"Blessed are those who mourn..."
- Matthew 5:4a
"Be Positive!" "Cheer up!" "If you can't change your circumstances, you can change your attitude!" Ugh... If you are having a bad day, it seems there is no end the onslaught of trite little sayings thrown out by friends, coworkers, and the waterfall of social media "inspirational quotes." If you are lucky, you might yourself an empathetic shoulder to cry on for a bit or a well-intentioned back-patting. But if you sustain a "negative" countenance too long, it is guaranteed you will inevitably find yourself on the receiving end of condescending lecture on "getting over it." While it is true that our attitude can greatly affect our ability to handle life's challenges, positivity too is often used as a mask for keeping those in need at a distance or deflecting our responsibilities to show actual kindness and compassion to one another.
I'm Happier Than Thou
Those who consider themselves religious or spiritual are often the worst offenders. We are socially ranked based on our ability project happiness and ooze joy. Sometimes, I think publishing contracts for self-help books are based on how big a smile the author can produce. As people promote their various faiths, testimonials tend to have strong focus on how happy they are now and how great life can be if you "join us."
Our propaganda is almost exclusively centered around messages of "missing out" and "there is a better life waiting" - better almost exclusively translating as "happier." Just look at the title of any Joel Osteen book, and it seems the only point of faith is happiness. It's no wonder that those struggling with the harsh nature of reality, depression, or grief often feel left out and wondering if they are disconnected from the Spirit, God, or the Kingdom.
Be Happy! That's an Order!
For those who feel like being positive is a requirement for social acceptance; you're not paranoid, they really are out to get you! In Russia, those who speak out against the government are labeled as troublemakers, harassed by officials, and often jailed. In North Korea and China, you can't be negative at all. Just complaining about bad water or crumbling infrastructure can get you arrested. It is common throughout all human history that those in power demand "positive attitudes" from those they rule over.
This behavior doesn't just go away because we live in a democratic country. While not legally enforceable, those who lead our institutions, churches, schools, and businesses still have the historic tendency to suppress complaints through intimidation and guilt. When in power, our instinct is to deflect doubt rather than question ourselves.
The real problem with all this forced frivolity is that we miss out on our chances to be genuinely fulfilled. Instead of taking the time to explore our grief, we have to "move on." Instead of examining a case of malaise, we are told to "cheer up!" Instead of deconstructing a troubling issue we are told "don't dwell on it."
In a world that has so many truly genuine and deeply disturbing problems, we act like those who struggle with depression as if they are broken and have no reason to be sad. Maybe they just can't tune out all the crap the rest of seem so happy to just ignore? Maybe, just maybe, it's the rest of us who are broken. Those who exude true meaningful joy are not those who avoid negativity, but those who have faced it head-on and made a decision to be a part of making the world a better place.
Genuine Joy is Given, Not Taken
There are genuine joyful people around, we all know how great they are to meet. They make people feel good to just be themselves, and make it clear they care about you. They are considerate, kind, and thoughtful, but they are not always “happy.” In fact, good people are often sad as they are more sensitive to the pain and suffering around them.
Their joy does not come from ignoring negativity, but facing it with a confidence that they can make a positive difference. In fact, if a person has real joy, then you know it is OK to be sad around them. In fact, you don’t even have to be happy to give joy to others. You can just take a brief moment to think, “maybe this person’s problems matter just as much as mine.” That thought is the seed of empathy, and the engine of kindness.
The Burden of the Cross
Are you tired of hearing about racism? Imagine being someone who has to live with it every single day. Are you tired of hearing negative stories on the news? Imagine being those living through them. Yes, it wears on us to constantly hear bad news… but the reality is that we still don’t actually DO anything about it. Maybe we deserve to be a little uncomfortable while our fellow human beings suffer, it’s the least (and I mean LEAST) we can do.
What happened to carrying our cross? (Luke 9:23) What happened to sharing one another’s burdens? (Galatians 6:2) What good are we if we can’t endure the discomfort of grief, sadness, and even anger long enough to get up off the couch and go make a difference? Enduring the negative realities of this world with our eyes open, our heads up, and acting in sincere hope for building a better world is the true soul of faith. Without it, religion is just an excuse to tap out.
Don’t Be Bullied by Positivity
Bringing all back around to spiritual and emotional development, don’t let yourself be bullied by others into “cheering up” and don’t bully yourself either. One of the worst things you can do when you are sad, depressed, or upset is to repress how you feel for the sake of appearing normal. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)
The Psalms are full of cries of anguish, doubt, and grief. Life is full of ups and downs, and we should accept them as they come without wondering what should be or what others will think. And if you find yourself tempted to tell someone to “get over it,” maybe take a second and ask yourself if you are helping them, or serving your own interests.
...enjoy the post? Please consider helping me grow as an author by posting on Facebook or Tweeting. Thank You!