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Pessimism


By Heather Cox

It was Mother’s Day 2006. I woke up around 5:00 to a crying baby. There is no rest on Mother’s day for the nursing mom! My sweet Katie thought she would make me breakfast first. She ripped open an oatmeal packet, spilling most of the contents on the floor. Then, she filled the bowl with an excess of milk which ended up all over the microwave. The oatmeal itself was not edible after being cooked for five minutes more than necessary. Then, Katie and Mikayla decided to start a bubble bath. The shower head was dangling down into the tub (from rinsing off the kids the night before), so when the shower was turned on, the showerhead was pouring water randomly like a wild snake all over the bathroom. Bleary eyed mom entered the room and muttered, “Happy Stinking Mother’s Day!” I was grumbling and griping while I mopped up water from the bathroom floor. I knew it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (just like Alexander had in Judith Viorst’s popular book). I wanted to move to Australia (and leave the kids behind).

I admit it – I can be a pessimist. Pessimism can be described as whining, griping, moping or having a negative outlook on everything and anything. It is often associated with the teenage years, but whining begins much earlier and persists in adulthood. How can we help our kids (and ourselves) to have positive attitudes that reflect gratefulness for all God has done for us?

When your thoughts are tumbling into a deep abyss of negativity, try this! Take a deep breath and count to 8: what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? To combat pessimism, I turn to Philippians 4:8. Paul tells us to think upon “such things”. In a moment of grumbling, I remind myself to redirect my thinking by pondering each characteristic Paul listed. I consider how that quality might be found in me, in my situation and in my Lord.

Philippians 4 is an often quoted chapter of the Bible. It is full of positive images and encouraging words. Paul encourages his readers to exhibit these Christ-like qualities in their lives: joy (4:4), gentleness(4:5), tranquility (4:6), gratitude (4:6), peace (4:7), and contentment (4:10-12). The apex of Paul’s preaching is found in verse 13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me!” This is the complete turnaround for the pessimist. I want these confident words to describe my attitude. I want to have this kind of faith that believes in the power of God to do something glorious (even in my life).

Philippians 4:8-9 addresses our thinking and our actions: the key to finding these positive attitudes just listed. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the method that teaches that right behaviors will follow in accordance with right thinking. My husband (a marriage and family therapist) also says that you don’t feel your way into good behavior; rather you behave your way into good feelings. In other words, the actions must precede the emotions. I must make some changes in the way I handle disappointment and it will start getting easier to keep my eyes focused upward instead of downward and inward in a descending spiral. So, first I must meditate upon the truth and allow it to saturate my thinking. Second, I must begin to behave in ways that are harmonious with the truth I know. Lastly, my feelings and attitudes will naturally follow over time.

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Put on your helmets and padding, because we are going to be doing some defensive tackling. I want to look at each of these attitude busters in the context of Philippians as well as my personal situation.

We begin with thinking upon what is TRUE. Truth is all things honest and reliable. In a moment of despondency, I am often tempted to listen to the lies of Satan. He whispers in my ear little white lies.“Nothing ever turns out right for you. No one thinks you have anything to offer. Everyone who calls you a friend can barely tolerate you.” Pessimism focuses on the difficulties and the frustrations. Often, negative thinking is fueled by exaggerations and imaginary problems as much as real issues. In order to keep my head above water, I must remind myself of the truth. Sometimes an outside voice is helpful to keep things in perspective. When my daughter is struggling with her terrible, horrible, no good very bad days, I ask her to tell me exactly what is so bad. After she tells me that her little brother spilled her juice and she didn’t get to have a cookie like her sister, I ask her to consider what makes that so very bad. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:15 that there is a way to speak the truth to a situation in a loving manner. As I meditate on truth, my thoughts will eventually turn to Jesus – the embodiment of truth (John 14:6).

Secondly, I want to concentrate on all that is NOBLE. Noble means dignified, or “worthy of respect.” Nobility is the quality of a leader (1 Timothy 3:8 and Titus 2:2). Is it becoming for me to pout and whine? Am I behaving like a princess or a daughter of the King? As a parent, I am a leader for my children. I want to give them a good example to follow. Is my attitude noble and respectable? I must remember the attitude of my King. Philippians 2 gives me a glimpse into His heart. “Being in likeness God, He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” His attitude was humble even as a King.

Paul tells us next to think about things that are RIGHT. In scripture, to be right means to be in accordance with God’s laws. I know what is right even though I don’t want to do it. The right thing to do is to obey God no matter how I feel. Am I responding to this disappointment in obedience or stomping my feet and throwing a temper tantrum? If I have failed, am I allowing guilt to overwhelm me to the point of depression? Jesus came that He might be righteousness for us and cleanse us from all sin. Even though we are unable to keep the law perfectly, He covers us with a robe of righteousness by our faith in His work on the cross.

Count slowly – one, two, three, four – PURITY. Purity can be exemplified by a crystal clear glass of water. It is wholesome and untainted. Purity also includes authenticity. If we attempt to wipe out our pessimism by changing the expression on our faces but not our hearts, we have missed the point. Pretending to be happy does not solve the real issue. If I want to be pure before God, I will be honest and real with Him. God can handle my brutal honesty and my raw emotion. The only way I will find peace is to bring all those feelings to Him (Philippians 4:6-7).

How can I possibly keep a sour face if I am gazing upon whatever is LOVELY? Jesus is lovely as the bringer of good news. He is lovely as the promoter of peace. Grumbling and griping do not promote peace but rather division. Whatever is lovely is compelling and garners our undivided attention. Just tonight, my eyes were drawn to a lovely sunset on the lake which completely captivated me. All the worries of the day slipped away in the face of peaceful beauty.

The sixth attitude adjuster is anything ADMIRABLE. I can’t honestly say that I have ever admired someone with a nasty attitude. I admire whatever is positive and constructive or gracious. Even if I am frustrated with my husband or a co-worker, I can usually think of one quality of theirs which I admire. Keeping what is admirable in my vision blocks out what is negative.

What is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable is also EXCELLENT. Jesus is excellence defined! All of these characteristics could also be called PRAISEWORTHY. As I work my way through each positive focus point, I realize that these adjectives all describe Jesus. Jesus is the only One truly worthy of my praise!

© Heather Cox
Heather is mother to three darling children (ages 6, 3, and 2) and wife to a dashing "country boy" who is a counselor. She lives in the beautiful countryside of rural Wisconsin. Heather has been a public high school teacher and missionary and draws upon her experiences in life and ministry to encourage others to turn their eyes to Jesus! Visit her blog at http://mommymonk.blogspot.ca/.

 

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