Thursday, 14 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 26: The power of positive

The power of positive thinking has always fascinated me. Are there some people who are just wired up for positivity, while others seem negative about life in general? The psychologist and family therapist, Robin Skinner, says you can tell in someone's face whether they are facing life with positivity or negativity because the tiny inflections of the face, of the eyes and brow and mouth, can eventually settle into a physical pattern so that smilers can be seen almost to be smiling at rest, while frowners, over time, can't get rid of that fierce or troubled look.

Actual in-flight smile air bound for Corfu.
See what I mean?
I may be praying here too.
Books on stress and anxiety suggest that you can actually raise your mood if you smile during a stressful experience, despite feeling like it's the last thing on earth you want to do, because the physical act of smiling, even whilst scared, releases endorphins or feel good hormones into the blood, thus lessening anxiety and lifting your mood. This is why, if you are unfortunate enough ever to share a plane journey with me, you will observe me smiling in a most unnatural, goon-like but I hope, effective, manner.

If it's possible to affect one's mood by smiling and thinking positive thoughts, perhaps its the same for the way we view church life. There are ways and ways of perceiving ministry: one day the emails can seem encouraging; the people we see are drawing near to God in good times and bad; the admin pile is a doddle to get through. On other days, the same set of circumstances can appear draining and difficult. What makes the difference? 

Ignatian reflection encourages an attention to what blesses us and what drains energy from us. It's much more subtle than 'work is hassle; free time is renewing'. You can be blessed in your work and drained by 'boredom' at rest or by entertainment overload. It's about recognising that God's will for us is blessing; not all good times and no suffering; but blessing. And we need to move in the general direction of the things in which we're individually designed to flourish. I will never be blessed by studying church law or accounts; but some will.

Widely regarded as a bit grumpy...
Positive ministry is not ministry devoid of sadness or difficulty - I would expect a funeral to be a 'positive' experience, if there is rapport with the relatives and a sense of God's presence in the preparation and execution (if there are too many funerals in one week and a sense that one is rushed and cannot do a good job, that's different). 

Positive ministry is one where encouragement abounds due to a sense of gratitude for all we experience, which is pure gift. Not everything hangs on me: I believe in collaborative ministry and that the buck stops with God. It is gratitude and the sense that it is not all about me that provokes positivity and a sense of well-being. To meet a negative person (or worse, cleric) is to see one for whom the stresses and strains of ministry have sucked all the spark out of life. This is not God's purpose for us, nor is it a great picture to present to the world.


  1. It has helpfully been pointed out to me that using the word 'execution' in relation to taking a funeral was not such a great choice...

  2. Your comment made me laugh! This is a really helpful piece and food for thought. Pippa x