Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pessimism

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8

It was Mother’s Day 2006. I woke up around 5:00 to a crying baby. There is no rest on Mother’s day for the nursing mom!

My sweet Katie thought she would make me breakfast first. She ripped open an oatmeal packet, spilling most of the contents on the floor. Then, she filled the bowl with an excess of milk which ended up all over the microwave. The oatmeal itself was not edible after being cooked for five minutes more than necessary.

Then, Katie and Mikayla decided to start a bubble bath. The shower head was dangling down into the tub (from rinsing off the kids the night before), so when the shower was turned on, the showerhead was pouring water randomly like a wild snake all over the bathroom. Bleary eyed mom entered the room and muttered, “Happy Stinking Mother’s Day!”

I was grumbling and griping while I mopped up water from the bathroom floor. I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (just like Alexander had in Judith Viorst’s popular book). I wanted to move to Australia (and leave the kids behind).

I admit it – I can be a pessimist. Pessimism can be described as whining, griping, moping or having a negative outlook on everything and anything. It is often associated with the teenage years, but whining begins much earlier and persists in adulthood. How can we help our kids (and ourselves) to have positive attitudes that reflect gratefulness for all God has done for us?

When your thoughts are tumbling into a deep abyss of negativity, try this! Take a deep breath and count to 8: what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? To combat pessimism, I turn to Philippians 4:8. Paul tells us to think upon “such things”. In a moment of grumbling, I remind myself to redirect my thinking by pondering each characteristic Paul listed. I consider how that quality might be found in me, in my situation and in my Lord.

Philippians 4 is an often quoted chapter of the Bible. It is full of positive images and encouraging words. Paul encourages his readers to exhibit these Christ-like qualities in their lives: joy (4:4), gentleness(4:5), tranquility (4:6), gratitude (4:6), peace (4:7), and contentment (4:10-12). The apex of Paul’s preaching is found in verse 13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” This is the complete turnaround for the pessimist. I want these confident words to describe my attitude. I want to have this kind of faith that believes in the power of God to do something glorious (even in my life).

Philippians 4:8-9 addresses our thinking and our actions: the key to finding these positive attitudes just listed. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the method that teaches that right behaviors will follow in accordance with right thinking. My husband (a marriage and family therapist) also says that you don’t feel your way into good behavior; rather you behave your way into good feelings. In other words, the actions must precede the emotions. I must make some changes in the way I handle disappointment and it will start getting easier to keep my eyes focused upward instead of downward and inward in a descending spiral. So, first I must meditate upon the truth and allow it to saturate my thinking. Second, I must begin to behave in ways that are harmonious with the truth I know. Lastly, my feelings and attitudes will naturally follow over time.

Put on your helmets and padding, because we are going to be doing some defensive tackling. I want to look at each of these attitude busters in the context of Philippians as well as my personal situation.

We begin with thinking upon what is TRUE. Truth is all things honest and reliable. In a moment of despondency, I am often tempted to listen to the lies of Satan. He whispers in my ear little white lies.“Nothing ever turns out right for you. No one thinks you have anything to offer. Everyone who calls you a friend can barely tolerate you.” Pessimism focuses on the difficulties and the frustrations.

Often, negative thinking is fueled by exaggerations and imaginary problems as much as real issues. In order to keep my head above water, I must remind myself of the truth. Sometimes an outside voice is helpful to keep things in perspective. When my daughter is struggling with her terrible, horrible, no good very bad days, I ask her to tell me exactly what is so bad. After she tells me that her little brother spilled her juice and she didn’t get to have a cookie like her sister, I ask her to consider what makes that so very bad. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:15 that there is a way to speak the truth to a situation in a loving manner. As I meditate on truth, my thoughts will eventually turn to Jesus – the embodiment of truth (John 14:6).

Secondly, I want to concentrate on all that is NOBLE. Noble means dignified, or “worthy of respect.” Nobility is the quality of a leader (1 Timothy 3:8 and Titus 2:2). Is it becoming for me to pout and whine? Am I behaving like a princess or a daughter of the King? As a parent, I am a leader for my children. I want to give them a good example to follow. Is my attitude noble and respectable? I must remember the attitude of my King. Philippians 2 gives me a glimpse into His heart. “Being in likeness God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” His attitude was humble even as a King.

Paul tells us next to think about things that are RIGHT. In scripture, to be right means to be in accordance with God’s laws. I know what is right even though I don’t want to do it. The right thing to do is to obey God no matter how I feel. Am I responding to this disappointment in obedience or stomping my feet and throwing a temper tantrum? If I have failed, am I allowing guilt to overwhelm me to the point of depression? Jesus came that He might be righteousness for us and cleanse us from all sin. Even though we are unable to keep the law perfectly, He covers us with a robe of righteousness by our faith in His work on the cross.

