In the movie, Casablanca, Vichy France’s prefect of police (Captain Renault) tells his men to “round up the usual suspects” when a Nazi officer is shot. That famous line is something I tell myself:
“Karen, whenever your thoughts go wild, round up the usual suspects.”
For a long time, I thought my usual suspects were fear and worry because those negative emotions robbed my joy, woke me up at night, and prevented me from stepping out of my comfort zone. Then I realized my thoughts were the culprit, instigating all kinds of wild imaginings especially over my kids’ safety.
What if my toddler chokes on a hotdog? What if a stranger steals my kid? What if my teenage child gets injured in a car accident? What if my husband and I die, who’ll raise our kids?
My children grew up, but the wild imaginings continued. I felt more vulnerable with age, and realized how little control (if any) I had over the well being of others. I’d also witnessed enough tragedy in the news and among friends to justify my what ifs.
I told myself worry and fear couldn’t prevent bad things from happening. I told myself worry and fear were a waste of mental energy if these trial weren’t going to happen. I told myself fear is not from the Lord. But all that self talk didn’t help because I’d failed to recognize the source of my worry and fear.
Finally, someone listened to my wild imaginings and said, “You need to capture your thoughts so you’ll experience God’s peace.”
Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?
I understood the impact thoughts have on our moods, words, and actions. I’d often told my children, “Think happy thoughts.” I’d quote Philippians 4:8. “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.”
So what was I thinking?
If I was going to capture my thoughts, I had to recognize my malicious thoughts so I could round them up at the first sign of goosebumps or dread. When a fearful moment arrived, I envisioned minuscule soldiers stationed in my mind—arresting that terrifying thought before it got out of hand. No visitation allowed. I refused to let my mind entertain that thought.
But the nagging thoughts hollered:
What if your negative thoughts are valid?
What if your worst nightmares come true?
That’s when I mustered my second defense. It wasn’t enough to capture my thoughts, I had to renew my mind by reading God’s Word. Then, I challenged myself. “You like to dwell on what ifs. Think about this:
What if you controlled your thoughts instead of allowing your thoughts to control you?
What if you believed God is able to do more than you can imagine instead of focusing on your wild imaginings?
What if you believed God’s promises to provide, comfort, and guide you instead of wondering how you’ll cope?
What if you trusted God’s sovereignty instead of worrying about the future?
What if you believed God’s grace is sufficient even in your worst nightmare?
What if you believed that nothing—no sin or failure—can separate you from God’s love?
What if you believed to be absent from the flesh is to be present with the Lord?
What if you gave thanks in everything for this is God’s will for you?
Would these thoughts, these mind-blowing truths, alleviate your worries and fears? Would they free you to live? If so, round up the usual suspects–even in this moment!