Don’t Poison Yourself With Faultfinding

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     Once upon a time, there was an old woman who lived only for being surly and disagreeable and impossible to please. Her stepdaughter, who lived with her and kept the house, bore the worst of it; no matter how hard she worked, it was never good enough. Eventually, though, the girl attracted the sympathy of a fairy godmother, who began coming secretly each day and using magic to accomplish the chores, so flawlessly that even the crabby stepmother could find nothing to criticize.
     This only annoyed the stepmother, who felt cheated of opportunities to engage in her favorite sport of complaining. So each day, she demanded more work than the day before, until finally she came up with an assignment she was certain would be impossible: “I’m tired of living in this shack. When I get home this evening, I want to find a castle in its place!” Which, sure enough, was exactly what happened.
     The old woman was furious, and determined that this time she would find something to make a scene over, if only a hairline crack in a wall. So she began an inch-by-inch inspection, starting with the top floor. But as she bent to check the top step of the staircase, she stumbled, plummeted down the stairs, and broke her neck. The stepdaughter kept the castle, and lived happily ever after.
     The faultfinding habit is always self-destructive, sometimes as dramatically as in the story. It makes the news every now and then: somebody collapsed with a coronary while screaming at the customer service clerk, somebody smashed into a truck while yelling out the window at another driver. And who can forget the Israelites in the wilderness, whose habitual grumbling brought down the literal wrath of Heaven more than once?
     It’s true that some of us are predisposed to notice imperfections—and that’s not wrong in itself, if the next step is to take an active role in improving the situation. But the dedicated complainer would much rather disclaim personal responsibility, and just growl at God or the world for not “fixing things” right now. Before long, this behavior reaps a bad habit, which, in turn, reaps a bitter harvest of digestive upset, high blood pressure, spoiled relationships—and, yes, sometimes dramatically violent disaster.
     And if grumbling on reflex is foolish, actively seeking excuses to grumble is positive proof of a fool. Why would anyone do that—search for unhappiness as for hidden treasure? Because it flatters our pride, allowing us to feel like official inspectors appointed to tell the world how to organize itself, and to punish the world if it ignores our orders. But ultimately, though we may succeed in making others miserable for a season, the ones we punish are ourselves.
     If you’re already in the grumbling habit, or if you’re at high risk due to depression or other emotional sensitivities, gratitude is the best medicine. Start by reserving ten minutes a day to make a list of the good things in your life—be very specific—and to thank God for each one. Search out blessings with the same diligence you’re tempted to waste in searching for negatives. Keep that up for two weeks, and see how it becomes easier and more natural—and how much more fun it is than finding fault!
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Faith in the Face of Failure

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“I just know I’m going to blow this job interview.”

“Why can’t you think positive?”

“I am. I’m positive I’m going to blow this job interview!”

One thing about expecting the worst: it ensures all the surprises in your life will be positive ones. Not that positive, though, because you’ll still see them as temporary exceptions in an overall miserable life.

Which is worse: the chronic ache of misery, or intermittent sharp pains of disappointment? You have to accept at least one.

When Bad Things Happen to Positive Thinkers

There are people who dispute the above statement. If you just have enough faith, they say, if you really believe things will work out a certain way, you’ll never be disappointed. If you pray for healing and the sickness ends in death; if you count on a sunny day and a blizzard blows in; if you were sure your team would win the World Series and they finish a close second–it’s your own fault for not praying/believing well enough.

Faith and positive thinking do work as general principles, but they aren’t no-exceptions guarantees. Aside from often making God a pawn in a war of human wills (what happens if both sports teams have people unshakably convinced in their favor?), the idea that “bad things never happen to positive thinkers” has led a lot of people to give up on God, themselves, or both. Many have cried out, “God lied to me!” when expectation based on human reason was the real liar. Many others have stopped praying because they consider themselves incompetent–“I tried my best, but I couldn’t make it work.”

It’s Not That Simple

People with a “prayer doesn’t work” attitude cheat themselves of the other blessings of prayer–help clarifying their needs, a closer relationship with God, a clearer view of eternity, growth in character–by making it all about “getting what I want.” Do you know people who never heard “No” to anything they demanded as children? What sort of company do they make? Crabby, self-centered, and impossible to please, right? And less than respectful to the parents who tried so hard to protect them from disappointment and are now wishing they had it to do over.

Should we be surprised that an all-wise God doesn’t always express His love by “cooperating” with our desires? Did we really ask Him for His input to begin with–did we ever stop thinking of what we wanted, and completely yield to His wisdom regardless of the outcome?

Keep the Faith in Positive Thinking

All that said, there’s an opposite-extreme danger: being afraid to believe for anything specific until we’re absolutely 100 percent positive God will grant it. Which usually ends in getting nowhere, standing indefinitely on the banks of the Jordan where God has said, “Step forward,” and we keep protesting, “I’m just not sure; can’t You turn off the river first?” Remember, faith is being sure of what we don’t yet see, and it takes faith to please God.

Don’t be afraid to believe in your dreams; God often puts them in you to accomplish His purposes. Just remember that:

  • If you believe for something and don’t get it, God may not be saying “No,” but “Keep your hope up, it’s on its way.”
  • You can only hear God’s guidance clearly when you accept that it may take adjustments, course corrections, and sacrifices to reach His best.
  • The best things to believe for are the big things: your life’s calling, human relationships, the good of the world, the winning of souls.

Keep the faith!

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  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See for copyright details.
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