Kay Wyma: Change Your Response–Change Your Brain
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Kay WymaKay Wyma is a mom, blogger, vodcaster, and author of four books in which she has tackled, with candor and humor, some of the troubling societal issues that impact us all. Kay's writings have led her to appearances on TODAY, CNN, Hallmark's Home & Family, and more. Before staying at home with her kids, she held positions at the White House and Bank of America. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and five kids. Connect with Kay at kaywyma.com.
Wish you could be naturally…kinder, more peaceful? Author Kay Wyma explains ways to change your brain through outward practices that transform your world.
Kay Wyma: Change Your Response–Change Your Brain
Dave: So I have a confession.
Ann: Oh, I hate this. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s not a big one; but in some ways, it could be a big one. Often, I have a hard time being thankful. I can remember—one time, I was standing on the Detroit Lions’ sideline—you know, NFL football game as their chaplain—and we are getting beat again. I remember just standing there, going, “This is terrible; I hate this. I don’t want to be here. I’d rather be anywhere else.”
Then it hit me. I’m standing there in this NFL stadium, and billions of dollars have been paid for. All of these people are sitting in the stands, who had paid lots of money to be there; and I’m like, “I’m complaining, standing on an NFL sideline. Do you know how many people would want to do that?!”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Today, we’re going to talk about that; because we’ve got Kay Wyma back in the studio with us, who is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. [Laughter] You are a lot like my wife. I mean, as I was talking to you at lunch, I was like, “You two are two peas in a pod”; but welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Kay: Thanks for having me back.
Dave: I mean, you’re smiling as you say that. [Laughter] You wrote a book about being thankful called The Peace Project, which is just this—and we’ve already talked about choosing every single day—you said: “For 30 days, do an experiment to choose to be thankful, and to act kindly, and to show mercy to people.”
I’ve got to be honest with you: as I was listening to you two—both of you tell stories about how thankful you are—I was like, “Man, I love hearing these stories.” I’ve just got to be honest: there are times where I want to choose it; and I feel like I’m locked up, like stuck. Is it ever hard to choose it?
Kay: I do think it is hard.
Kay: I think that’s the first step.
Dave: What do you do?
Kay: I do think you have to just do it—it’s the Nike: “Just do it!”—you do. You just do it, because—
Ann: —even when you don’t feel like it?
Kay: For sure! I think, sometimes, it’s the best when you don’t feel like it.
There was one of the stories in the book that I really loved—especially about thankfulness—was a reporter, who was from the United Kingdom, who had interviewed Brené Brown. She was super dubious about gratitude—really—especially because you could go on Amazon® and [type] “Gratitude journals,” and there would probably be 50,000-plus; I mean, there are tons. She just was sort of like, “Good for you; I’m glad that works for you.” [Laughter]
When they got off of the air—whatever—however they were doing the interview— Brené said to her this quote, which I love: “It’s not possible to be stressed about something when you are being grateful for it.”
Ann: That’s really deep and good.
Kay: Right! So she listened/this reporter listened—and she thought, “You know what? I’m just going to try it”; because she wouldn’t have categorized herself as a grateful person—not an ingrate, but just kind of: “It’s great for other people. Thanks, but no thanks.” She started doing it in her own home, simply being grateful; and it was one of those things that changed everything for her, because it is that powerful.
I think the power that’s around it really has the most to do with perspective, which is what happened on the football field.
Kay: It took you out of a moment that had stuff going on in it. I mean, it isn’t great that this football team is losing—or whatever—but it’s just like: “Please, just get me out of here.” But when you, for a moment, start to call out those things for which to be grateful, it changes it. What is stealing your peace gets pushed off to the back burner and peace is ushered in.
And because—no longer is it like: “Oh, if only…” or “What if…” or…—comparison usually is when you are not grateful, because you are looking at what everybody else has instead of what you have.
Kay: Those get pushed to the back burner, because you are not thinking about that. You are looking at what you have to be grateful for, and I think that is the biggest power about it.
Dave: Yes, Kay; as you were saying that, I thought, even in my situation on the sideline—
Dave: —and you said this yesterday—it’s like, when you looked up, and you saw the sunrise, and you just/it reset your perspective.
