Here’s one thing that happened when I snapped around quickly to look at the ideas trailing me…
I am, as you may know, a long-time steady consumer of personal development literature. Given the time I’ve spent and my own habits of mind, I’m quite the personal-development gourmet…suspicious of “three easy steps,” intrigued by “As Crossan and Tillich’s research* indicates…”. But I’ll nibble on nearly anything for a couple of bites.
One frequent theme is “positive thinking,” commonly expressed the way The Little Engine That Could does: “I think I can, I think I can!” and at last the Little Engine is at the top of the hill. Everyone celebrates; we all bring the moral home with us for our swag; we stare into the mirror and forcefully repeat our intentions.
I actually did this talking-to-the-mirror during my therapy, with scripts provided by my therapist. Cognitive-behavioral stuff—and it really did work, my feeling like an awkward idiot notwithstanding. I found it interesting that I didn’t have to believe what I was saying, and yet action yielded outcome.
I assume it’s results like mine which have made positive thinking an article of US secular faith.
So what happens when this secular faith-practice collides with Christian habits of thanksgiving for God’s providings?
Have we taken positive thinking, slapped a #blessed sticker on it, and called it prayer?
Some things I know:
- My positive thinking project addressed my thoughts about me. Super meta, sure, but also firmly in the arena where I personally could make changes. I can change my mental tone when I think of myself, so that I think of myself kindly. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure thinking “I want more cash!” leads nowhere. At best.
- Data indicates that God does not react to prayer in the way a vending machine reacts to coin+button-pressing. While Jesus encourages us that our prayers are heard and answered (Matthew 7:7), we each know of times when the asking was not answered in the desired way. After all, if our prayer automatically resulted in God delivering that thing, we would be controlling God. I’m pretty sure that’s not how God set things up.
- I voice a lot of little thank-yous for the tiny things in the day that smooth my way or make me smile. And while they’re a kind of blessing, I don’t think they’re hashtag-worthy. Or of value to point out to anyone. Their greatest benefit, I think, is keeping my thoughts framed around blessings, so that blessings are easier to notice. Which reminds me I’m God’s child as I’m moving along.
And maybe that’s the place where positive-thinking Christians appropriately end up. Not with magical thinking that says, “I can will this into happening!” but thinking framed around God’s intentions, including God’s little gifts.
…still, I wonder whether positive thinking’s action in non-belief has a counterpart in Christian prayer life. Maybe I’ll end up in a class where I can figure this out for a grade. Ha!
*Bonus point if you recognize one of the names; double if you recognize two; squared if you noticed that those are theologians, and not social science researchers. No fussing. You already knew I had an odd sense of humor.