Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Myth of Positive Thinking

I have recently been involved in a personal development coaching programme. In many ways it is very useful, and I have learned a lot from it. It has helped me improve some aspects of my life, especially relationships, self-expression and  confidence.

However, a problem I have with it is that once you get involved you get constant pressure to talk with others about it, invite them to join you and, as they put it, 'enrol' them. I somehow have a problem with this - is it just me? The argument is: 'It's changed your life - don't you want others to be changed by it too?' My answer is 'Yes, but it hasn't changed me so much that I'm just brimming over with the need to talk about it all the time'. I have to make a real effort to 'enrol' someone, and it feels like pressure.

It reminds me of times when I was a young Christian and constantly heard the challenge to 'witness'. I felt guilty for years that I wasn't 'witnessing', but for a long time now I haven't worried about it. From time to time I meet people who are interested in Christianity, or in spirituality in general, and it's just natural to have an open and honest chat with them.

I have come to realise that the problem both with 'enrolling' and 'witnessing' is that one feels expected to be totally positive and upbeat about it. But I'm not like this. When talking with other people about anything, I tend to see both sides. When talking about my faith I share my frustrations about the Church, I understand why people have left it, and I'm honest about my doubts. In fact, the pattern of many of my sermons is to declare what the Bible passage says, then say 'That's all very well, but...', and go on to think about the questions it raises. When talking about the coaching programme I have been taking part in, I can't help sharing my reservations about some aspects of it, and sympathising with people who are put off by it. To be totally positive for the sake of enrolling others or for the sake of 'saving souls' seems to me dishonest and inauthentic.

What has this got to do with the Bible? A lot, actually. It seems to me that the biblical writers are not always upbeat. The Psalmists sometimes doubt whether God hears their prayers. Job can't believe that God rewards the good and inflicts suffering only on the wicked. Ecclesiastes questions whether there is any meaning in life at all. And they're all there in 'God's Word'!

If we believe God speaks to us through the Bible, then it seems God speaks through questions as well as answers, the negative as well as the positive, doubt as well as faith. The main challenge is to face the truth, however inconvenient, unpalatable or complex it may be, and in the long run other people are more inspired by that than by one-sided propaganda.