Kay: It did.
Dave: I don’t remember exactly, but I did look up on that sideline.
Kay: That’s interesting.
Dave: I’m looking up at 80,000 people; and I’m like, “I’m in a stadium on a sideline.” It reset my perspective.
When you were saying this, I thought of—I don’t know how familiar you are with
Psalm 73; but it is this interesting Psalm I remember reading years ago, where Asaph is complaining to God— I will read it to you. He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper, despite their wickedness.” The whole first part of the Psalm is—I think a lot of us have probably done that is—“Wicked people seem to be blessed, and the righteous seem to be in trouble.”
Kay: For sure; yes.
Dave: Then I’m going to jump down here—I mean, he basically complains for 13/14 verses—“Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long [emphasis added]”; and he goes on and on. He said, “I’m trying to understand why the wicked prosper. What a difficult task this is.”
Then verse 17—it changes—he says, “Then I went into Your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.” And it’s this moment, where he went vertical—he looked up—he, again, his way of saying, “I went into Your sanctuary.” It’s like: “I stopped, and I said, ‘God, I don’t understand.’ I looked up”—and the whole rest of the Psalm is: “Okay; now, I sort of understand,”—that’s sort of what you are saying; right?
Dave: I guess I’m talking to myself; because there are times, when it is hard to do that. But it is a moment, where you sort of have to hit the pause button and say—and that’s what 30-day experiment is—“For 30 days, I’m going to do that: I’m going to hit the pause button.
Kay: Yes, just to get into your groove.
Dave: “I’m going to look up and choose thankfulness.”
Kay: Yes, and Ecclesiastes is right along that same route.
Kay: I mean, it just is: “Bad things happen to good people.
Kay: “Good things happen to bad people.” Solomon is like: “Good luck with that—if you are going to figure it out—you will be doing it for the rest of your life, and you never will.” Then he says, “But what is the gift to us is our toil,”—to just go out and do what you are supposed to do. It’s the joy that comes with that: that “is the gift of God.”
We don’t want for it to be unpleasant; but if we can land in that place of trust and faith, and know that it’s for us—that something in it is for us—that’s where gratitude is such a helpful tool. It sort of jumpstarts the rest of the story; but more than anything, it primes the pump to be able to move from the thought process—which is where gratitude is—to actually doing something, which is what takes your thoughts and cements them.
I’m just going to tell you: it works! Because we haven’t lived the easiest life—most people haven’t in the last few years—there was no way for me to even imagine that it would exist. For me, personally, I’m so thankful for this project; because of how it put fuel in our tank before I even knew our tank was even going to be empty. It’s significant, and it’s real.
I can tell you—having lived it—it is worth the effort, because of what you get on the other side. So much of that is a deeper, more intimate knowledge and experiencing God, which I think we would all love. It’s like: “Guess what? You could do that any day. You could do it today!”
Dave: Yes; and I love that you said it—and you wrote about it—where, when we choose thankfulness, and then we show kindness, it comes back.
Kay: Oh, for sure.
Dave: It isn’t just the other person who we are being kind to that gets the kindness—not only does it change the way we think as we practice it—we feel better by being kind.
Kay: There is a part of your brain that actually lights up when you are practicing kindness, especially if it’s just being kind without getting anything in return. Isn’t that fascinating?
Kay: It’s like you really were created for this—let’s play with it—because it’s incredible what it does for you physiologically. When you look up and breathe deeply, the reason why that helps you is that we have a nerve called the vagal nerve that literally goes from your brain, and it wraps around through your torso, down into your gut. When you breathe/when you take a deep breath, it resets that nerve; that’s why you feel better.
It’s like: “Try these things, because they are good for you. Take it the extra mile to be able to see the bigger picture that’s happening, with the Lord’s perspective being allowed to inform whatever the situation is, especially including the people.”
Yesterday, I was honked at. People honk all the time now; I think people are just frustrated. I was turning; I was in the lane I was supposed to be in. There was no reason for this person to honk at me; and yet, they honked at me. I had a lot on my mind, and I was like, “OH! That jerk!” [Laughter] My 19-year-old son is with me in the car; and he was like, “Okay, stop.” He was like, “Don’t get angry. Why would you get angry at that? You have no idea what is going on in that guy’s day.” This is where it’s like: “If you don’t think it spills out onto the people, who are next to you…”—and he must know that it works, or he wouldn’t be telling me that.
