When life takes a turn you are not expecting, or you are faced with frustrating circumstances and disappointment, it is so easy to fall into negative and unhelpful patterns of thinking.
Anyone who has ever done sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) will have come across ‘unhelpful thinking styles’ which many of us can relate to, myself included. Whether it is using critical words like ‘should,’ ‘must’ or ‘ought’ which can make us feel guilty and like we have already failed, comparing ourselves to others, jumping to conclusions, thinking only in extremes or even assigning ‘labels’ to ourselves or other people; we can often end up believing lies about ourselves, others, or a situation.
While CBT is a talking therapy style challenging how we think and behave, I found the practical application of identifying unhelpful thoughts, challenging them, and replacing the thoughts with alternative views of situations (or ‘truth’) almost Biblical! By taking ‘captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5), I found alternative ways of framing a situation – a better perspective, and greater hope in Jesus.
In a recent podcast, Bethel Church Founder Bill Johnson speaks of the importance of ‘intentionally choosing to embrace God’s word’ in place of untruths. He reminds us that the mind is a daily battlefield, and that what we consume in the world around us can perpetuate unhelpful beliefs and behaviours, steering us off course from our identity and authority in Christ. Romans 12:2 tells us not to ‘conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your minds.’
Through constantly anchoring ourselves in the truth, both in the nature and goodness of God, and who He has created us to be, we allow inward transformation to take place.
At The Welcome Directory, we run a Prisons Awareness Course (PAC), intended to challenge preconceived ideas, ‘labels’ and unhelpful attitudes towards prison leavers. These views can be damaging and contribute to social stigma, which some prison leavers in turn believe about themselves.
One of my favourite parts of the course is hearing stories of those with lived experience of the criminal justice system. It reminds me that we are all people. We all have a story to tell, hopes and dreams for the future, and we can all testify of the transformative power that faith and beliefs can have in our lives, whether in prison or beyond the bars.
The PAC seeks to replace the lies of ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘different’ with truth of: ‘made in God’s image,’ ‘worthy’ and loved,’ as we encourage faith communities to be places of welcome and acceptance. Challenging this public perception, taking thoughts captive, and reframing these with the truth by choosing to welcome and accept prison leavers may seem radical to some. And yet, it is simply what God has called us to do.
Churches interested in exploring free registration can get in touch via email or simply complete the online application here. The next Prisons Awareness Course starts on Monday evening 4th September, running over three consecutive weeks – you can book your free place here.
Emily Green is the Director of The Welcome Directory, a multi-faith charity empowering faith communities to welcome prison leavers.
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