Monday, February 11, 2008

Overcoming Overgeneralization

Success in mathematics is 90% attitude. Here's the way it usually plays out: A young girl struggles to master fractions in the sixth grade and every red mark upon her paper screams "Failure" loud and clear. So, she decides that because she has failed once, she will always fail and she gives up trying any more. Her inner conviction that she is "dumb" in math dooms her to repeat her failures.

Middle school math seems far away for most of us, but we can all relate to failures and mistakes in our past. Perhaps it was yesterday, or maybe it was thirty years ago. Have you allowed your mistakes to define your character?

What we're talking about is an attitude which is dangerous when left untended - Overgeneralization. "If I have been rejected once, I will always be rejected." If you are allowing past failures to dictate future failure, you are overgeneralizing! Look for words like "Always" or "never."

We can overgeneralize our circumstances like Elijah did. Do you remember how he had battled with the evil prophets and won, but was running away from Jezebel in fear? In desperation, he asked God why he was all alone in this battle for righteousnes. He assumed that there was no one else who listened to God.

In his generalization, Elijah had left out the power of God. God had reserved a remnant for Himself - 7,000. Elijah was not as alone as he had assumed.

When someone criticizes us or talks behind our backs, we begin to generalize and wonder if everyone is thinking poorly of us. If you were rejected for a job interview and you assume that you will always be turned down, you'll never get back on your feet again. We need to remember that God is in control and that He will not leave us alone. One failure does not equal a lifetime of failures. One mistake does make you a "failure." Instead, it is an opportunity to get up and try again.

Often, when we overgeneralize, we are apt to imagine that we cannot change who we are. This (this sinful behavior, this bad habit, this fear) is a part of who I am, and I can't change that. This type of generalization about ourselves leads to passivity. We give up and give in and stop trying to do anything different. We think of ourselves as victims and live in hopeless pessimism.

Robert S. McGee says, "Too often our self-image rests solely on an evaluation of our past behavior, being measured only through a memory. Day after day, year after year, we tend to build our personalities upon the rubble of yesterday's personal disappointments." Taken from The Search for Significance.

There is a piece of the puzzle missing here: God's power of regeneration and God's redemptive work in our lives. He makes old things new and He breathes new life into that which was dead. He asks us to leave behind the mistakes of yesterday and move forward into today with a fresh start and fresh hope.

I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them,

and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind

and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:19-23

If you're letting your yesterdays determine your tomorrows, sit down and search for all the Scriptures that confirm this truth: God is doing a new thing in your life.
As Anne Shirley was fond of saying, "Each day is new, with no mistakes in it."

Chris Rice sings a song that encapsulates the meaning of Lamentations 3 for me:

Smellin' Coffee Lyrics by Chris Rice
Last thing I remember, sayin bye to yesterday

Glad to see it over, pullin covers over my head

But what were You doin while I dreamt the night away

Cause I can tell that somethins different

And my eyes aint even open yet

Im smellin coffee

Birds are singin just outside

Here come Your mercy streamin in with the morning light

My heart is racing waking up to Your smile

Its a good morning, yeah

Its a good morning

Well I remember readin

Youre the God who never sleeps

And while Ive been dreamin

Youve been singing over me, yeah

Singin about my freedom

Wakin me up to hear Your song

And now I cant dance hard enough

Cause yesterday is gone, gone, gone!


Every little breath, every heartbeat

Is a gift of love that You give to me

You keep givin when Im asleep

Cause I know You never stop watchin over me

I wake up, my past is gone

Cause Your mercys new with the morning sun

Im forgiven, Im free, its a brand new day

Cause Your faithfulness is the greatest!

Come back next Monday to for more attitudes that trip us up!


Heather said...

Wow, great post, Heather! With God's grace, each day brings new oppotunity and we shouldn't wallow in past mistakes lest we miss out on a new blessing.

Looking forward to more in this series!

Denise said...

Really wonderful post my friend.

Amy Wyatt said...

Praise God that our yesterdays don't determine our tomorrows.
This was great. I love that song too.

Amy L Brooke said...

Great post! You do a nice job of encapsulating that scripture.

Talk to you soon.

lori said...

girlfriend....I'm convinced you have some sort of web cam over here, somehow THIS post was EXACTLY where and what my heart needed to hear! I love that passage from's one of my full of hope, from wherever we've been....I just LOVE it AND I'm a huge Chris Rice fan...and smellin' coffee is one of my faves too....what a bouncy tune...makes you want to tap your toes!!
you made my morning!

Susan said...

Thank God for His each day!

This was GREAT Heather, thank you for this awesome reminder, I needed it.