Those are some pretty powerful words to utter, especially from a man who has over 2 million followers on Twitter.
But I respectfully and passionately disagree.
It is so easy to demand positivity from today’s world, and so much harder to reconcile those demands with honesty and vulnerability, which is almost always grouped as ‘negativity.’
Our world is full of catch phrases that demand positivity, but don’t actually foster it. If anything, they condemn the suffering, the wounded; the ones who are simply at the end of their rope. Nowhere in the gospel did Jesus demand of his followers “Come to me all ye positively minded, and I will give you rest.” So it seems ludicrous to me that this is expected of his followers. (Jesus’, not Joel Osteen’s.)
In fact, it seems to me that the more I study Jesus’ teachings, and his own life, the more I see that Jesus was a man well acquainted with sorrow, an honest man who felt in extremes, and did not apologize for his emotions.
“He was despised and rejected by others, and a man of sorrows, intimately familiar with suffering; and like one from whom people hide their faces; and we despised him and did not value him.” – Isaiah 53:3
Wait, let’s back up a bit.
“We despised him and did not value him.”?
Sort of like we do with people society deems ‘negative’?
Some of the bible’s greatest heroes are famous for their verbal struggles. There is an entire book of the bible dedicated to the ups and downs of the journey of King David. David uses phrases such as “All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me” and pleads with God not to forsake him.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.” Psalm 22:1
In fact, when David wrote these words, he probably had no idea that they would one day be quoted by Jesus himself as he hung on the cross. And yet here we are, demanding those with a perspective other than positivity ‘remain quiet’? I wonder if we stood in front of Christ on the cross as he hung naked, bleeding and dying, alone and afraid, if we would demand he be silent?
It seems to me that the crucial problem is not in the church not being ‘positive’, but more correctly, not being able to distinguish the difference between negativity and suffering. The more and more I hear experiences from those who have left the church, the more and more I recognize the critical importance of allowing people to experience their humanity in all its dimensions. Simply ignoring pain and demanding a person put on a positive façade benefits no one. It simply creates an environment where those suffering are deemed irritating, inconvenient, and are sentenced to suffer in silence and alone.
In my own personal world, I’ve been accused of negativity. And in some cases, it has been true. I’ve needed a swift kick up the rear to get my head back in the game and when a loved one who has walked the journey with me is kind and gentle enough to provide this, I am appreciative. (Although it may take some time for the appreciation to show on my face..) However the older I’ve gotten, and the deeper into my identity in Christ I have gone, the more critical vulnerability and being genuine about my struggles has become in my survival in a brutal world, which Jesus himself suffered as part of.
It’s no secret that I am a glass half empty person, but this is not because I don’t believe in being positive. It is simply because my God paid for a full glass kind of life, and I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who accepts less than the price paid’s worth. This is part of why I write – why I create. I allow myself in my humanness to feel, deeply, painfully, and vulnerably. Because there is a deep and spiritual connection to God that occurs when you’re in the valley that simply can’t be achieved on the mountaintop. I doubt when Jesus was turning over tables in the temple, that he was worried about being positive in his emotions. He saw an injustice, felt emotion and reacted accordingly.
So often I hear Pastors demanding praise from their community and their church, when too often the church is filled with a majority of people desperate to encounter the Jesus that was present in the garden of Gethsemane – “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” – Mark 14:34. I understand there is something to be said of stepping out of your sorrows and lifting up the name of God. It elevates our thinking and points us to God, our saviour. But that does not mean that suffering and sorrow do not have a place in our lives, nor that we should keep quiet if we struggle.
Why? Because human suffering is what Jesus came to end. And experience. It provides us with the need for salvation. It is what makes us human. And ignoring it or demanding its silence does nothing but alienate the very people Jesus is desperate to meet and heal.
I hear you respond that there is a difference between suffering and negativity, and that, my friends, is exactly my point. Sometimes the difference between life and death for some people is simply in acknowledging that pain is real, suffering is real, but that expressing that does not make you weak or negative. That feeling human emotions and expressing them, needing help, needing salvation, is in fact, human. Jesus himself did it. And if it’s good enough for Jesus, well you’ll excuse me for kicking Joel Osteen’s teaching on the matter to the curb.
Demanding positivity from a person suffering is like demanding food from the starving. They do not have it to give. Instead of pointing out the obvious, wouldn’t it be great if we came to them with our reserves and offered them in service of their needs instead of pointing out their inadequacy? Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop treating a life-threatening wound with a bandaid?
In addressing sorrow, in experiencing it head on, Jesus was more equipped to relate to the people he was sent to save. And in the way I receive comfort from a friend who has been through something I am suffering through, so do I take great comfort in knowing that my comforter has been there too.
I will not settle for a glass half empty.
So, with that in mind, I ask you to ask yourself this one thing:
If you were sitting in a restaurant and your waiter brought you the most precious, expensive wine on the market, which someone you lived for had paid for with all they had, would you sit silently? Or would you speak up?
If you would remain silent, maybe it’s time to ask yourself why.