By Jesse Jost
There is such a fascinating aspect of our human condition that puzzles me:
Why do we have such a tendency to focus on and remember the negative aspects of life?
Why do we first want to talk about the hard things we experienced in our life?
Why is it easier, when talking about other people, to discuss their flaws and irritating quirks than their character strengths?
Why, after a conversation, do we ruminate more on the hurtful things that were said or the points of disagreement, than the words of praise or agreement?
Why, when reading a post or email, do we zero in on the annoying and negative and forget the positive?
When talking about our country, community, or government, why is it so much easier to bring up the things that frustrate us, than the things our leaders are doing well?
When discussing our church, how much of the conversations are about the exciting things God is doing and how much is about how people are failing?
There are probably beneficial reasons for this human preoccupation with the negative. After all, what is going well doesn’t need our attention. It’s the problem areas that need fixing.
Also fixating on how other people are messed up and failures soothes our own insecurities.
But when it comes to relationship health, this tendency to highlight the negative and forget the good is relationship cancer.
A focus on the flaws creates discouragement, sucks out motivation to work on things, and makes us want to avoid the problem people. Rather than fixing things, the obsession with the negative creates a whole host of other problems.
I think there is also a deeper spiritual battle at work when we only see the flaws and failings. It has to do with the whole reason for creation.
God made us and redeemed us to glorify Himself. The greatest act of love God could give a human was for us to get the privilege of seeing and marvelling at God’s beauty, grace, and power. The pleasure of the praise and worship of God is humanity’s greatest satisfaction.
If we were created to see and delight in God’s goodness, is it any wonder then that Satan will do all he can make us look instead at the misery and the suffering and wrong doing?
If we were made to praise, how satisfying is it for our enemy to hear us complain instead?
I need to be clear. We have to acknowledge the hard. We have to be honest about our failings and struggles. We need to be sensitive to suffering other people go through. We have to be aware of abuse and bullying and acts of injustice.
God is not glorified by glossing over shortcomings or refusing to deal with hurts and anger.
But love for God and love for our fellowman requires us to also look for and choose to remember the good aspects of life as well.
Think of how devastated you have been to hear community gossip where you were defined by your mistakes and flaws, instead of your strengths and successes.
We are commanded in Psalms to “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:” (Psalm 103:2)
Paul says that the sharing our faith is made more effective by the “acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” Philemon 1:6
We will not be able to eliminate noticing and discussing the negative aspects of life, nor should we. But we need to make a diligent effort to also remember the good.
When we think about the hard things we have in our life right now, we can make a choice to thank God for the gifts as well.
When a flaw or failure irritates you about another person in your life, balance out your perspective by looking for their character strengths and the good they have done.
Think about the civil servants in your country and thank them for the things they have done well. People in government have a thankless job.
When you talk about your church, think about the ways that God has used the healing power of the gospel to change lives and restore hearts.
If we make a choice to remember the good, we might just be surprised by how good God really is, and what a wonderful life He has given us. Then let us turn the noticing into praise and worship.