Tag Archives: Stress

On Having a Positive Attitude

When we are told to have a positive attitude, we often consider it either a wishy-washy platitude or an apathetic dismissal.  While it is true that such an admonition is used in both of these ways, I would like to submit that there is more substance in a positive attitude than what these common uses would indicate.  What is it that makes a positive attitude more than just a nice thought or saccharine shtick?

Firstly, our attitude colors our outlook on everything.  It is a psychological lens through which information passes as it is formed into our perceptions.  As such, it can sharpen or distort our perceptions, either allowing them to be more accurate or skewing them (sometimes drastically) away from reality.  Our attitude is the difference between taking a passing comment as a passing comment and taking it as an insult; the difference between having an open or closed mind.  It is also key to the phenomenon known as the “self-fulfilling prophecy”.  Our attitude affects how we treat people, which, in turn, affects how they treat us.

Second, our attitude makes a very real impact on the people around us.  As noted in the self-fulfilling prophecy example above, our attitude really is contagious.  It can be what helps someone else to, themselves, have a positive attitude which goes on to affect the people they come into contact with and who we may never see.  In this way, our attitude has a subtle effect on actions and interactions beyond our little sphere.  This wide-ranging influence is why the kind of attitude we have is a very important decision.

Third, in addition to having an effect on our perceptions and on others, our attitudes have an effect on our own lives and how we live them.  Paul touches on this idea in his letter to the Philippians:

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

-Philippians 4:11-13

Paul says that he is content no matter his circumstance.  This speaks to his attitude not as a passing feeling, but as a persistent disposition.  It is interesting to note the ideas Paul uses to convey his point.  He says that he has learned “how to” be abased, abound, etc.  This suggests that there is a better and worse way to undergo these things.  To bring this into better focus, consider the more mundane example of having a cold.  There seem to be two general categories into which people fall when dealing with this kind of disturbance.  One group accepts the cold for what it is and proceeds forward with life in anticipation that the annoyingly runny nose will eventually go away with the aid of proper care and rest.  The other group allows the discomfort and disturbance of the cold to take over their lives and dominate their attitude, inflicting undue strain and stress not only on themselves, but also on those around them.  Chances are that we’ve encountered both of these approaches to the problem of being sick.  In this case, it is clear that the first is a better way of addressing our cold and the second worse.  They do not change the fact that a cold is a bad thing to deal with.  Rather they speak to our disposition in a bad circumstance.  We can apply the same reasoning to a good circumstance; noting that we can have better and worse mindsets as we move through it.  This is the line of reasoning that Paul sets out as he addresses the Philippian Christians:  he has learned how to have a positive attitude in both good and bad circumstances.

As we unpack this further, we come to the foundation upon which Paul grounds his attitude.  He says that he can “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Paul’s positive mindset is not based on his force of will when particular circumstances arise.  He’s not forcing himself to be happy or humble.  Instead, his mindset stems from a larger perspective in which circumstance forms a transient part.  This perspective is cultivated as we grow in our relationship with God and learn to live our lives with Him.  God, rather than being forgotten or relegated to a particular corner of our lives, is allowed to be a part of all that we say, think, and do.  We allow Him to provide comfort, to provide guidance, or to provide insight in the innumerable situations we find ourselves in.  Rather than being an escapist mentality, living our lives with God helps us to engage the people and situations around us in a healthy and constructive way.  Paul does not say that his positive attitude is based on ignoring his problems.  Instead, he says that he relies on Christ, who casts a light on the situation and helps him to proceed well.  Above all else, Paul (and we as Christians) has an unquenchable hope in the new life we have in Christ which surpasses anything that this world or Hell itself can throw at us.  It is this hope that strengthens us against the despair and cynicism inherent in having a bad attitude.

Although we often take having a positive attitude as a fluffy platitude anymore, I hope that the writing above has shown or at least helped you consider the idea that a positive attitude is something with substance that is worth taking the trouble to maintain.  It would be foolish to claim that it is easy to keep a positive attitude, especially when we are surrounded by a world bursting at the seams with negativity.  Nonetheless there is real value in this endeavor, for our attitude affects our perceptions and interactions with others as well as how we address ourselves to all manner of situations.  We make a difference in the world every day, whether we like it or not.  What kind of difference we make is very often the product of the attitude we have in life.

Advertisements

Square One

There are times and stretches of time in our lives when it seems as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel and no hope of something better.  Or, even if we can envision something better, it appears to be forever out of our reach.  God seems distant and disinterested as we view our faith as more of a nice thought than anything of substance.  What do we do when everything seems so messed up and out of joint with both ourselves and the world in general?

What I wish to offer here is not any sort of quick-fix solution to magically solve all problems or a list of platitudes that just tell us to feel better, for hope is not built upon such things.  Instead, what I aim to do is present starting points, a series of “square-ones” as it were.  These are facts that help us to take our next step in the right direction and, just as important, help us to not give up.

