A friend of mine had been dying for me to meet another friend of hers for some time. A few weeks ago, the planets finally aligned for the three of us—all mothers of multiple small children under five years old—to meet up one evening at a local coffee shop. I was super-excited to make a new acquaintance and to have a little night out.
Our conversation started out as so many “mommy talks” go, with broad, familiar questions like, Where do you live? How many children do you have? How old are they? It wasn’t very long, however, before our conversation took on a slightly negative tone. We giggled as we each tried to one-up each other on whose two-year-old was most like a tornado, whose infant slept the least number of hours in a row, and whose husband was away from home the most. At the end of the evening, I climbed back into my old blue Odyssey feeling like I had done nothing but complain about my life. I knew that I hadn’t fooled anybody with my half-hearted, cliché attempts to stay positive during the evening. (“God gives us all the grace we need, though, right?”)
The fact is, I’m three-babies-four-and-under in to this marriage and motherhood gig, and I’ve got some common as well as not-so-common crosses and challenges in my life right now. Jesus is keeping my head above water, but some days, I just don’t have anything nice to say.
The thing is, we all have times in our lives when we don’t have anything nice to say about where we are at in that moment. At least in a my-cup-runneth-over kind of way. That’s OK. Our cups are not always going to runneth over with joy. As we progress in the spiritual life, though, I think that we naturally begin to learn that beautiful way of being that is abiding joy in Christ. As much as I wish I were there already, I still struggle with negativity sometimes. So, it is with a small measure of experience and a great deal of humility that I submit a few tips for preventing yourself from turning into Negative Nancy when life gets tough.
Remind yourself that negativity is not from God.
Overwhelming feelings of depression, despair, anger, and a host of other bad thoughts and feelings are not coming from your Father who loves you. I have found that praying the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel (defend us in battle!) has been incredibly helpful for me when I’ve been overwhelmed by negative thoughts. Negativity is so often a spiritual battle. I truly am just an ordinary girl here, but I promise you that I have returned to clarity and peace many times after praying this prayer over myself in tough moments.
Also, it helps to remind yourself that God has plans for you, “plans for good and not for woe” (Jeremiah 29:11). Time and time again, I have seen in my own life and in the lives of others that tough times don’t last forever, and that God has blessings, provision, and amazing surprises up his sleeve like you wouldn’t believe. Surrender. Trust. Be patient. In all trials, wait on the Lord in faith.
If you don’t have anything nice to say…have a backup line prepared.
Growing up, I always heard the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” The thing is…saying nothing doesn’t work in a lot of social situations. It’s a given that you will be probably be asked certain questions in certain situations and that will have to respond. How are you doing? Are you adjusting well? How are you and [your spouse]? When you’re doing terribly, adjusting poorly, or you are not at an all-time high of marital bliss, it’s easy to fib and say everything is wonderful, or dish about how awful everything is. I’ve done both. Quite recently, actually.
The tip here is to prepare yourself a little. Expect questions, and plan ahead of time, either generally or more specifically if needed, how you will answer those questions. In a lot of cases, there is nothing remotely silly or artificial in that. In fact, you’ll save yourself and others some awkward moments.
If you are at the bank and the teller asks you how you are (just like every other person she sees that day), a simple, “I’m great, thanks!” is probably fine. At your son’s soccer practice or running into an old friend at the grocery store, though, a backup line is nothing to be ashamed about. For example, if your recent move has actually been incredibly stressful for your marriage, but one blessing you can count is that your kids love their new school, by all means redirect the conversation from yourself and comment about how glad you are that the kids love their new school: “It’s been a little tough, but we are so thrilled that the kids are loving their new school…” You are still sharing of a blessing of your life, with a right heart, and you have also headed off Negative Nancy.
Don’t get me wrong here, this piece of advice is not telling you to put on a happy face and strive for keeping up an illusion of a perfect life. I am not saying that we should ever be “fake” with people we respect and care about. What I am saying is that we need to be prudent and prayerful sometimes about how much we share with certain people. Setting up some reasonable boundaries can be wonderfully healthy and helpful in some seasons of life, rather than either inappropriately over-sharing or being a real fake.
Vent to a friend who won’t let you vent.
Find a friend who is solidly rooted in her faith, who will listen well, but who will gently remind you of what you’re about and how blessed you are. Venting and sharing with the intent of asking for guidance are two different things. Venting isn’t especially helpful or healthy. It tends to exaggerate and demonize people and problems in our lives. Sharing with a right heart, and with someone who has a solid spiritual life and a right heart herself, can be absolutely invaluable.
If you don’t know who to talk to, pray that God would provide that person for you. Women, much more than men, have a real, common need to talk about what we are going through. A spiritual director, Christian counselor, or therapist can also be helpful if you are going through an especially difficult or confusing time in your life. Remember what I said about negativity not being from God? Sometimes a spiritual director or other professional “listener” is exactly what the Heavenly Doctor would prescribe in order to combat Negative Nancy’s root issues.
A thankful heart is a happy heart.
I have to give credit to my very favorite Veggie Tales movie for this one. Thankfulness is a prerequisite for happiness, plain and simple. So, make a list of ten things you are thankful for. Then put the list in your wallet, on your bedside table, or taped to the wall behind the baby’s changing table—wherever you will see it every single day. Feeling inspired? Try listing 100 things you are thankful for. Keep a running list on your refrigerator for you and for your entire family to see. It’s amazing what counting your blessings can do. From “Faith being so stinkin’ adorable when she says the Our Father” to “God provided unexpectedly for us to go on vacation this summer,” there are so many blessings and little joys that God wants us to notice.
Don’t read this post.
Just kidding! But in all seriousness, take a moment and reflect on your reading habits online. What kind of blogs do you read often? Do you spend a lot of time scrolling through other people’s Facebook updates? Think about how you feel when you read about other people’s joys and bad days, their triumphs and their rants about potty training. If you are uplifted and encouraged by what you read online, then by all means, keep on reading. If, like me, you sometimes find that when you read blogs and check Facebook too much that you start feeling a little jealous, a little inadequate, or anything but uplifted and encouraged in your vocation, then it’s time to take a break.
…Except this one’s from you, sweet readers. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite way to combat negativity in yourself, your home, or even in others. I know that so many of you have seen many more days and have changed many more diapers than I, and I’d love to hear from you!
God bless you, God guide you, God give you His peace!
Copyright 2014, Erin Franco