “curve your fingers and try to stack three knuckles vertically into your mouth. If you can’t do that, you’ve got a problem,” the Youtuber had said.

My face reddened with pain and embarrassment when my mom walked in right at that moment. It felt like I was trying to beat the Guinness world record for “Number of Fingers Forced Into Mouth” (the record is 30 fingers as of 2011, so close). The strain it was causing was painful and I couldn’t believe that I had led to my own demise by simply clenching my teeth all day.

I took a break from my studies and started to search the web for how to un-clench my jaw and get rid of all this soreness. I found one boring, long, but incredibly helpful video. Luckily, by the end of the video my jaw felt relaxed and I was no longer clenching my teeth.

It dawned on me long after finals week that TMJ pain (which is what the internet had informed me I was experiencing) is similar to despair one can feel after feeding on negative thoughts all day. Paul encourages us to focus on the positive: things that are good, true, etc., but how often do we really do that when we let our thoughts take the driver’s seat for a while?

I know I find myself repeating negative thoughts when I let my mind wander. These thoughts pile up during the day so that by the time I get home from work or class it’s almost impossible to climb out of the stress-filled pit  I’ve dug for myself.

One technique I am using to combat these thoughts can be found in “The Power of Habit” and it is a pair of terms called “awareness training” and “competing response.” Awareness training involves just what you might assume, training yourself to be aware when you are doing an unwanted activity. So whenever I say something negative to myself, I mark a notch on a notecard. At the end of the day, I’ll be able to see how often it happens and I’ll have a better idea of what triggers it because I am paying closer attention.

Competing response is where I replace negative thinking with something else. For me, I am going to try to memorize as much scripture as I can. For now, I will meditate on what Paul says in Philippians 4:8.

“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.”

The second I start to think something negative, the thought will be replaced by these words and positive thoughts until eventually, positivity will be the norm.

But just like TMJ pain, realizing my jaw is clenched during the day only gets me so far. At the end of the day I have to do certain exercises that loosen my jaw so that I don’t clench harder when I’m sleeping or when I’m not paying attention. The same goes for negative thinking. Reading a few bible verses here and there is only good for the short term.  I need to devote time to prayer and bible study that goes beyond just skimming the surface. Once I have done that, my relationship with God will help me make positivity and hope a lifestyle and negativity a healthy exception to the norm.

Paul: The Ultimate Redemption Story

Paul is a testament to God’s ability to use anyone for His glory.

It’s almost as if God decided to illustrate the most extreme redemption story possible through Saul’s conversion. He didn’t just choose a mass murderer for His purposes, He chose one who was widely known and respected for seeking out Christians to be killed.

When Jesus spoke directly to Saul from heaven as he was traveling to Damascus, He also spoke to one of His disciples in a dream named Ananias. He instructed the man to seek out Saul and help him on his journey to becoming an advocate for Christ. But Ananias responded, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.”

To Ananias, the concept that God would want to use Saul of all people must have seemed crazy. So much so, that he decides he’s going to set God straight on the matter. He’s like “Woah, Jesus, maybe you’re a little disconnected from what’s going on down here, but this guy’s entire job is to sign off on my death solely based on my identity as a Christian. Could you be referring to another, less threatening Saul that I don’t know about yet?”

But when God has a plan, even the unthinkable is possible. Thus the Lord responded, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”

Wow. This must have been a real shocker, and I’m glad that the Bible does not spare us the awkwardness of what ensues. Saul was a spectacle to behold and his preaching raised a few red flags. People exclaimed, “Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?” Even the other disciples doubted him, and I find it hard to blame them. The Bible says, “But they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.”

I think we sort of assume some things are just the way they are, and it would be impossible to change them. Perhaps it’s a relationship with a family member, or the stubbornness of a friend to see Christ, or your own sinful habits that seem impossible to break. Friends, God can do the unthinkable in you and those around you. I recently read Lara Casey’s book, “Make it Happen,” in which she urges the reader to pray for the impossible. This struck me and completely revolutionized the way I approached prayer.

If anyone had to pen the words, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” I’m glad it was Paul. His life points us to this truth and illustrates that God can do the impossible in those who let Him.

If you aren’t using the power of God to transform your heart and life, then what exactly are you waiting for? Through Paul’s transformation God makes it abundantly clear that it doesn’t matter where you are in life. God can change you. God can work through you. The thing is, God isn’t going to speak directly to us these days as he did with Saul. He doesn’t need to  because we have His Words in written form. All you have to do is start a dialogue involving an honest heart and His Word to discover the renewal and hope Christ has waiting for you.