Toxic Negativity

Toxic Negativity

We are being poisoned every day. 

And what’s worse, is that many of us are poisoning ourselves. 

I don’t mean that we’re sitting around drinking arsenic or antifreeze, and I’m not even thinking about more ordinary poisons like cigarettes or alcohol.  But in many ways, the poison that we are consuming is just as real, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

The poison that I’m talking about is the negativity that surrounds us and seems to beat us down at every turn.  The newspaper and the evening news are filled with bad news, the radio station playing in our cars and office spaces, breaks in every ten or twenty minutes to share still more horror, mayhem, fear, and death.  I’m sure that some of you think that I am exaggerating. But am I?  Even a little bit of poison, the tiniest bit of arsenic or cyanide, taken in small doses, accumulates over time and will eventually kill us or cause irreparable harm.  And I’m convinced that living under a constant bombardment of negativity can do the same thing.

I’m sure that no one’s death certificate is going to say that their cause of death was “negativity,” but I’m equally certain that that this everyday toxic stew contributes to deaths that are listed as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, and other health issues that wear our health down over time.

But what can we do about it?

We don’t control the news and we have no control over the pandemic, so what control do we have? 

And the answer is, more than you think.

I once had a coworker that radiated negativity in the way that Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen is surrounded by a cloud of dirt.  Any, and every, conversation with her became a conversation about how terrible life was.  A fender-bender became a sermon about how the world hated her.  There was never any recognition that she, and her son, were alive and unhurt.  It was all about the expense, the inconvenience, the trauma, and on, and on, and on.  No matter what it was about, after a conversation with her, I would inevitably walk away depressed as if I had somehow contracted her contagion.  She was a nice enough person, but her constant focus on the negative caused people to stay away from her.

My experience with that coworker has always reminded me that we have choices.  We ewget to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

We make our own stew.

The church in Philippi was concerned about Paul, about his health, and about the various imprisonments and other difficulties that he had faced.  And Paul writes back to encourage them, and to remind them not to dwell on the bad news that they had heard.  He said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:8-15)

Paul had been repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, flogged, and driven out of town.  He had every reason to complain.  And yet, he wrote to ask his friends not to do that but instead to be content in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  Rather than focus on our trouble, our pain, or any of the bad news that surrounds us, Paul encourages us to focus on the good things in our lives, things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

I’m not suggesting that we should be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us. It’s important to be informed and know what’s going on, but don’t allow yourself to simmer endlessly in a toxic stew of negativity.

We get to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

Let’s do our best to look for the silver lining, to look for the places where God is at work, look for the blessing, look for the good in every bad situation, and focus on the things that good, pure, noble, and praiseworthy.  Let’s spend more time with people who encourage us, spend more time encouraging others, and less time dwelling on the negativity that wears at our souls.

We make our own stew.

Let’s make it a good one.


Pastor John

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