The Paper Pulpit
“To think or not to think” — that is not the question! “What we choose to think about” — Ah, that is the question! The thoughts, feelings and interests which we allow to invade and occupy our minds will begin to mold our character. Indeed, we will become what we continually think about.
Marcus Aurelius wisely said, “As are thy habitual thoughts, so will be the character of thy mind, for the soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.” What he was saying is that thinking the right kind of thoughts produces healthy attitudes that lead, in turn, to constructive actions. Having the right attitude is more important than our past, our possessions, our successes or failures, or even what others think about us. Our attitude is what keeps us going or keeps us from going. When our attitude is right, no barrier is too high, no valley too low, no dream too extreme, and no challenge too great.
But it is not always easy for us to have the right attitude, is it? Think of the things that suck up our attention and energy like a sponge, all of which are inescapable: the tick of the clock, the weather, the actions and reactions of others, who won the ball game, the results of an X-Ray or physical examination, irritations that can’t be avoided, the demands of our workload, April 15th and taxes, having too much month left over at the end of our money, etc.
When we fight against things we cannot change, we get ulcers, we have headaches, we become grouchy and hard to live with, and we could even possibly die. One study, called “Broken Heart,” researched the mortality rate of 4,500 widowers within six months after their wives had died. Compared with other men their same age, the widowers had a mortality rate forty percent higher. Not one of us can prevent those times or experiences which put us in the middle of an emotional hurricane. But there are constructive ways of dealing with those experiences. We can consciously choose to have a positive attitude.
If we develop a negative pessimism, our joy will not only run away and hide, but we will make everyone around us miserable. One lady was asked, “Did you wake up grouchy this morning?” She replied, “No, I let him sleep as long as he wanted to.” I even read of a grouchy fellow in Alabama who had a telephone installed in his home just so he could hang up on people. If you want to spoil a grouchy person’s day, give him a smile. Constantly looking on the dark side of life is to miss the joy of living.
Apostle Paul has some good advice to offer at this point: “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 NIV). There it is again — The mind! Attitude! By getting rid of those things that drag us down, we make room for joy. Circumstances happen that could easily crush us — at home, on the job, or elsewhere — and immediately we have to make a choice — an ATTITUDE choice. We can hand the circumstance over to God ... or ... we can play the role of martyr. Joy waits for our decision.
When we deliberately choose to exclude God from our circumstances, we exclude joy from our lives. We then tend to gravitate in one of two directions, and sometimes both — “blame” or “self-pity.” When things go wrong we find it easy to blame ourselves, or someone else, or God. When we blame ourselves, we multiply our guilt, rivet ourselves to the past, and decrease our already low self-esteem. When we blame God, we cut off our source of power, doubt replaces trust, and we become bitter, cynical, and hard to live with. When we blame others, we alienate ourselves and poison our relationships.
The apostle Paul was right when he encouraged the Philippian Christians to give serious thought to those values that are permanent. He knew that such thoughts would shape their attitudes in a way that would lead to actions which both glorified God and blessed others. Twenty-first century Christians need to follow Paul’s counsel equally as much as did the Philippian Christians in the first century. As a popular song some years ago expressed it, “When you emphasize the positive, you eliminate the negative.”
Keep your face turned toward the One who said, “I am the Light of the World,” and you will never see the shadows (John 8:12).
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.