Finding God's Winning Spirit

"Starving Kids in China" Psychology

June 10, 2014 | Greg Smith | Focus


To my mother's dismay her attempt to make me eat my steamed carrots by telling me kids were starving in China just didn't work on me. I assume she was going for feelings of gratitude, thankfulness and the appreciation for all my blessings. All I can remember feeling was shame and guilt for having food (and frustration that she kept cooking carrots when she knew I hated them). That said, I really should not be too hard on mom here since I tried this on my own kids a time or two (with similar results by the way).

The reality here is that most of us cannot learn to appreciate what we have by being told what others lack. Being positive or feeling blessed will never come, or at least be sustained, by focusing on the hardships of the less fortunate. Our contentment, joy and positive feelings in life will never rise out of the personal disaster or calamity of others. A mother who loses a child at birth will never be consoled by being told that she has three other children at home or that there are other women who cannot get pregnant at all. No one who is demoted in their job feels better knowing that there are others who are unemployed. A solider returning home after losing a leg is not going to get much comfort from knowing some never come home at all.

I bring this up because a few months ago I attended a continuing education seminar on “positive psychology”. Basically this body of material was encouraging therapists to fight depression, anxiety and other emotional problems by teaching clients to reframe their lives in positive terms. We were being told that by training our depressed clients to be optimistic, grateful, or happy that they could overcome their depression and negativity. The premise here was that once clients acknowledged all the things they should be thankful for they would become encouraged, positive and energized (you can see why starving kids in China came to mind)!

Thinking that I can talk someone into feeling less depressed by telling them to focus on the good sounds a little patronizing to me –and probably will get me fired. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with trying to see the brighter side of life or trying to keep things in perspective, but “positive self-talk” alone is not going to cure depression.

Quite frankly I think it is rude and/or insensitive to try to convince a client who is struggling with loss, anxiety, or depression that he or she is really blessed so “cheer up”. That is like telling the starving child in South Africa to not worry about food and focus on the fact the weather is good.  The next time someone tells you they are depressed and can hardly get out of bed just tell them to go to the gym every morning – see what response you get! As clinicians we are going to need more tools than this.

This is the advantage of theology over psychology. Psychology is limited by man’s fallen nature and the lack of our ability to perform above this brokenness. This is like telling the starving child in China to make a sandwich. The good news of the New Testament is that we do not have to do everything on our own.  Through our Christian faith we know that God is with us and for us. He is not only invested in our life He cares about the quality of that life (He has even promised to provide the sandwich).

I firmly believe that we all should live positive, optimistic and grateful lives but this will only work long-term by tapping into the source of such attitudes and feelings. I think the only way to truly live with a constant feeling of “being blessed” comes from God and the knowledge that He is there for us and has our eternal backs. It is the difference between telling ourselves that something is true and knowing that it is true. It is the difference between being told how to feel and really feeling it.

The point here is we cannot conjure up hope and the ability to overcome the trials and tribulations of this world alone. We were never supposed to be literally on our own anyway but were originally connected to God – made in his image. Our disconnection was our doing. We need to once again return to Him to acquire our winning spirit.

It is only with God’s help that in the midst of depression we can see and find the hope, power and courage that allows us to say, “I am going to the gym”.

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