Well, anyway, on this guy—so he says to me, “Don’t get angry at this guy,”—and I did. I was like, “You’re right.” Then, I needed grace, too; because I was like, “You know, it has been a really long day; I’ve had a lot on my mind. I think that is why I kind of got a little bit angry.”
He is sitting next to me, going/and he said, “I totally understand that.” Grace is at play through all of this; and grace is such a powerful, powerful source—that, again—“Do we really tap into it?”—I’m not sure.
Dave: Yes; I mean, and obviously, the third aspect—you call it mercy/grace—that’s a huge one.
Kay: It is deep.
Dave: I mean, kindness is hard in itself;—
Dave: —but then to extend kindness to someone, whom we could punish/who maybe deserves what they should get from us.
Dave: You said it: “We can’t do mercy in our own strength.”
Kay: I don’t think we can. I think it’s where the soul aspect really comes into it; because this is the part, where we really have to tap into the things of the Lord: because it involves forgiveness; it involves grace; it involves compassion; it steers clear of things like bitterness. Bitterness is a great example of the antithesis to mercy, because you would have a right to be bitter for something that happened to you that was wrong.
Kay: So is letting go of that actually saying: “It’s okay that somebody hurt me?” The answer is: “No; that’s not what it has to do with at all. It has to do with freeing you from that having any hold on you.”
Dave: One of things, as you talk about mercy, that hit me is: at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® that Ann and I have been teaching at for 33 years—it’s this marriage weekend getaway for couples and, even, engaged couples. The first time we went, we were engaged; and I had never heard this concept taught. I don’t know any other marriage conference that teaches this concept—it’s from 1 Peter 3—where Peter writes: “When you are insulted, instead of insulting back, give a blessing instead.” In fact, he says, “And you will inherit a blessing.”
I had never—I mean, it is simple concept I had never heard—“Wait, wait, wait; when somebody insults you—hurts you; says something or does something wrong—instead of hurting them back,”—which is the way of the world: we applaud people. We go to movies, where the bad guy gets what is due him; we stand up and applaud, so it’s like in our DNA. But Peter is saying, “No, no, no; when you are insulted, bless back.”
Who does he use as an example?—Jesus, who was insulted; He blessed back. That is sort of what you are saying.
Kay: Yes, that is the essence of mercy.
Dave: You’re blessing somebody—being kind to them or giving them mercy—talk about how to do that,—
Kay: I know.
Dave: —because that is not natural for us.
Kay: It isn’t.
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Kay Wyma on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Kay’s response in just a minute. Now, what if I told you, at FamilyLife, we believe God does some of His most amazing work right in ordinary homes, whether that is a small group Bible study, or laughing on the floor with your kids, or sharing a meal with your neighbors. The home can be the launching pad for God’s work in this world.
If you believe that, too, would you help more families experience this by partnering with FamilyLife? All this week, as our thanks for your financial partnership, we want to send you a copy of Kay’s book; it’s called The Peace Project: A 30-Day Experiment Practicing Thankfulness, Kindness, and Mercy. You can get your copy when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Kay Wyma and the, sometimes, surprisingly difficult task of being kind to those around us.
Kay: I think the best way to start is by practicing on strangers, like/because—do you know what I mean?
Dave: It’s easier on strangers.
Ann: That’s interesting; it is easier.
Kay: Yes, I know; it might get you in the mode of actually thinking that way.
Ann: How would you practice that?
Kay: I think—like just with the honking guy—
Kay: —to be able to say, like my child said, “You just don’t even know…” That is the first thing is to get to—because one of the cores, at the center of mercy, I think, is—“Why?” If you can ask that question: “Why is he being this way?” or “Why is she acting this way?”
Someone close to me has definitely aged, and older, and has had a lot of physical ailments; and in that, has kind of lost senses. Recently, we were together with another person; and he was getting so frustrated, because he couldn’t remember the name of what a very simple object was. The more frustrated he was, the angrier he was getting; and the anger was definitely spilling out over us.