Count slowly – one, two, three, four – PURITY. Purity can be exemplified by a crystal clear glass of water. It is wholesome and untainted. Purity also includes authenticity. If we attempt to wipe out our pessimism by changing the expression on our faces but not our hearts, we have missed the point. Pretending to be happy does not solve the real issue. If I want to be pure before God, I will be honest and real with Him. God can handle my brutal honesty and my raw emotion. The only way I will find peace is to bring all those feelings to Him (Philippians 4:6-7).

How can I possibly keep a sour face if I am gazing upon whatever is LOVELY? Jesus is lovely as the bringer of good news. He is lovely as the promoter of peace. Grumbling and griping do not promote peace but rather division. Whatever is lovely is compelling and garners our undivided attention. Just tonight, my eyes were drawn to a lovely sunset on the lake which completely captivated me. All the worries of the day slipped away in the face of peaceful beauty.

The sixth attitude adjuster is anything ADMIRABLE. I can’t honestly say that I have ever admired someone with a nasty attitude. I admire whatever is positive and constructive or gracious. Even if I am frustrated with my husband or a co-worker, I can usually think of one quality of theirs which I admire. Keeping what is admirable in my vision blocks out what is negative.

What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable is also EXCELLENT. Jesus is excellence defined! All of these characteristics could also be called PRAISEWORTHY. As I work my way through each positive focus point, I realize that these adjectives all describe Jesus. Jesus is the only One truly worthy of my praise!



This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Christian-mommies.com

Nina is our host today. Visit her to hear what others have to say about this verse!


8 comments:

lori said...

Heather....
girl...that was FANTASTIC! I read and read and shook my head the WHOLE time...I have a kitchen of "let us make em' ourselves bananna bread" to clean up!!

I'm glad I read this FIRST...Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable,Excellent and Praiseworthy...

whew...thank you for this...I'm printing it for my journal!
you blessed me as usual!!
lori

Lelia Chealey said...

Well worth the time to read this my friend!! LOVED this. I'll email you my notes from a Beth Moore conference I attended last year. Same passage. You both had awesome points made.
I also loved this quote from you husband:
you don’t feel your way into good behavior; rather you behave your way into good feelings

Very good stuff Heather.

Susan said...

Hey Heather,

This was awesome!! I love the way you tackled each area with these virtues. Excellent.

I also love what your hubby said as well.

...you don’t feel your way into good behavior; rather you behave your way into good feelings.

I'll remember this one!

I was going to post, but was waiting for Nina to put hers up. I think I'll just go ahead anyhow.

Blessings♥

Melanie said...

Heather, Thanks so much for this post today. For awhile now I have been working on my pessimistic attitude. It's getting easier to turn away from the negative.. but I must choose to focus on those things that are right and those things that are good. Just as Paul tells us in Philippians. I'm so glad I visited today for this timely reminder in your post.

Have a great day!

Miss Sandy said...

Heather,
I was so glad to see that you stopped by! I am sorry I have not been by in a while. I have been busy hosting a blog-a-thon about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I met a relative of hers and have been doing a series of interviews, related posts and and art swap to boot! Needless to say, my blog visiting has indeed suffered! I have two more weeks to go and then I can get back to visiting more regularly.

I love your post and it is a much need reminder for me right now! Thank you for the attitude adjustment!

I hope you have a really great day!

The Olson's: said...

"Happy Stinking Mother's Day!" I can relate to that unfortunately! I do my fare share of grumbling and being pessimistic (usually about the same time each month!). It frustrates me, which in turn gets me more "down".

Thank you for working through this verse. I hadn't thought of praying this verse when I feel the unkind words / attitude coming out of my mouth. I'm thinking that if I can memorize this verse and say it before I share my frustration, my home would be a more peaceful setting.

Counting slowly to 8 will have a whole new meaning now!

Thank you,
~ Leanne
PS: Where did you get that "icon" down on the right hand side of your page - the one about sin coming between us & God, Christ is the bridge? I love it and would love to put it on my blog if that's okay.

SharonB said...

For nearly my whole life I would often be heard to say "I'm a pessimist, I can't help it" as if God made me that way.

Recently though God has shown me that it's NOT a godly trait and I can change it. It's not something we are 'stuck' with.

Through Christ our minds can be renewed to a new pattern of thinking.

Thanks Heather!!!

Kathy S. said...

Heather, that was so beneficial for me. I have been "in" that verse over and over (remember whatever is true...), but have not done individual digging as you did. Thanks for expanding my understanding. I especially liked the part about focusing the admirable qualities when one is frustsrated with someone.

great post!