I resolutely pulled the bookmark out of volume, opened the cabinet door that hid the trash can and unceremoniously dumped the book in. I was done. Resolutely I put aside my desire to be pulled into a story so artistically told by an author I love that I have no choice but to flip page after captivating page. This time I simply couldn’t get past the negativity of what I’d read so far; foul language, angry people in destructive relationships deliberately hurting one another. On a mini-vacation myself, I’d picked up the story hoping for a brief escape from that which surrounds me on a daily basis; I didn’t need it to follow me even into what was supposed to be pleasure reading. What surprised me was that I waited so long before giving up. I kept hoping the tale would take a happier tone, but as the plot continued its downward spiral I made the choice not to follow it any longer. There are too many people and situations in my life that need my positive input for me to fill my mind with thoughts from the other end of the emotional spectrum. The same is true for you.
Our outlook on life is our choice, but it is fed by other decisions we make on a daily basis that often seem unrelated: how much we sleep, what we eat, who we hang out with, what we listen to and what we allow our eyes to see. Surprisingly, one of the most important influences is what we allow ourselves to think. I’ve spent the recent months considering how that last item on the list is linked to the first, in other words, the importance of what we think just before we fall asleep.
As a simple example, the local baseball team this summer seemed to display an uncanny ability to suddenly lose a nighttime ball game after leading with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Disgusted and disappointed, a look at the clock tells me it’s time to turn out the lights on more than just the game and go to bed. But is that a good idea? My summertime study said absolutely not, that it would be so much better for me to turn on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show and laugh for fifteen minutes first, maybe read a chapter in a good book (The Book, perhaps?!) or think about something else that makes me happy before closing my eyes on the day.
It’s important to end each day on a positive note. The Bible tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger, a verse we mistakenly limit to marital disharmony, a warning not to go to sleep without making up first after a fight with our spouse. But there is much more to the verse than just that. Our minds dwell on that which we were concentrating when we fall asleep. If we’re upset when we go to bed, our agitated state can give us a restless night, causing us to start the new day tired and grumpy instead of alert and refreshed. But what if the opposite were true, and we closed our eyes deliberately considering the blessings of God which fill our days, or reflecting on the goodness of some person, the beauty of a place, or the happiness associated with an event that just occurred? Surely then our morning cup of coffee would be met with a grin instead of being the necessary prelude to producing one.
The idea expanded. What if we put our interactions with people to rest the same way? Mother Teresa said, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.“
Can you imagine how different our relationships with others would be if we made a deliberate attempt to end each conversation on a positive note, either with a laugh or a smile, an encouraging word, or an expression of love? The key word in that sentence is deliberate. It’s not something that comes naturally to a lot of people, especially when our own lives are troubled with trials and distress. But it can become natural when we put it into practice again and again. And what better way to fight back against the woes of the world than by lightening the load, even momentarily, for somebody else? When our minds are consumed with making others feel better we often find that we do, too, despite our unchanged circumstances. And it could be that an improvement in our mental attitude is the first step in altering the life situations which challenge us.
Finally, it’s important to enter our final rest on a positive note, as well. That can only happen if we’ve settled the issue of where we’ll spend eternity, for surely that is also our choice. Either we accept God’s offer of forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ, and live the rest of our lives in the peaceful assurance of salvation that it brings, or we reject the concept of our need of a savior and spend our final days in fear and dread of what lies ahead.
A woman coming through my check-out lane at the grocery store the other day had among her many groceries a copy of the wonderful best-seller, Heaven is For Real, in which author Todd Burpo shares his young son’s description of a visit to Heaven he experienced while undergoing surgery. She told me that a copy of the book was given to her mother while she was in hospice just before she died, and at that time she had responded angrily over the gift, asking her mother, “Why’d she give you that book? You’re not going anywhere!”
Yet the truth is that we’re all dying. God spends a good portion of the Bible talking about death and encouraging us not to fear it. Perhaps that’s because when our hearts are at peace about the end of our lives, we can take our focus off of our dying and put it on our living, where it belongs. Then dying is just something that happens in the midst of our living out God’s plans for our lives with fervor, joy and love for whatever time we have left.
If you find at any time of the day or night that your thoughts are being pulled in a negative direction, remember that they don’t have to stay there. I like Graham Cooke’s assertion in a sermon I heard one time that you can have a better thought. Trash the old, and simply think again.
“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment… when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet… for the Lord will be your confidence…” (Proverbs 3:21,24,26 NIV)