Sunday, November 10, 2013

Positive Attitude

Today I finally made it to church. Benji was his usual hyperactive self times ten, so I didn't hear any of the meeting except two or three times I heard, "My topic is 'The Light of Christ and Having a Positive Attitude.'"

I did not hear a single talk. I was chasing Benji around the building. So I just want to clearly state that this is not a criticism of anything anyone said. I didn't hear anything anyone said, so how could I criticize it?

But, since that was the topic for the meeting, I thought about it some while I followed the boys and watched them throw ice from a pile they found on the lawn at the church.

I realized I have some hangups about the "having a positive attitude" part.

1. I don't see how having a positive attitude is related in any way, shape, or form to the light of Christ. So I'm guessing the bishopric speaking assignment was actually about something other than what I interpreted those words to mean. (So this isn't to say the bishopric gave a bad speaking assignment, either--just to say that particular phrase has meanings to me that bother me).

2. Speaking only about adults and children (teens might be different), my experience is that people don't need to be taught about having a positive attitude. Generally speaking, being positive is a self-rewarding behavior. It is its own reward, and most people seek to be positive and happy because it's inherently better. Most people have a generally positive attitude most of the time. And the people who do not have a generally positive attitude usually need help, not a lecture, because they are suffering from some disorder or other challenge--ADHD with a negative outlook, depression, and intensely difficult stretch of living they have to suffer through. None of those people is helped by being told, "Well, just change your attitude." People become negative when there is something wrong in their lives, and it seems like it would behoove us to find out what's wrong and help rather than lecturing people on their attitude. So this is a non-issue, or its a major issue that is best addressed in a more healthy, realistic, psychologically sound way. Or maybe this is a real issue and I've just been blessed to be surrounded by generally positive people in my life.

3. The scriptures never advise anyone to "have a positive attitude." Prophets have advised the people to not despair. There are scriptures about cheerfully doing all things in our power. And they push hope heavily. But it's not hope in general--it's hope in Christ.  Clearly, God wants us to choose happiness--and I recognize it is a choice. So I don't know why I get hung up on the phrase "Positive attitude."  Maybe it goes back to the business philosophy that says that if you're  a failure, it's your own fault for not believing hard enough because if you just have a positive mental attitude, you can do anything. And that's just a bunch of baloney. I think there is more to the "cheerfully going about" thing than just having a positive attitude.

4. To me, teaching "have a positive attitude" is teaching the gospel of me. The philosophy attached to that, in my mind, is that you can just try harder and things will magically work out. And, if you happen to be unhappy or miserable, it's your own fault for not being more positive, regardless of the circumstances.

I have a real issue with that last one.

Because what happens when you get to that point in life where you hit the wall? Where you've done everything you really truly can do, worked hard, had faith to the breaking point, and you really cannot go on? That point when your heart is truly broken? That point when your enemies are rallying against you, your friends are sure you're doing it all wrong, you need help and neither God nor man will step in and save you, and you are completely powerless to save yourself despite all you've done?  What about when you're hanging on by your fingernails, and the best possible outcome is terrifying or miserable, and everything else isn't worth living for, and when you cry out for help, the people around you cannot hear, or, worse, they mock you and criticize and tell you it's too bad you got yourself into trouble?

Surely I'm not the only person in this whole wide world who has been to that spot and tasted that despair, fear, sorrow, and exhaustion that comes from trials that just don't go away.

And I can tell you that, when you hit the bottom, having a more positive attitude just doesn't cut it. There really are times when you have literally--physically, emotionally, intellectually, psychologically--done everything you can possibly do. And you cannot find the willpower or the energy to just be positive so that everything will work out. And where you know, deep inside, that smiling at that dragon isn't going to stop him from eating you.

But the other thing I know is that God never leaves us alone, even when he refuses to rescue us, and when we get to that hopeless spot where you have truly done all you can do (and therefore cannot even dredge up even a mite of positive attitude, which is a lie and won't fix things anyway), that's what Jesus came for.  And you don't have to be sad, and you don't have to despair, and you don't have to hang on by your fingernails and you don't have to cry any more. You don't have to live in that dark place, and you don't even have to stay there, despite the trials not going away.

The thing is, you can go forward, cheerfully and with patience doing the will of the Lord, waiting on His time. But it's not because you tried harder to have a positive attitude. It's a gift from God that comes from choosing faith (the active kind, not just stating that you know God is there), from praying for patience, from having hope in Christ, and from turning to the atonement to heal your broken heart and help you through. It's not because YOU can do any more, but because God can. And will.

The answer is not a positive attitude. The answer is Jesus.

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