Authored by Tina Kapp
I know two people who both grew up with missionary parents, lived in many of the same countries, even went to the same schools, and shared many of the same experiences. Yet when I talk to them individually about growing up, I hear two very different stories, and it’s clear that their takes on their lives are very different.
Jenny will stress about all she had to give up as a missionary kid, the sacrifices she had to make, the “normal” things she didn’t get to have, such as television, and the setbacks she faced in life by not having a more stable upbringing.
Jill will talk about how she feels she had a privileged childhood—filled with travel, fun, and the chance to experience a wide variety of cultures firsthand. She’ll speak of the skills she learned along the way, the languages she dabbled in, and the mishaps and tough times that became adventures that she would one day relish telling her grandchildren about.
Why do these two girls have such different takes on their experiences? A lot has to do with attitude. Jill is focusing on the good and benefiting from it, while Jenny is dwelling on the challenges and the setbacks.
Some people will base their outlook on life on the negative things they experience, to the point where it becomes difficult to see or enjoy the good and beauty that has made their life into what it is.
Think of someone who suffers from an eating disorder. While this is not something to take lightly, the one who has this disorder won’t notice or care that they are blessed with beautiful hair or eyes, or a great wit and sense of humor, because all they can focus on is what they think is the ideal weight. The saddest thing is that this focus pushes away those people who try to help and encourage them, as in that state of mind it’s nearly impossible to believe anything good that other people have to say about them.
I use such an example to show how having a positive attitude can change our outlook in life and how we view the things that happen in them. We can choose to see the good in a circumstance or focus only on the negative, which will make going through life somewhat bleak. When we choose to look at the good, we can learn how to focus on the things that make us happy, rather than the things we don’t like or that bother us.
I invited a kid to my daughter’s birthday party, and she literally went around the house complaining about everything—from the size of the pool to the brand of orange juice I served, to the type of cake and how she preferred other snacks and treats. Well, you can bet your left shoe that not only did that girl not have any fun at the party, but neither my daughter nor I were very eager to invite her back.
People who focus on the negative sometimes remind me of those cartoon characters with dark rain clouds and lightning over their heads. A rather depressing picture. Not only that, but their negativity is contagious. It drags others down and can darken one’s whole outlook on life. Fortunately, if we choose to dwell on the good and positive things in life, we have the power to have the opposite effect on those around us. We can brighten someone’s life and make a difficult situation more bearable.
There is a phrase from a verse that one of my teachers would use in prayer before showing his class a movie: “Help us to choose the good and eschew the evil.”1 Once I was old enough to understand that it wasn’t a verse about chewing, but that it was another way of saying “choosing the good and refusing evil,” I found it a good principle to live by.
Everyone faces difficult circumstances; there are delays, traffic, difficult tests, and unfair or annoying situations or people. So many of these things are beyond our control, so being angry and negative about it does nothing except make us feel even worse.
The Bible says, “Be joyful always.”2 Knowing that God is with us is a major boost to helping us to look on the bright side or to giving us the faith that He will work all things together for our good, even if we don’t see how. Exercising this perspective can also help us when we do go through bigger, and perhaps more serious, difficulties.
I once read a fable about a king who had a good friend who always said “God knows best” no matter what bad thing happened. One day, they were hunting together and the friend had assembled the gun wrong, so the king accidentally shot his thumb off. The king was so mad at his friend that he sent him to prison. As they took him away, the friend said, “God knows best.” The king thought he had definitely gone a bit too far this time, as obviously nothing good could come from this situation. A short while later, the king was on an expedition and was captured by some cannibals; they were preparing a big pot to boil him in when they noticed he was missing his thumb. Due to their superstitions, they were afraid to eat him, and let him go. The king realized his friend had unknowingly saved his life. He quickly called for him and apologized profusely for his rash behavior in having thrown him in jail. “God knows best,” the friend answered, and the king said, “I know how the accident turned out for good for me, but what was the good of my throwing you in jail?” The friend replied, “If you hadn’t thrown me in jail, I would have been captured with you when you came across those cannibals, and I’m not missing a thumb.”
It’s a slightly silly story, but it does make a point. God has a wonderful way of turning annoying and negative circumstances around for good. If we make a point of counting the blessings we have, we’ll find there are a lot of them. However, if we focus on finding the negative, we’ll find that there is a lot of that as well. It simply depends on what you choose to look for.
Another big difference between a positive and a negative person is the way they embrace the future. Are new opportunities a chance for something great to happen, or are they just one more thing that won’t work out as anticipated?
Philippians says it best, I think: “Finally, brothers, 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.”3
And best of all, “Whoever trusts in the LORD, happy is he.”4
What kind of life would you rather lead? You can sign me up for happy any day!
1 Isaiah 7:15, rephrased
2 1 Thessalonians 5:16 NIV
3 Philippians 4:8 NIV
4 Proverbs 16:20 NKJV
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International