1)  Jesus Christ is in Heaven.

 Yes, this seems like a rather vanilla statement, but we ought not to lose sight of what it entails.   Christ has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven:  He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and was elevated to the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 8:1).  There, having returned to His place at the Father’s side and opened the way for us to be reconciled to our God, Christ makes intercession for us to the end that we share in the fellowship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Hebrews 7:25, John 17:20-26).  We are never so far removed from God that we cannot reach Him and He cannot reach us.  When we come to God and throw ourselves upon His mercy, we have Jesus Christ as our Advocate, to speak for us and support us.

2)  The Spirit dwells in us.

 Though Christ is in Heaven interceding for us, we have not been left alone.  He, Himself, promised that a Helper, the Holy Spirit, would come to us and abide with us (John 14:15-18).  Through the Spirit’s indwelling, God dwells in our hearts so that He is always near.  The Holy Spirit comes alongside us in life to help and to guide us.  He is our advocate as we live on earth, reminding us of our true North and directing us closer to God.  In the midst of our weakness, in our hours of darkness, He also helps us by speaking on our behalf when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26).  God is near to us even in the thick of the fray and is active in our lives even when we feel far from Him.  The Spirit helps us, speaks to us, and makes God known to us (John 16:13-15).

3)  We have the power to choose.

Because of what God has done for us, we are no longer slaves to sin or ignorance.  Instead, we have the help and tools before us to make meaningful decisions in our lives.  We can choose what kind of person we are going to be and what we are going to make of our current circumstances.  We can choose to remain faithful even when we feel so distant.  Even when we feel powerless, we are still able to make choices of eternal significance.  When we stumble and fall or are plain knocked down, there are always at least two options:  to stay down, or to get back up.  This is a choice that we and we alone can make.  We make it countless times throughout our lives and we make it especially often when we are struggling with sin or facing a difficult life situation.  No matter how many times we have to make it, it is always ours to make.

The points above remain constant, regardless of where we find ourselves in our Christian walk.  The worst thing that we can do is give up and succumb to despair, for then we have shut out hope ourselves.  However, if we can keep the above in mind, it will help us to remember the eternal hope we have and, in light of that hope, continue to put one foot in front of the other in our current situation.  This may be seeking out the help we need, it may be continuing in prayer despite being pressed by desolation, it may even be as simple as choosing to smile.

In spite of the darkness that may surround us and give us a bleak outlook on life, there is a light and power within us of great and eternal significance.  It is a light and power that is cared about by God and that He wishes to nurture and grow.  He has given us a key role in this process.  We can choose what to do with it at any given time and the hope that is thereby placed before us is a solid footing.


Sufficiently Worried

When speaking of Christianity, we are accustomed to hearing phrases like “living our lives for God” or “giving our lives to Christ”. Such language evokes a very big-picture view. This perspective is necessary to our Christian walk because it serves as the North Star by which we set and monitor our course. However, we must be careful not to overlook the daily business of discipleship. It can lead to a situation in which our attention is so set on our map that we fail to notice the holes and cracks in the hull of our boat which eventually cause us to sink before reaching our destination.

In His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, Christ teaches us not to obsess over the future because, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) We have enough to concern ourselves with each day without adding tomorrow’s trouble on top of it. In addition to tending to our material concerns (work, finances, etc.), we must also work at our spiritual concerns (keeping God as our central focus). Consider also that those entities which oppose our spiritual progress (the devil and his angels) have no need to rest or eat, meaning that they are constantly and tirelessly trying to hinder us. The point of listing all this is to highlight the wisdom and compassion in Christ’s counsel. It is difficult to make it through a single day without straying from our path. With such a hefty task before us, Christ tells us to focus on what is currently before us: the present day and the present moment.

It is important to note that this is not telling us we shouldn’t plan ahead. Rather, it is telling us not to worry ahead and lose sight of the needs of the present. Imagine, for example, that you are faced with a charging rhinoceros. Is it best to worry about whether your hospital bed will be clean or to concern yourself with the matter of getting out of said rhino’s way? Clearly the most useful, healthy, and appropriate thing to worry about is removing yourself from the rhino’s path. We must set priorities for what we worry about. If we adopt an open-door policy for worries, we will most certainly be overrun by them.

The thing about concerns is that they are very good at clumping up and blocking our view of anything else. When this happens we may even turn our gaze from God, turning away from our source of nourishment and our greatest good. Perhaps the best reason for setting priorities about what we worry about is the impact that it can have on our relationship with God. This relationship is the greatest resource we have for navigating life. God desires our good, which is why He is constantly seeking us: the greatest good He can give us is Himself. We must be careful not to let our worries crowd out our connection with the One who is able to help us through them all and put them in perspective.