How do you help heavenly ideals feel heavier?

Yesterday the rich book Prayer and Temperament (a new favorite) directed me to Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

As one who has battled negative, critical thoughts through much of my teenage and young adult years, this verse has become very familiar. Mentors were continually counseling me to “stand firm” on these words, and over time I collected several decks of Scripture notecards in which this verse was surely included. I was told that memorizing and meditating on these uplifting words would uproot and transform my negative thoughts. But for some reason the change wasn’t happening. What was I doing wrong? Was I beyond hope?

I have mentioned before that I am a recovering addict. And I am convinced that when addiction is a part of the equation, it is impossible to heal the distorted thinking without first eliminating the substance. Attempts to first change my thought patterns, in hopes that my reliance on addictive behaviors would then decrease and eventually dissolve, failed time and again.

Having worked with numerous addicts, I’ve observed that as long as the addiction is still present, the addicted mind repeatedly returns to its depressive, negativistic state. With time, the body and brain became increasingly bound to the substance, and unfortunately positive thinking and spiritual meditation don’t offer the power to break that physiological chain. As I see it, repeating Philippians 4:8 one thousand times a day while still engaging in addictive behaviors at night won’t help, and might actually do more damage. Sobriety has to come first.

That may seem like stating the obvious with regards to substances like alcohol and drugs – substances that individuals are able to live without. But with eating disorders, the necessary sobriety – or “abstinence” as it is often called – can be difficult to define. No one can simply quit food, so what does it mean to be “substance-free”? (A complex, rather controversial issue that could be discussed in a series of posts…)

Anyhow, once physical sobriety is stabilized, retraining old thought patterns (and also introducing brand new ones) is crucial. The pits that were once filled with filth need to be replaced with eternal valuables. This is the point at which verses like Philippians 4:8 become powerful truths for recovering addicts to store in heart and mind.

Over the years, when confronted with negativity or temptations, I’ve turned to this piece of Scripture to shift away from lesser thoughts and refocus on ideals like truth, righteousness, and purity.  While the practice felt spiritual in a sense, it seemed to the lack the satisfaction I sought. Yesterday, however, I plugged specific realities into each part of the verse, which resulted in a wonderfully nourishing spiritual experience:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true [God is love], whatever is noble [the character of a man I know named Mike], whatever is right [my mentor’s recent example of inspiring generosity], whatever is pure [the delightful child I observed the previous day], whatever is lovely [a memory of my mom in her Maine garden], whatever is admirable [my friend Josh’s selfless service at his church]—if anything is excellent [the mission of an organization I support] or praiseworthy [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]—think about such things.

Throughout the day, I was able to bring to mind these vivid images – images that I had actually felt, touched, seen, or heard – and to meditate on them in a meaningful way. No longer did truth, righteousness, purity, and the other ideals seem fuzzy or ethereal, but instead they carried serious weight in a way that truly captured my attention and elevated my thoughts.

How do you help heavenly ideals feel heavier?