Do you ever get the sense that life is at times more like swimming upstream than leisurely floating down the river? For the most part, my life has been an easy ride, but on occasion I am painfully aware there are two forces at work in the world. Honestly, life doesn’t have to be as difficult as a lot of people choose to make it.
At times I find myself in social situations where the dominate theme of the conversation is negativity. How many people do you know that live with the on-going belief that “life has gone to hell in a hand-basket”? I find that most often that assessment has some relationship to one’s thoughts related to the political landscape, but the concept isn’t limited to politics. It raises its ugly head in any number of venues.
Isn’t it true that folks find any number of things to complain about? There are parents who complain about their kids, wives or husbands who complain about their mates, employees who complain about management, parishioners who complain about church and some folks who simply complain about everything. Long story short – avoid them like the plague.
Trust me, I attempt to avoid that crowd whenever I can. I find it unsettling. For one thing, I can’t fix it. Whenever I’ve attempted to provide gentle redirection, it is met with a roadblock. For another, negativity is a venue that is as contagious as the common cold. Perhaps that’s where the concept that “misery loves company” originated. The folks who throw rocks are like a pack of wolves seeking to destroy all that come in their path. Theirs is a self-destructive walk through life.
The thing that often surprises me is that some of the most negative folks I’ve encountered identify themselves as Christian. In one of John Ortberg’s books, he talks about a man named Hank. Hank was used to having things done his way. When the church altered or embraced another type of music, it didn’t set well with Hank. He complained to the church staff. He complained to his friends. He complained to anyone that would listen including visitors that attended their church. Hank even complained to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) that the music was too loud and damaging to one’s hearing. And yes, just for the record, OSHA came out to investigate.
When a person’s outlook on life becomes sour, it ought to serve as a warning light that something is terribly wrong. When the yellow light comes on the dashboard of my car indicating the need for service, I always pay attention and do whatever is necessary to get the yellow light issue resolved. Aren’t unhappiness, discontentment, negativity and hatred warning signs that something is terribly wrong with the person harboring those manifestations?
The litmus test for Spiritual wellness is found in the Scripture: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. – (Galatians 5:22-23). I didn’t notice that “consistently negative, fault finding, miserable or angry” are descriptors of the fruit of the Spirit. They are not the things that a loving God places in our life. On the other hand, there are two forces at work in the world. You might find those negative characteristics elsewhere. If so, that puts a whole new explanation for the concept of “to hell in a handbasket”.
Our thoughts and expectations wield tremendous power and influence in our lives. We don’t always get what we deserve in life, but we usually get no more than we expect. In one of Joel Olsteen’s books, he shares the story of Nick.
“Nick was a big, strong, tough man who worked in the railroad yards for many years. He was one of his company’s best employees- always there on time, a reliable, hard worker who got along well with the other employees. But Nick had one major problem. His attitude was chronically negative. He was known around the railroad yards as the most pessimistic man on the job. He perpetually feared the worst and constantly worried, fretting that something bad might happen.
“One summer day, the crews were told that they could go home an hour early in order to celebrate the birthday of one of the foremen. All the works left, but somehow Nick accidentally locked himself in a refrigerated boxcar that has been brought into the yard for maintenance. The boxcar was empty and not connected to any of the trains.
“When Nick realized that he was locked inside the refrigerated boxcar, he panicked. Nick began beating on the doors so hard that his arms and fists become bloody. He screamed and screamed, but his coworkers had already gone home to get ready for the party. Nobody could hear Nick’s desperate calls for help. Again and again he called out, until finally is voice was a raspy whisper.
“Aware that he was in a refrigerated boxcar, Nick guessed that the temperature in the unit was well below freezing, maybe as low as five or ten degrees Fahrenheit. Nicked feared the worst. He thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ If I don’t get out of her, I’m going to freeze to death. There’s no way I can stay in here all night.
“The more he thought about his circumstances, the colder he became. With the door shut tightly, and no apparent way of escape, he sat down to await his inevitable death by freezing or suffocation, whichever came first.
“To pass the time, he decided to chronicle his demise. He found a pen in his shirt pocket and noticed an old piece of cardboard in the corner of the car. Shivering almost uncontrollably, he scribbled a message to his family. In it Nick noted his dire prospects: “Getting so cold. Body numb. If I don’t get out soon, these will probably be my last words.” And they were.
“The next morning, when the crews came to work, they opened the boxcar and found Nick’s body crumpled over in the corner. When the autopsy was completed, it revealed that Nick had indeed frozen to death.
“Now here’s a fascinating mystery: The investigators discovered that the refrigeration unit for the car in which Nick had been trapped was not even on. In fact, it had been out of order for some time and was not functioning at the time of the man’s death. The temperature in the car that night- the night Nick froze to death- was sixty-one degrees. Nick froze to death in slightly less than normal room temperatures because he believed he was in a freezing boxcar. He expected to die! He was convinced that he didn’t have a chance. He expected the worst. He saw himself as doomed with no way out. He lost the battle in his own mind.”
Nick’s story adds a whole new dimension to getting what you expect. Perhaps it would serve us well to change our expectations. I really like the concept of “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. Think on those things.
All My Best!