14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. (Philippians 2: 14, 15)
“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)
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)
I have had a very grumbly kind of week. I’ve grumbled about the latest Covid restrictions. I’ve grumbled about the weather. I’ve grumbled about the lack of a live-in housekeeper/chef/chauffeur/laundry person in my home. I’ve even grumbled that the dog needs to be let out to do her business one more time even though the alternative is even less palatable.
I know why I’m grumbly. I don’t like the latest restrictions and am still sad the Christmas Eve was just a livestream. I feel like I’m recovering from Covid still. The weather is legitimately really awful; we just went from a thaw to a deep freeze and now to freezing rain in a manner of days, after all. The house really could use someone tackling it that takes a better interest in housekeeping than me, and really, the dog, because she’s elderly, does have to go out, a lot, in the cold.
So I have an explanation for my grumbly week. Its all legitimate.
Except that maybe it isn’t.
There was a trend for a while to name things as ‘first world problems’ when you were having a grumbly week. It was a good reminder that people often had much less than we do. And really, I do realize that I’m in a pretty privileged position. I know that I have a home that shelters me from bad weather. I have the resources to have a pet. And I serve a church that has made it their responsibility to respond to the Covid restrictions with a ‘can-do’ attitude and a commitment to stay together as a community. I know that in my head – but, well; I’m not ‘feelin’ it’. You know what I mean. Describing things to me as “first world problems” is almost guaranteed to get an audible eye roll back.
And its at that moment that I’m kind of brought up short by our own faith heritage and our own scriptures. In the book of Proverbs (Chapter 23: 7) it says ‘What a man thinks, so he is’. If you take away the sexist and archaic language – basically it says “You are what you think”. Philippians 4 reminds us really tangibly about the things we are supposed to ‘think on’; and if you follow my logic, then if we do this kind of thinking, then we will be “noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy”. Hmmmmmm. O.k. That’s pretty impressive.
I also would like to be thought of as the whole laundry list of stuff from Philippians. But, it does seem like the ‘thinking’ becoming who we are, might be just a little on the “Pollyanna” side? Because really, the truth is that there’s a whole lot of thinking that crowds into my life that is a large measure short of the Philippians passage.
And maybe – that’s where we need to make room for the Holy Spirit to act on our lives. There’s a concept in Psychology called “negative bias”. This is the idea that we not only pay more attention to negative things, but we are more likely to remember negative things than we are the positive. So, for example, I can get 20 comments from people that they loved last weeks sermon, but then I get 1 comment that they didn’t. ‘Negative bias ‘ tells me that I will more likely pay attention to the 1 negative comment than the 20 positive. I also am far more likely to pay attention to news reports and statistics that are negative over positive. So, I can see the rates of Covid-19 infections go up, but not pay attention to the other stat that says we are better protected against severe disease with the vaccinations.
So, our scriptures would tell us that we need to counter this with the discipline of paying attention to ‘good’ in our lives over the bad. It doesn’t say to deny the things that we find difficult; just to pay attention to the good. But I’m coming to the conclusion that this is actually a spiritual discipline, not just something we can put on. It’s a discipline because it counters what are ‘psychology’ is, and it counters our social outlook. It IS more acceptable to be negative and grumbly than it is to be positive and optimistic. Optimistic people get named things like ‘naïve’ or ‘simplistic’. And its not EASY to be counter-self and counter-cultural, is it!
So my Bethel friends, I hope you’ll join me in starting to make grumbly days turn into something that is – well – that is “noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy”. And maybe together we can emerge from this pandemic as a community that “shines among the stars in the sky”. (In a realistic and honest kinda way, though, right!!)
Blessings today and remember that you are Loved.