The Problem with Positive Thinking

positiveI’m not sold on the power of positive thinking. In fact, when taken to extremes, I reckon it’s positively dangerous.

When someone is sick and doesn’t get better, the last thing they need is someone telling them to fight harder.

Those who recover from, say, cancer and those who don’t, are not separated by whether or not they really ‘battled this thing’. Everyone ‘fights’ – but there are some things that a positive mental attitude cannot defeat. And if you tell someone struggling with depression to cheer up, you may as well punch them in the stomach.

Being told you can’t feel bad, (hey – look on the bright side!), makes suffering harder to bear, not easier. And there are things in life that will be always be sad, no matter how much time passes and no matter how many ways you approach them. But ‘sad’ is not the enemy, any more than ‘positive’ is the solution. It’s just a feeling and it might be completely appropriate and healthy; not something to run from or deny.

Another problem with a naive kind of positive thinking is that real life isn’t simply positive or negative – it’s a mixture of the two.  And where exactly are we placing our hope – in a Lord above, or our faculties within?

There’s a lot to be said for looking hard stuff in the face and naming it as hard. The Bible’s heroes of faith were not in denial about their struggles.They didn’t pretend that suffering and sickness aren’t there. Nonetheless they were heroes of faith. They hoped in God and so do we.

Romans 15 shows us how to face the present and have hope for the future:

v13 says this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

But how do we get there?

Paul speaks realistically of those who will fail us in life (v1).

He acknowledges our need to give of ourselves when we don’t feel like it. (v2)

He testifies to the reality of folks speaking against us –  and tells us that Christ sympathises. (v3)

He points to the Scriptures as our key weapon in the fight for perspective, endurance and hope (v4-5)

He reminds himself of the gospel (v6-12)

and finally…

He prays. Because we don’t have it in us to be hopeful people. But God puts real hope in us by His Spirit.


5 thoughts on “The Problem with Positive Thinking

  1. I can’t. I’m exhausted. I’m 18, I have few friends, I don’t trust others. I feel ugly and overweight and worthless. I burst into tears when I think someone dislikes me. I can’t explain how much I hate myself. Why would God make me so undesirable if He truly loved me? Why aren’t I the skinny white girl that society so craves?

  2. That last point is so important. I’ve just realised (literally just now) that often when I think I’m praying for help, I’m actually just complaining and forget do the actual asking bit. I’ll get agitated and rant about how it’s no use, it’s impossible for me to change because I’ve already tried so many times and failed …
    … and the penny suddenly drops: God KNOWS it’s impossible for me to change myself, but that’s not what he’s asking me to do. He’s just asking me to ask HIM, to depend on his Holy Spirit to work the change instead of relying on my own efforts to do so. And suddenly it seems much simpler.
    As I say, this has fallen into place in my head just now, whilst reading your post – so thank you for writing it.

  3. Reading your opening lines just makes me say ‘THANK GOD! Someone who doesn’t buy into ‘shiny happy people syndrome’.
    I came on here to write a post about hope… and I find myself reading lots of other people’s blogs. Why? Because I can’t find the energy to write about something I can barely feel most of the time.

    Thank you.

    (was WS)

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