“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.” (Philippians 4:8)
My wife is an optimist – with a big, fat capital “O.” Given any challenge, you can count on her to find the silver-lining, and offer an encouraging, “We’ve got this!” And, she usually does, “got this!” She’s got more “got this” than anyone else I know!
For years, she’s called me a pessimist. I argue, I’m a realist. I neither see the proverbial glass as half-full or half-empty. I just see half of a glass of water – nothing more, nothing less. To an optimist, realistic or not, that sounds hopelessly pessimistic.
Though I don’t go looking for the negative, I do seem to find it, aplenty. I can be critical, fault-finding. Though I see the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the light and the dark, the flaws and failings certainly capture my attention at least as much as the good, if not more.
Ooooooooo…… that is sounding pessimistic……… please, don’t tell my wife……………
Never is this more true than of myself. In fact, more-often-than-not, my introspection focuses far more on the negative than the positive. If I’m critical of others – and I undeniably am – I’m far more hyper-critical of myself.
Sorry. That’s not meant to be an excuse for being critical of others.
I had a bit of a breakthrough this morning. As I prayed, I was drawn to Philippians 4:8, “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.” (Philippians 4:8) In other words, direct your full focus and attention on the good. Fill your mind and heart, your thoughts and emotions, with good and beautiful things.
I’ve recently been reading a bit of Buddhism, just to understand it better (No worries. Jesus still has my full allegiance). Buddhism teaches, different life experiences plant different “seeds” in us – positive and negative. Our job is to water and nurture the “good” seeds, so they will grow, and plant more seeds, while striving to not water and nurture the “bad” seeds.
The truth is, most of my daily prayer time – a spiritual discipline I deeply believe in – can, ironically, be pretty negative. I spend a lot of time watering bad seeds – bewailing my sins and shortcomings, and bemoaning my struggles and suffering. Too often, my time with God is filled with far more whining than wonder, more bitching than beauty, more pain than praise, more complaining than contemplation (How’s that for some snazzy alliteration? Please excuse the obscenity!)
Somehow, somewhere, sometime, I confused wallowing with prayer. This isn’t good.
While I’m not suggesting prayer isn’t an appropriate occasion for confession, lamentation, or introspection (more alliteration!), what my soul seems to crave MORE – DESPERATELY MORE – is something a LOT more positive, more beautiful, more praiseworthy.
With that craving in mind, this morning, I turned to Henri Nouwen, who reminds us over and over that we’re God’s “beloved.” Speaking to the negativity, Nouwen writes,
“So the point is how, in a world that is evil, do we create places that allow us to get a glimpse of God’s goodness, of God’s love. I have a feeling that we need to turn everything upside down. We are always surprised by darkness, A certain darkness is brought about by evil. If you listen to the radio, or watch the television every night, you see the news. You see that the world is in the power of the evil one. We keep telling people, ‘Look what happens, isn’t it terrible?’ We keep being surprised by evil, but we should be surprised by goodness.”
In essence, keep your focus on goodness, more than evil, because goodness abounds. Goodness is life-giving. Goodness is God.
That’s how we “turn everything upside down,” spiritually speaking.
So, as of today, I’m going to try a spiritual experiment. For the next weeks, months or maybe even years, I’m going to intentionally focus my prayers on what Nouwen calls my “beloved-ness.” I’m going to strive to keep my eyes and ears, my mind and soul focused on anything and everything “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy.” I’m taking a break from the negative, the critical, the self-condemning. I’m going to focus on goodness, beauty, and love.
Of course, I’ll need a good heart-wrenching confession, one of these days. But, for now, I’m taking a break.
I’m going to focus my prayers and my full attention on God. Now, that’s a novel concept.
Maybe that will also help me become less of a “realist” in the other areas of my life, too – another potentially refreshing change.
My wife will be SO surprised and impressed! “We’ve got this!”