Some of the hardest personalities I work with as a hospice chaplain are the ones who are bitter. These individuals carry heavy hearts burdened with loss, betrayal, hardship, and abuse.
Their conversations are always filled with negative comments, mistrust, dark thinking, and hatred. Isolation is typical; forgiveness, rare.
Often, I don’t even make it across their threshold. One mention of “spiritual” and my services are quickly declined. In too many cases, I represent the God who left them hurting in the first place.
Others allow me in, identify as people of faith, but speak in such a way that the God, Higher Power, or guru they claim as theirs might not recognize them as followers.
And they can’t just stop the “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
I counsel individuals who have lived through decades and decades of disappointment and despair.
It is extremely difficult for them to trust and to see that goodness and kind-hearted people really exist.
But I do firmly believe that one’s attitude about life is the palette from which her or his world is painted. Dark imaginings tend to produce dark realities. If I am convinced that my day will be crappy, chances are…my day is going to be crappy.
If I assume that everyone I meet will belittle, cheat, or regurgitate their ugliness upon me…I’m fairly sure that any words or actions of another will be interpreted as such.
As I vigilantly stay on the look out for every bleak signs that I was right about this dark world, I sadly miss out on that small blessing that just passed me by: the clerk who genuinely complimented me on my outfit, the small child who smiled sweetly, the individual who helped me for no other reason but to be kind.
The kindness, goodness, and magic of the world sometimes have to be diligently sought after.
When my children were younger, I began creating bingo cards (5 x 5 square grid—the center one FREE of course!) to keep them entertained on long trips. It was a treasure hunt, seeking out the ordinary and the ridiculous such as donkeys, rainbows, rock stars and unicorns.
Never seen a unicorn on a family trip before? Well, they exist. They come on key chains and bumper stickers and little children’s t-shirts. We were looking for a clown once and found it at a rest stop in the intricate design of a man’s tattoo.
Even the most obvious, when we are not consciously seeking, can pass us by.
On a recent trip, as part of my own bingo challenge I decided—the hospice chaplain that I am—to find the Grim Reaper. Impossible you say? That’s what I assumed. But, after 12 hours on the road, with an hour left to go, there he was on a billboard—the Grim Reaper, himself, persuading folks to not drink and drive. I was so ecstatic to find him!
But honestly, after that many hours of driving, had I not been seeking Grim, I would have blown right by him and his important message against driving drunk.
And what about you?
How do you see the world? What shades of color are on your painter’s palette? What are you expecting to find on your bingo card of life?
The Apostle Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians (4:8-9), “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 of heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.“(NIV).**
Perhaps stinkin’ thinkin’ can’t ever be fully eliminated. Life, after all, can suck. But let us strive every day to keep that which is excellent and praiseworthy on our lips, in our hearts, and on the forefront our minds.
And when we do, I promise we will discover life to be more sweet than bitter.
**I also like this same scripture as found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.