Girded Minds

My family loves to ski but, for many years, I was an abominable skier. I have violent memories of sliding down mountains on my bottom, clinging to trees for dear life, and screaming at snowboarders as they whooshed past me. At last, after one too many disastrous trips to the slopes, I learned how to ski in the midst of a blizzard, and discovered the truth of my dad’s go-to saying:

“90% of skiing is 50% mental.”

Mike McLaren, CPA and ski philosopher

Don’t think on the math too deeply; the idea is simply that skiing is a mental sport. Once the mind is steady, the body can and will adapt to new skills with surprising swiftness. All the time I was blundering my way down the slopes, my body was fine; my mind, however, was in constant panic. As soon as I learned to focus my mind, my body picked up skiing with ease.

Years later, when I decided to become a runner, it was a similarly mental decision. A lanky girl with asthma is not physically prone to distance running, but my stubbornness sustained me through many painful miles. Even now, having run regularly for years, I find that my mind generally gives out before my legs and lungs.

During such runs, when my mind is straying from the course ahead, I recall certain spiritual phrases and cling to them with each ragged breath. Lately, I’ve been managing my breath as follows:

Inhale: Lord – 2- 3
Exhale: Have – Mer – cy
Inhale: Christ – 2 – 3
Exhale: Have – Mer- cy

Breathing with the Kyrie both regulates my breathing and renews my mind. It draws me out of myself into prayer for the world and engagement with the One who created and sustains me. This mental and spiritual focus also reminds me of one of my favorite verses. This verse is probably not a go-to for tattoos, Instagram captions, or Hobby Lobby decorations, but it deserves our attention now more than ever:

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

1 Peter 1:13, KJV

It may not be the most flowery verse, but “gird up the loins of your mind” has been a source of immense strength in the midst of wonderful but worry-inducing changes. Like skiing and running, navigating life requires a well-girded mind—that is, a protected mind, a prepared mind, and a mind fixed on Providence.

To gird one’s loins is already an antiquated idea in a world of fitness attire, but the concept is important. “Girding one’s loins” refers to binding up long garments so they don’t inhibit movement. Imagine tying up the folds of a robe around your middle; not only does it allow for freedom of movement, but it provides extra padding for your most sensitive parts. To gird our minds, then, is to restrain the thought patterns that would cause us to stumble or stray, as well as to protect our mental vulnerabilities. Today, this may mean protecting our minds from consuming that which sends us down paths of comparison and despair, depression and anxiety.

All of the above are real struggles; however, this mental crisis should make us all the more determined to gird our minds against temptation, consumption, and deconstruction. I am susceptible to body dysmorphia, for instance, so girding the loins of my mind means strengthening myself in the knowledge that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” that my worth is not in my own self-image but in being made in the Image of God and becoming the Likeness of Christ. As I engage with the world, I have to actively redirect my thoughts away from myself and replace damaging ideologies with scriptural truth.

Girding one’s loins, in the ancient world, was a necessary preparation for battle. To run and fight required free movement and a fortified body. It is significant, though, that 1 Peter 1:13 does not say to gird one’s loins physically, but mentally. More and more, first world Christians are fighting a mental battle. I have (thanks be to God) never been physically persecuted for my faith; however, anytime I open Instagram or turn on Netflix, I am confronted with ideologies that seek either to discount Christianity altogether or, more pervasive still, twist it into something it isn’t—whether oppressive or progressive.

We are fighting a mental battle, Reader, and we must take captive anything that would hinder our discernment or harm our most vulnerable parts. For example, the sheer amount of time young people are spending on apps like TikTok should terrify us, for these mediums disperse soundbite ideologies that, seemingly brief and insignificant, can and do infiltrate and influence our minds. While we may be generally safe from the physical battle of belief, our minds are under constant fire as our screens bathe us in false light, relentlessly bombarding us with the concise creeds of the world and exercising their power to unravel the ungirded mind.

Lately, despite knowing I must protect and build up my mind for the years ahead, I have faced discouragement. Scrolling through social media, I’ve seen so many living with unprotected minds. I see people with excellent educations and glorious gifts letting go of their faith and instead identifying with their illnesses, their politics, or their emotions, but these vulnerabilities are to be fortified, not followed. This breaks my heart but, more so, it frustrates my mind. It feels as though my generation is forsaking the call to gird their minds and instead opening their minds so that any ideology is allowed to penetrate and take root, regardless of virtue or veracity.

“And he gave us the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unit of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Ephesians 4:11-14, ESV

Christians are called to reason, thought, and conversation, but we are also commanded to hold firm against the “winds of doctrine” which blow throughout the world. Instead, we have a generation of poor skiers and weak runners, tripping and falling and denying that either is a problem. But, as G.K. Chesterton writes in his Father Brown Stories, denying sin and brokenness is a poor way to resolve either. We are called to more, Reader. We are called to run like athletes, to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, ESV). No successful athlete runs with extra weight hanging about her ankles or without proper attire for her body. So, too, we cannot run the race of faith while clinging to the ideologies of the world and neglecting to fortify our minds in truth. And that truth is, most simply, this: We were dead in our sins and have been made alive in Christ Jesus so that we may trust in his words, grow in his goodness, and live in expectation of his coming glory.

So, therefore, let us “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2, ESV).

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