Friday, September 14, 2007

Part III: How Are You Seeing Things?

Faulty Lens #2: The Black Cloud Syndrome

Pessimism (n.): A tendency to take the gloomiest possible view of a situation. (The American Heritage Dictionary)

A good doctor once told me he knew with 80% certainty after meeting with cancer patients who would survive and who would not. He based his assessment not only on the staging of the disease, but also how people responded emotionally. Did they exhibit a spirit of defeat before the battle even began? Or did they resolve to fight? According to the doctor, the mental and emotional state of the patient was, indeed, a huge factor in his or her outcome.

An optimistic outlook is a major influence, I believe, in our overall emotional and physical well being. It also has spiritual implications. Pessimism doesn't energize us. At worst, it slows us down, sucks the life out of those around us, and can diminish our effectiveness for Christ.

It would seem that we are "wired" with certain psychological and personality dispositions. And our environment and life's experiences obviously have a lot to do with whether or not we lean in the direction of being positive or negative. Is the pessimist doomed to life with a black cloud overhead? (Don't ask him, because he will probably say, "yes!")

Pessimists can have a change of heart. How? By praying to God for more joy and trust, and by making a conscious decision to stop and look for what's good.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This verse speaks to God's gracious willingness as it relates to His followers to bring about good through all things. Around the verse, we can find encouragement in knowing that we are being conformed to the image of Christ and that God is with us. What we don't have here is the promise for a Hallmark happy ending in all earthly endeavors. God has a high-elevation, big-picture perspective on goodness and sometimes we go through rough terrain and hard training toward this end. My cancer diagnosis, handed down when my boys were 4, 6 and 8, might have been a catalyst for "good" in God's eyes because it served some important purposes. But when the word "cancer" first spilled off the lips of my doctor, I would have been hard pressed to see anything positive about the prospects of death knocking at the door of the Romper Room house. (God intervened in our lives almost immediately, though... that's the subject of another post!) In the case of evil and atrocities, sometimes the only good thing you can say is that amidst the horror, God has revealed His glory and mercy in certain events... and there are lessons to be learned should we choose to heed them.

Stormie Omartian once wrote that whenever a crisis presents in their lives, they ask the question: "What's right with this picture?" As we go about life, we should be looking for the silver linings.

Have an Open Mind

Rather than defaulting to the runaway feelings I wrote about recently, have an open mind... force an open mind if you have to... before leaping to conclusions. If you run into Mary by the frozen foods at WalMart and she "snubs" you, don't default to the conclusion that she hates you. Could be Mary just got bad news from her doctor. Maybe she had an argument with her husband. Could be she's late for work. Maybe she has a headache. Could be she's daydreaming about a cool breeze on a sandy beach and she didn't even see you! In the absence of all the facts, don't assume that Mary's actions have anything whatsoever to do with you. Maybe they do. Maybe they don't!

Be Grateful

I pray every night with the boys for forgiveness for all that we take for granted. I'm also increasingly sensitive to blessings that come in the form of challenges. Odd as it sounds, I try to be thankful for those, too. In many cases, God has been gracious to show me, in retrospect, the surprisingly positive outcome of some of life's biggest hurdles.

I've also begun to thank God for all that I simply can't fathom. A frightened servant who kept company with the prophet Elisha had the benefit of seeing an army of heavenly hosts assembled on hilltops... ready to fight the good fight. This army was otherwise invisible to the human eye. (2Kings 6: 15-17) How is God protecting us today? What mighty, invisible force might envelop and safeguard you? And have you taken a moment lately to thank God for what it is that is very, very good that, perhaps, cannot be seen?

Can you always spot a pessimist? Sometimes these folks are poster children for doom. But sometimes negative outlooks come in fairly sunny packages. While I love to laugh and encourage others, I am ever mindful of worst-case scenarios. I think about what could go wrong. I worry about you. Some of you, I worry about a lot. I've seen a lot of suffering and this has affected my own "lens" on life. While I have tremendous optimism and hope with respect to the "end zone," I do have pessimistic tendencies. Part of my own "area for improvement" centers on maintaining a spirit of gratitude... and wholehearted trust in God's good and mighty game plan... even when it seems to me that clouds are rolling in. I'm getting better at this as I go along, I think. But it's a conscious effort... something I work at consistently with the patient help of God.

Today, let's ask ourselves: What are five things I want to stop and thank God for as soon as I "x" out of this blog!

Coming Soon: More on this topic

On my iPod... September by Earth Wind & Fire (a little retro groove...)


dog said...

Wow. What a writer you are Sarah. Gifted, Gifted. I can aprreciate this blog! It is hard when we are in the storm to always understand. The picture is so much bigger than what we can see. I have been reassured through the readings of Romans 5:3-4 "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverance; perservernace, character.
The "why's" are not always known. I am trying to comfort a friend of mine who's son has been diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy at age 4. I do not understand the "why" on this but I do know that sin/disease has no bias on children. Through this suffering has to an outcome of glory for the Lord. Please pray for their family - The Rothe family.


Sarah Onderdonk said...

yes, angela... i'll pray for them. some of the "why's"... no one knows... and sometimes the best thing you can say is "i don't understand it either." then just be there for them. listen to them. love them. i've taught from a verse in james that strongly parallels the verse you just shared. it's of huge comfort to me, personally... knowing that there is purpose and profitability, though at times we might not "get" it, in all of our circumstances. and thank you for the nice thing you just said :)