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Swimming Upstream

by: Shannon Cook

This is a noisy time in culture and so much of the noise is negativity. Disagreements and complaints around every turn and if you’re like me, it’s easy to absorb all of it. If you spend time around kids, they absorb it too and at the beginning of the school year, they need some positivity. Staying positive doen’t mean shirking responsibility or lying to yourself. It means looking at the whole picture and choosing to focus on the things that are good. We weren’t made to carry all the negativity around us, so let’s choose to put it down. It’s going to be tough and it’ll takes practice. And remember, just because I’m writing about this doesn’t mean I have it figured out. Trust me. I get pulled into negativity as much as everyone else. But I know there are a few things that can really help us stay positive.


Avoid Toxic Complainers

You know who these people are. Maybe it’s a co-worker, family member, or even a friend. Time with them feels like someone’s handing you a pile of rocks when your hands are already full. You leave feeling weighed down and hopeless.

I once worked in an environment so steeped in negativity, I was like a salmon swimming up stream waiting to get caught by a bear. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s truly how I felt. Until I was out of that situation, I didn’t realize how much I had adjusted to it. The constant complaining and pessimism had become the norm.

There are times when you can’t avoid these people. I couldn’t avoid my work situation, but you don’t have to give them so much of your time and energy. Don’t allow toxic complainers to control the atmosphere. If they are going to go negative, just point out the other side. I remember a neighbor complaining about a family she didn’t think did enough yard work. I pointed out that they were new to the neighborhood and didn’t speak English very well. Maybe they were just getting adjusted or maybe they didn’t value the same things as the rest of the nieghborhood. That one comment signaled to her that I wasn’t going to be her neighborhood gossip buddy and we’ve had wonderful, positive conversations ever since.

If you must be around toxic complainers, try to schedule time with positive people to outweigh or at least counter the time with the negativity. I said before I didn’t realize how toxic my environment was until I was out of it. Spend some time with someone who is hopeful now and again to keep you grounded.


Weigh Your Words

Words matter. Not just to the people you speak to, but to yourself. Sometimes staying positive means just keeping unnecessary (negative) words to yourself. This is something I’m always forgetting. When things don’t go my way, I sling arrows at those closest to me. Instead of using words to build others up, I tear them down. And what about the words we don’t say? I don’t want to sound like the old Saturday Night Live sketch, but “You’re good enough, smart enough, and gosh-darn-it, people like you.” I learned from a therapist friend how much our self-talk (the stuff we say in our head) can hinder our mood and our day. She says, “Don’t say things to yourself that you’d never say to someone else.” In other words, be kind to yourself. Even in your thoughts.

One of my family’s favorite books is No Talking by Andrew Clements. It takes place in a school where the entire fifth grade has a contest to see who can say the fewest number of words. In order to not get in trouble at school, they allow themselves a three word answer when a teacher asks them a question. We recently listened to this book on a trip and we tried only saying three words at a time. As you can imagine, it was really difficult. We found that we weren’t wasting words on anything and we were reminded of just how many words we use that aren’t necessary -many of them complaints or bickering.

By simply weighing our words, we became aware of what we said instead of just filling the silence with whatever comes out of our mouths.


Find the Funny

In most situations, there is something that’s a little funny. Finding places to laugh is actually the best medicine. (It’s cliche because it’s true.) I still remember the very few funny things that happened in the wake of the deadly tornado that killed my husband’s parents. I could count the funny on two fingers, but they kept us going.

A few nights ago, we went to Anna’s school to meet her teachers. I decided to park a few blocks away at Ryan’s office so we didn’t have to deal with the crowded parking lot. We patted ourselves on the back for our great thinking as we saw how packed the school was. It began to sprinkle as we left the building and we agreed that it felt great on such a hot day. Suddenly, we heard a crash of thunder and the only way to describe what happened is…the heavens opened. In minutes, the streets were beginning to flood. I was afraid the wind was going to sweep my littlest boy off the ground. The few blocks we had walked in the sunshine didn’t feel like much, but in the storm I kept thinking we had gone to far. When we finally got in the car, dripping and shivering, all we could do was belly laugh. It was so funny to us. We were soaked. Our new van was soaked. We all needed to go home and take showers. But in that moment, it was just plain funny.

You may be thinking, there’s nothing funny in my situation. And I promise I don’t mean to minimize your pain, but there is always something funny if you’re willing to find it. Don’t feel guilty about laughing when you’re going through something. It’s not irreverent or rude, it’s a part of your preservation and it’ll help you stay positive.


Remember What’s True

If you’re not a Christian but you choose to engage my blog, this may be the time where you click away or roll your eyes. But please stay with me. I do try to make decision based on what the Bible says, and I believe it has a lot to say on this. You’ve heard people say, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Maybe you were forced to memorize it as a kid or maybe it was cross-stitched on a pillow at your Grandma’s house. People often use this verse to say, “Get over it. Life is hard. You should be happy.” But that sort of sentiment misses the point. This Psalm was probably written by Kind David, though he does not identify himself in it. David wasn’t afraid to take things to God. He told God when he was angry, when he was scared, when he didn’t feel God’s presence. David didn’t shy away from anything in his relationship with God. But he did revere God. In this Psalm, he’s reminding himself of the character of God. His promise to love David forever.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let the house of Aaron say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let those who fear the Lord say,

“His steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 118:1-4

Tucked away in this Psalm about the goodness and faithfulness of God, is verse 24:

“This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

God, whose love endures forever. Who is just and faithful, powerful, and for us made this day. He’s not surprised by anything that happened today and we can rejoice (stay positive) because He’s with us and for us. If that doesn’t give you comfort, I don’t know what will. This isn’t a verse to shut people up, it’s a balm for those who need to know that God is in control. Often, that person is me.

Staying positive isn’t a one and done thing. It’s a choice we make hundreds (even thousands) of times a day. But, ultimately, we will feel free and hopeful instead of weighed down and depressed. And maybe, just maybe, the people around us will feel that way too.




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