by Tyler Pieper

Sometimes it’s hard to assess where our thinking has gone wrong.

Roots are deep.

Emotions are dense.

And climbing out of a toxic thought-life can feel a lot like betraying those who are closest to you.

I say “climbing-out” heavy with intention, because every single thing in our brains has been learned, and often that comes deep from generational garbage we’ve never given a second thought.

I was a hyper-aware young boy. Always mindful of the individuals in my peripheral (never wanting to be in the way), cautious of any impending danger (home was dangerous enough), and very concerned with how other people saw me (or at least what their faces seemed to communicate). Typically, I didn’t even have to go seeking, finding out later in life most small-towns volunteered this information.

I guess you could say I was a good mental note-taker, and maybe even oddly adept to social-cues. But people often don’t talk about the cost of being an eight-year-old who could read a room better than most adults. It was one of those rare, sophisticated burdens. The type that you inadvertently applaud.

People would go on and on about how polite we were (my brothers & I), with manners for days and wholesome smiles to match. But in my head I was like, of course we are. We have to be. It’s called survival… and you’d like us less if we weren’t.

If I ever wanted to be anything other than who I was, monitoring the behavior around me was necessary.

I knew in my heart that our house was not a healthy home, and I suppose in so many ways this left me feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Everybody seemed to have it together more than we did (a lie).  So, I watched closely. Paying attention to the clerk’s face when he took payment for a tank of gas in all change, or the scoff of graceless adults when my mom would drop me off twenty minutes late to pretty much everything. These socially-shaping situations told me all I needed to know about who I was, and that was enough to decide the patterns and behaviors I found myself in were unacceptable.

Growing up, I felt like the whole world scoffed at my family- so I became the number one critic of everything that I had been handed. I joined the world in a toxic point of view.

One could argue that as a child, it was right for me to feel displaced by things that made me uncomfortable. Of course, for our children, comfort is a goal to some degree- and that’s okay, but even in the midst of all the Holy recognition I took away the wrong message. As I grew older, I developed a wicked tongue. I wrongly judged each misstep of my loved ones. I, seemingly quite well-behaved, had cracked the code. Good behavior meant being worthy of love and respect. If I could behave well enough to recognize when others were misbehaving, I may still stand a chance to turn out okay. My town might accept me. People at school might move me up a class.

But all I did was develop a harsh spirit, recognizing this pretty late into my twenties. You were going to jump through hoops to earn my love with appropriate behavior. My gentlemanly demeanor, though authentic, offered me just the right amount of cushion while my thought-life ridiculed others with judgement.

Deconstructing this thought-life prison has been painful and anything but easy.

Is he seriously doing that? How distasteful.

They were at a bar last night? Probably going to end-up just like the rest of them.

You complained two days ago about not having enough money, and now you’re shopping?

In every way, this is exactly what the enemy wants. But you can only run away from negative thoughts until you stop to take your next breath, so Pastor Jesse’s suggestion is to reject and replace.

We have to make the choice to reject what is toxic and embrace what is life-giving.

Toxicity must be replaced with life.

Toxic thoughts need to become scriptural truths.

The reality is, what’s happening in our inner world will always affect what’s happening in our outer world.

For as he thinks in his heart so is he...
— Proverbs 23:7

So the question isn’t if you struggle… but where do you struggle? Honestly, I fall easily into three of the four following categories. If you’re like me, very and totally human, remember that the enemy wouldn’t want you to recognize where your own thought life is poisoning you.

Be encouraged, freedom is ours.


No one appreciates me. Nobody sees me. Why is traffic in Omaha so bad? WHAT IS UP WITH ALL THESE POTHOLES?! Would anybody notice if I was gone?

Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV)

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.


What if I lost my job? What happens if it doesn’t work out? What if I can’t make rent? I can’t start doing that, it’s too risky. Maybe he doesn’t love me like I thought he did…

2 Timothy 1:7 New International Version (NIV)

7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.


I hate my job. I need a better car. If only I had kids. I’m the only single one here. If I moved there things would be better…

Philippians 4:19 New International Version (NIV)

19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.


Seriously? She is such a flirt. Why are they dressed like that? Doesn’t she know better? 


Philippians 4:8 New International Version (NIV)

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.

I know how much courage it takes to start thinking differently, but so many of our own complaints could be diffused if we just took one good long look inward and asked:

Am I poisoning myself right now?

The truth is, changing this may cost you a friend or two, and maybe even your job; but I say if you suddenly find that you can’t hang with the negative… you’ve probably found your freedom.