I went for a run yesterday at one of my favorite spots with one of my favorite humans. It was hot…so hot. It was hilly…so hilly. The conditions made it a struggle to stay energized so I was being intentional about enjoying being outside in God’s creation. My friend and I are wired very differently and the way that we power through things often looks quite different. We ran by a lake and my friend said, “that water is gross”…I said, “but the lily pads are so pretty. We ran by a bench surrounded by bright pink flowering bushes. I said, “That’s so beautiful”…he said, “It looks like a face full of bees”. Now in all fairness, this human is one of my biggest cheerleaders and one of the best encouragers in my life. I can always count on him to be a voice of reason in pretty much any scenario. It was just humorous to me that the heat and hills had him seeing the glass as half empty and me half full. The truth is we were both right. The water from all the rain we’ve had was gross and full of yuck and yet the lily pads were still so lovely! The bench was peaceful and beautiful, but the giant, fragrant flowers likely do attract many bees. It got me thinking.
When I was growing up I had a poster taped to my closet door. It had a gorgeous ballerina on it and it read, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” I loved that poster and it brought me hope and kept me focused for many years. I’d lie in front of that poster and dream about being a ballerina, the captain of the dance team, and a teacher. And I became all of those things. Of course, each of those things took planning and hard work, discipline and dedication, but I believed that I could accomplish hard things and I did. When it was hard, I focused on the positive and when it was painful, I thought about the reward, always keeping the poster’s mantra in the forefront of my mind. All these years later, with no poster to remind me, and the realities of adult responsibilities taxing my brain, I haven’t given any real thought to this idea in a long long time. But here we are. Was the run any easier for me because I practiced positive thinking? Could I think my way into a good run?
And further more, should I even go down that line of thinking as a person who loves and follows Jesus? After all, we’ve been told time and time again in Christian circles that the self-help culture is misleading and can be dangerous…that we can’t just think good thoughts and all our dreams will come true. But because I believe that this life with Jesus is abundant and that life without Him is not nearly as sweet, and there seems to be something to this whole ‘think it become it’ thing, I think we should investigate this. And there is no better day than today to dig in.
Guess what today is? Yep, National Positive Thinking Day. Never heard of it? Me neither. Apparently it’s been a thing since 2003 when an entrepreneur introduced it as a way to promote all the benefits of positive thinking. If there is a whole day dedicated to it, the benefits must be pretty substantial, right? There are countless studies on the subject.
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking, approaching life's challenges with a positive outlook,is linked to a wide range of health benefits including:
Longer life span
Lower rates of depression
Increased resistance to the common cold
Better stress management and coping skills
Lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related death
Increased physical well-being
Better psychological health
Reduces frailty in old age
They also concluded that people who practiced positive thinking ate more veggies and exercised more. Likely because they believe those things could make a difference in their bodies.
Another study published in the Journal of Research in Personality, examined a group of 90 undergraduate students who were split into two groups. The first group wrote about an intensely positive experience each day for three consecutive days. The second group wrote about a control topic.
Three months later, the students who wrote about positive experiences had better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses. In just 3 short months, people began experiencing the health benefits of positive thinking when they practiced thinking positively.
That’s the science. I love science, but I also understand that pretty much anything can be proven one way or another through science, so I especially love science when it lines up with what scripture says. In this case, the science points to what God has been telling us all along.
God has a whole lot to say about our thinking. All throughout scripture we see evidence of that. Proverbs 23:7 says:
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
So in other words, if you think it and believe it, you will be it! Sounds a lot like my childhood poster, right? I bet you thought Buddha was the first one to say that and then it landed on posters and bumper stickers…nope. God is by no means saying that we become things outside of Him or that we can think things into existence. He is saying our thoughts about our lives and circumstances matter… a lot. Our thoughts affect our attitudes and our attitudes affect how we behave and how we behave affects who we become.
It gets better…
Philippians 4:8 says:
Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy.
As a people who love and follow Jesus we are supposed to focus our minds on good things…beauty and truth. We are supposed to meditate on the honorable, right, and pure things of life…we are encouraged to find the lovely, good, virtuous, and praiseworthy aspects of every circumstance in our day to day because we serve a good Father who wants good things for us! God knows that stinkin’ thinkin’ will hurt us and give the enemy a foothold in our lives, and He knows that focusing on the good will benefit us in all the ways that science says it will.
So on this day carved out to acknowledge positive thinking I encourage you to ponder: Are you a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of a thinker? Either way, you can change the way you think…you can practice focusing on the good things in your circumstances and eventually see things change in your life, but it will take repeated practice.
Henry David Thoreau said, "As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives."
I challenge you this week to practice finding and meditating on the positives in every situation, and then watch as God does immeasurably more than anything you could think, dream, or imagine in your life!
If you don’t remember anything you’ve read, remember this: I love you and I’m glad you’re here.