Toxic Positivity – this was a phrase I hadn’t heard before, but one that was used in a news story last week. It caught me off guard. I never thought that being positive could prove toxic. I don’t know why this phrase captured my attention, but it became a centering thought during some of my devotional time. This led to a number of Google searches. In the article, “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes,” Samara Quintero and Jamie Long define it “as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience”
The more I reflected on this idea, I began to get the point. A positivity that ignores the truth about the situation, the complexity of the problem or the difficult pathway forward can be toxic. We experience this in well-meaning, but completely inappropriate, clichés in times of grief – “Everything will be ok” or “Time heals all wounds.” It’s not that these sentiments are completely false, but they are insensitive to the actual circumstances in the internal and external worlds of the one experiencing loss. Offering such Pollyanna optimism in such a dark time seems highly insensitive and even demeaning, even though the intentions are good.
AND YET …
During my times of contemplation, I wrestled with the difference between toxic positivity and ardent hope. I mean, if God can open a tomb and bring life from death through the power of the resurrection, it’s hard to be completely pessimistic. At times I may be a little cynical about the choices human beings make, but I remain absolutely sold out on God’s redemptive ability. Scripture is filled with stories of God bringing forth good out of evil, life out of death, new futures out of dead ends.
Herein lies the rub. We live in a very troubled world. The pandemic seems to have gained new steam. We are battling the infection of racism. Controversies abound after the recent election. Unemployment and financial hardships are real challenges for many. People are still being diagnosed with diseases. Relationships are strained or broken. Loneliness and isolation have become constant companions to many. AND YET … God is still God. God is still at work in the world. Redemptive grace is still being showered upon us individually and corporately.
It seems that the challenge for all Christian witnesses in general, and pastors specifically, is how to share ardent hope in a way that isn’t toxic positivity. It is a delicate balance between the absolute power of God’s grace and the truth about the hard realities of our present situation. As Christians, we are above all a people of hope. Perhaps it is because of the assurance of hope that enables to name truthfully our circumstances. We walk by faith and not by sight. Even though we do not know how it will work out in the end, we do know that “the end” will be held by God.
I pray that each of you are able to hear, claim and live in the hope of God’s creating, resurrecting and sustaining power. I also pray that you are able to share this good news with others who are ready to give up hope and embrace despair. So I share with you the benediction spoken at every charge conference: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
If you would like to view past editions of Moments with Mike, follow this link: https://corridordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/