In that moment, we could either go, “Oh!” and walk away; or for that moment, to go: “Why is he so frustrated? What’s happening here?” The why is he can’t remember, so at the core of that is fear. If you can get to that place, to actually see what’s happening, then you can have compassion without it being super hard.
Then, maybe, start practicing on the relationships that are close to us because those are the ones that have a lot of history—to be able to go: “Why is it that she always does this?”—and even possibly preempt it. Preemptive mercy is super helpful to be able to say, “I know that we are about to move into a situation that is going to be really hard. So please give extra measure to your sister,” “…please give extra measure to your brother,” “…please give extra measure to me.”
And if at all possible, if we can do it with other people, we might be able to do it with ourselves; because when we look in the mirror—I’m telling you—we are the hardest on ourselves. To be able to give yourself a little grace and give yourself a little mercy is so powerful. Just then, in those moments, we get tiny, little tastes of freedom; and it is so good. That’s where you want your neuropathways to be landing, because the freedom spot—He gave everything for that—it is for freedom that He has set us free. His blood cries out for us; we have been made righteous. It’s like we can live in that a little bit longer, day, by day, by day.
Will we ever be perfect on this side of heaven?—no. But maybe, we can enjoy more and more moments of that freedom; and in that freedom, that’s where it feels the best to be able to care about the people who are walking next to you.
Ann: I think, Dave, you started by saying I’m so positive; but I would say, our first
15 years, I wasn’t. Kay, I don’t think I had that freedom. I wasn’t [free]; because I was so locked into my own needs, my own let downs, my own—
Dave: —disappointment with her husband—
Ann: Yes, and I had my eyes—
Dave: —that would be me—[Laughter]—just in case you are wondering—not her first husband; it’s her only husband. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes; really.
My eyes were not there; but it took me a while to learn that. I can remember starting, at this point: “Jesus, I can’t do it; I can’t. I don’t have the power within me. I see the negativity and the brokenness of myself; I see it in those around me, and I’m in a habit of just saying all of that to everybody.”
Honestly, Dave didn’t want to be around me; and I was critical of our kids all the time. Man, it took work. I love that you are at 30 days; because it takes 30 days, generally speaking, to break some bad habits and to get out of those grooves that we’ve dug so deep; but I think that Jesus can do that.
Kay: Absolutely; and that’s the exciting part, because He never said, “Go do it on your own.”
Kay: That was never part of the story.
Kay: It’s “by Him, through Him, and for Him are all things”: come experience it, because it is incredible! Those times—where you go, “I cannot do this,”—“Oh, yes! You never said I had to.”
Kay: That’s where I think it is so powerful—is this experiencing God—because He is compassion, like He is shalom; He is peace. His name is Jehovah Shalom, like love—“God is love,”—is the beautiful 1 Corinthians passage.
Kay: It goes into all of these things. Of course, we make it about ourselves: “Well, I have to be patient,” “I have to be kind.” [Laughter] Becoming a mother, I was like, “Well, I thought I was patient. [Laughter] Now, I know I never/have I ever been?”
Ann: Exactly! [Laughter]
Kay: I’m like lost; I can’t even do the first one, so why even go to the rest of them?” However, that’s not really what He said; He is saying: “This is who I am: I am patient; I am kind; I am slow to anger,”—all of these things—that, when you engage with love, you are engaging with Him.
Kay: That sort of changes the story; doesn’t it?
That’s where, practically speaking, I had no idea—because I did not go looking for this; I mean, I really didn’t—I was hit over the head with it; it was shoved on me. [Laughter] I am so thankful that I thought about it for a minute, to go, “Wait! Something is different here,”—and to say—“I think I want that. Could that change? Let’s try and see what happens.” And to be on the other side, going, “Thank You; thank You; thank You. I had no idea.”
Now, whenever I feel discord, whenever I feel unsettled, whenever I am concerned, whenever fear is entering in—anything like that—I’m like, “Switch the thoughts.” And if I can, find a way to practically engage with something that has to do with encouraging another person, in an act of kindness or through an act of compassion.
