For several decades the field of positive psychology has flourished. With a broad focus, this relatively new area of study explores such topics as resiliency, how to thrive as a person, how to be happy, how to confront helplessness, how to overcome, well being, optimism, and mental and physical health, to name just a few. Positive psychology is not at all about hedonism. Quite the contrary and in many ways this new field of study has much to offer people of faith.
Two researches, Santos and Gendler, have explored causes of human behavior. While certainly countless people have looked at such causes for a long long time, their approach has been a bit unique. They came up with the idea of the GI Joe Fallacy. In the 1980’s the cartoon GI Joe was popular. At the end of each show there was a message to viewers. The goal was to offer people useful life tips. When the message concluded, there was another that said, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”
Taking this idea, Santos and Gendler set out to explore how powerful knowledge alone is in affecting behavior and decision making. Here is one thing they write about the findings in this research area.
“The lesson of much contemporary research in judgment and decision-making is that knowledge— at least in the form of our consciously accessible representation of a situation—is rarely the central factor controlling our behavior. The real power of online behavioral control comes not from knowledge, but from things like situation selection, habit formation, and emotion regulation. This is a lesson that therapy has taken to heart, but one that “pure science” continues to neglect.”
Simply stated, simply knowing something does not necessarily change attitudes, ways of thinking or the actions we take. And it is here, I believe, this scientific field has much to offer people of faith. Knowing about God. Knowing the stories of Jesus. Knowing about the cross and resurrection. Knowing that God is love and love is the bottom line. Knowing any of these things alone does not mean we live differently or make different choices based on this knowledge.
What is far more important are the choices we make, the habits we intentionally form, the actions we practice, and the thoughts we allow to inform our lives. While there is much more to this whole idea, the key take away for me is that simply knowing about Jesus and knowing what Jesus expects, alone will have little if any impact on how I live and the choices I make.
Our faith life is not a head game or about head knowledge or about knowing the right thing, it all comes down to how we choose to live, think, act, and react and to what extent such things are in alignment with our faith. The good news is that God has given us free will be be able to make such choices.
I love Australia and Australians so I was particularly delighted recently to encounter so many folks from Down Under here skiing. While there are many world class and gifted Australian skiers, others who were visiting looked more like kangaroos hopping across desert sands.
A few days ago I was at the top of Snowmass standing in line to go up the Poma platter lift. I was surrounded by a group of gregarious and fun-loving Australians. I joined them in laughter and joking. Some of them had never been on a platter lift so, needless to say, person after person grabbed the pole and – instead of standing – attempted to sit down, resulting in roll-over tumbles. Despite the growing line, even locals found the scene to be entertaining.
When I finally was able to head up the mountain, I thought of how much easier the platter lift makes it to ascend to the top of the mountain. I for one know I would be winded if I had to climb to the top. In some ways my experience on the Poma that day is a great metaphor for God.
Like a platter lift, when we have steep ascents in life ahead of us, if we hold onto God, I believe challenges are much easier to endure. When we grab onto God instead of trying to do it on our own, I believe we often discover greater peace, more strength and greater staying power. But like a novice skier on a platter lift who tries too hard to control things, we’ll often find ourselves tumbling this way and that if we try to control God instead of letting God take the lead.
I wish my new Australian friends a joyous time here and I pray that each of us, regardless of which continent we call home, will invite God to help us make it up whatever mountain we have ahead.
I know that countless people join me in being grateful for a great snow season thus far. Not only does snow bring joy, excitement and adventure into many lives from all over the world, but it means employment, successful businesses, food on the table and healthy rivers and habitats later this year.
Like many who live in the Roaring Fork Valley we are blessed to have a dog. Our four legged companion is a Bouvier named Osa (feminine Spanish word for bear). Osa thrives on being outside and the more room to explore the happier she is. What has fascinated me for a long time is that she, along with other dogs in the neighborhood, is most content and pleased during the winter months.
While I know many of us are thrilled when there is a lot of snow due to what snow enables us to do outside, I remain a bit perplexed by Osa and some of her canine friends. Osa, like other area dogs, seems happiest when she is able to bury herself in a big snowbank or is allowed to sit outside on a snow pile for hours on end simply watching life go by. She rarely appears to be cold and is generally frustrated when we ask her to come back inside. That said, I have noticed there are particular times in which she is thrilled to come home.
I don’t know what you call it, but Osa, like other dogs, collects massive balls of snow on her legs especially when she runs around. There are moments when she must be carrying pounds of snow and I am surprised she is able to walk under the weight of it all. When this happens, Osa is pleased to come in the door and thaw.
After recently taking the picture of Osa in this e-letter, I thought of something. It hit me that there have been hours, days, or even sustained periods of time in my life in which I actually felt like Osa. Not weighed down by snow and ice on my body, but under the weight of challenges, problems and heartaches. That for all of us, there are passages in which we collect things that seem to hang on to us and cling to our hearts and minds.
The good news for Osa is when she comes into the house, the snow and ice on her legs quickly melts, at which point she joyfully rests and takes a long nap. And I wonder if, when we are carrying loads that tire us out, if God invites us to go inside of ourselves and intentionally take some time and spend time with God. Actually I don’t wonder, I believe this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and I will give you rest.”
I pray for each of us that we will find joy, excitement and adventure regardless of the climate conditions we find ourselves within. But I also pray that when we feel heavy, we will remember the story of Osa and, more importantly, what Jesus continues to say to us each and every day, “I will give you rest.”
This time of year many churches around the world have someone read from the 1st Chapter of John’s Gospel. As we start a new year, the words in the early verses are wonderful to reflect upon. Here are some excerpts.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here we learn that God speaks, that all things are made through God, that God cannot be overcome by what is wrong and that God’s word became flesh, Jesus. This is not only a reminder that God came among us as Jesus, but that words, God’s and even ours, have a physical impact. Words are potent and they affect reality and the everyday experience of people worldwide. As such, we each enjoy the God given gift of words. Words which we can choose to use for or against the love of God.
A friend of mine recently said he heard someone say that when God spoke and God’s word became flesh in Jesus, God’s words were the most eloquent ever spoken. As I reflect upon Jesus’ life, indeed his words were eloquent, powerful, meaningful, forceful, healing and enlightening.
For some reason when I was thinking about Jesus’ eloquence, the phrase “The Eloquence in the Room,” came to mind. Obviously a takeoff on the concept of the elephant in the room. But as I thought about this more, I realized that the phrase “The Eloquence in the Room” is actually more than something silly and trite. In fact it is a reminder that if we pay attention, Jesus, the penultimate expression of eloquence, is indeed right in front of us, in every situation, in the midst of all, whether or not we notice or acknowledge His presence. I find this to be very good news indeed that I need to remember.
Eloquence, Jesus, is a continual presence in my life and in yours and what great news to carry along with us as we enter a new year. It is my prayer that each of us will notice the eloquence in the room more and more each and every day in the midst of whatever is happening as we enter 2019. Happy New Year and prayers for a joy-filled and blessed year ahead.