“Stop being so negative.” “Cheer up.” “Look on the bright side.” “It could be worse.”
As the pandemic drags on, our country continues to be divided and violence increases across the world, it can be easy to give in to negativity and discouragement. To combat this, we often try to turn the entire cloud silver instead of just looking for the silver lining. While it is important to keep thinking positively, forcing yourself to look for something positive in every situation by ignoring reality can actually be detrimental not only to your mental health but to your faith.
The new term for this kind of thinking is “toxic positivity.” The Washington Post quoted Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in a recent article on toxic positivity: “While cultivating a positive mindset is a powerful coping mechanism, toxic positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative. It results from our tendency to undervalue negative emotional experiences and overvalue positive ones.”
As Christians, it can be tempting to instinctively feel that if we grieve in any way to acknowledge our pain over a situation in our lives, we are dishonoring God or not exhibiting faith. We know that all things work together for good for those that love God (Rom. 8:28), but that does not mean that all things are good.
While 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 exhorts, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,” this does not mean we can’t acknowledge if a situation is bad. It means that we are still to be thankful for God, His love and His mercy despite what goes on around us. We can be thankful that He’ll use the situation for good, even if the situation itself – a cancer diagnosis, a natural disaster or a global pandemic – is not good.
It’s okay to not be okay. We should grieve the effects of sin in our lives. We can mourn the pain of the chastening of God while still acknowledging His goodness. The entire book of Lamentations is the outpouring of grief after Israel is punished for turning against God. Instead of suppressing emotions with toxic positivity that insists we be happy about everything, we should value our grief, anger and pain because we know God will turn our weeping into joy (John 16:20).
While we grieve, we do not despair, so that we can say, “This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lam. 3:21-26)