Dave: Yes, and I think—even as I listen to you right now—I’m thinking the 30-day experiment is almost really a 30-day meet with Jesus—“Pause long enough to connect with your King/the Author of your life, long enough to shift your perspective to be thankful, to choose kindness, to practice mercy.”
Our youngest son started a prayer house ministry; it’s really a discipleship ministry. Part of it—and there are several aspects—but one of them is: every day from 9 to 10 in this little area in Lake Orion, Michigan, he says, “Come for an hour of prayer.” It’s just—even when he said it—I’m like, “You’re doing a prayer house?! What? [Laughter] Maybe, don’t call it a prayer house. That’ll scare”—I literally said that to him—“That will scare people away, like: ‘I don’t want to go to a prayer house.’”
Kay: Oh, my gosh. [Laughter]
Dave: He goes, “Dad, why don’t you just come once and see what we do?” I’m like, “Okay”; I went. They’ve got a person up there leading some worship; but it really isn’t like, “Sing with me”; it’s like, “I’m going to worship, and you can listen.”
Ann: “Just sit; sit with God.”
Kay: I love it!
Dave: It’s really sit, and pray, and do whatever you want. Maybe, somebody will come up on the mic and pray. I went in there; I was there an hour. I thought to myself, “This is so refreshing—to be still and know that He is God—Psalm 46:10.”
It just came to me, like, “Why don’t we do this more in our life?”—because we rush, rush, rush; we complain, complain, complain. We’re mad at everybody, and we’re honking back at them. I’m the worst—there is nobody worse than me in the car—just ask my wife. [Laughter]
Ann: That could be true.
Dave: Everybody but me is a jerk, driving; because I’m the only perfect driver. [Laughter]
I just sat there, and I thought, “This moment is resetting my soul.”
Ann: Yes, it’s breathing.
Dave: As you walk out, you feel better; you are kinder; you are more able to extend mercy, because you have received mercy.
I thought, “That is what the 30-day experiment is.” You are challenging people to say: “Stop long enough to connect with Him, and He is going to give you what you need—not just for yourself—but to be kind and merciful to others.”
Kay: Yes; and it’s/practically speaking, you don’t have to know the Bible verses or anything. Just do it; you know? And it is a beautiful reset that actually puts so much fuel in your tank. That so many other things that we go, “Oh, we have to do this in order to…”—do, do, do in order to be okay—“I need to be doing this…”
You go from doing to being a reflection, which is really what it is all about; because it’s coming, from the inside, out;—
Kay: —because this is the part that impacts the soul. You don’t even know that you are doing it; it’s actually this part of life—that’s where the abundance is—even in the circumstances that stink.
I’ve always been amazed that the Lord slept on that boat in the middle of a storm; and you know, it was a bad storm; because those were seafaring men—
Kay: —who knew the Sea of Galilee—
Ann: —and had been on it.
Kay: —like the back of their hand. If they were freaking out, it was bad. There was one person asleep; it was the One who knew they were getting to the other side.
We are tapped into that peace—
Ann: Yes, yes.
Kay: —Paul’s beautiful statement: “I know the secret to being content, whether in plenty or whether in want [Philippians 4:11-13],”—that is what it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s the storm; it’s the same peace. If it’s the happy days, it’s the same peace.
That’s where I think Solomon sat, going, “Here is the deal: just do what you were put on this planet to do.”
Ann: And it’s Philippians 4: “…a peace which surpasses all understanding.”
Kay: —that you are living. I want that to be my neuropathway, and it can be.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Kay Wyma on FamilyLife Today.
Have you looked at a yearbook lately from when you were 15? Well, first of all, what were you thinking, wearing that? Then, second of all, do you remember what life was like back then? It’s a time when you can really struggle with figuring out just who you are.
As a parent, it can be pretty tricky, knowing how to help. Well, let me just say getting a copy of Passport2Identity® is a good place to start. It’s a chance to get some quality time away together, one on one. You’ll listen, together, to biblical teaching on what it means to be a young man or a young woman. It’s quality time that’s just priceless.
Today is the second to last day you can get Passport2Identity, young men’s edition or young women’s addition, for 25 percent off, using the code, “PASSPORT.” Just go to FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Kay Wyma as she unpacks the fact that the worth of others around us is huge. That’s coming up tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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