Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Fit Brain or a Smart Heart?

It was one of those many phone apps that promises an improvement in brain function if used regularly. Suckered in by the hope of forestalling age-related mental loss, I had downloaded several to my phone and simply enjoyed the challenge of beating my last score, whether I was truly benefiting my brain or not. This one in particular offered two categories for improvement, mental performance and emotional intelligence. For several days I concentrated on the former, thinking that I just needed to be able to think faster, process ideas more quickly, increase reaction times, and improve memory. But the app suggested that both types of intelligence were important for good mental health, and so just for fun, I ventured into the realm of challenging my emotional well being.

The first game seemed so easy; a color was printed at the top of the screen, and I was supposed to match it to the right word in the list of colors that appeared underneath it. Simple, I thought. The word “purple” appeared, and quickly I searched the list of colors printed underneath it until I found the same, and clicked on it.

Brrrrrrp,” buzzed my phone. It was the wrong answer! Thinking my thumb had mistakenly hit the color above or below the one I wanted, I tried again.

“Yellow” came the prompt, and I looked for and clicked on “yellow” in the list below, more carefully this time. But again my choice was wrong! Sadly, this happened several more times before I realized I was supposed to match the color the word was printed in, not the color it read. Thus when the word “purple” showed up in yellow type, I was supposed to select “yellow” from the list below it, not “purple.” The point was to detect true feelings behind spoken words.

Clearly some of us are better at this than others. When my boys were still living at home, one of my sons could detect a sadness in my emotional state, no matter how I tried to camouflage it with happy smiles and cheery talk, and he was relentless in his pursuit of the source of the problem. While others in the same household could be fooled by my attempts at normalcy in the form of busy activity and casual conversation, he was not. Although my actions spelled the word “happy” he would detect the blue-mood ink they were written in and call me on it every time.

God's Son did the same. Over and over in the Bible we see how Jesus looked beyond the spoken words and actions of people into the true state of their hearts, and spoke and responded to them accordingly. Some might claim that because He was God in the flesh He had access to inside information about people that the rest of us lack. For instance, He knew that the Woman at the Well had been married five times and was now living with yet another man. Yet it was the condition of His heart that caused Him to begin a conversation with her in the first place, despite the cultural boundaries concerning gender and genealogy. While He consistently challenged the current thinking of the times, offering new ideas and ways of relating to one another, His purpose was to change the hearts of those He encountered. And we see the success of his “training sessions” when we read of men who said their hearts burned within them while He was speaking to them, and others who could sit for hours just listening to what He had to say, despite pressure from those around them to perform more functional tasks. Jesus' answer to Martha concerning her sister's lack of help with household chores is telling: “'Martha, are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'”

Perhaps we have it wrong, then, and are simply concentrating on the wrong organ. We spend time and money trying to improve the function of our brains, when Jesus says it's the condition of our hearts that we should be worried about. Research into the performance of brain training apps suggests that while the mind can be coached with repetition to improve the performance of certain tasks, overall IQ doesn't change significantly over a person's lifetime. Yet one's emotional intelligence can increase simply with the desire to improve.

It's interesting that a part of a believer's heart transformation likewise involves a change in the way we think about things as well as in the way we respond to others. We just need to learn how to operate in this new realm of existence. The brain apps are consistent in their insistence that regular training sessions are essential if brain activity is to improve, and they are eager to send notifications and reminders to our phones to keep us on track. Likewise there is no substitute for time with God if we want to become more like Him, and He uses the Holy Spirit to prompt us in that pursuit. Thankfully the ways to spend time in God's presence are even more numerous than the options in the app store, and free for the taking. We just have to make the time to make them an active part of our lives.

The closer we get to Jesus, the more our minds and hearts will think and love like His.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
(Romans 12:2 NKJV)

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