There’s a common piece of advice that is often given to us by well-meaning people. People who just don’t want to see us swallow down bitter resentment that leaves a sour after-taste in our mouths.
Don’t feed off of the negativity.
Typically, I give that advice as much as I take it (when I do take the advice of others). But then someone offered a unique perspective: maybe we can feed off the negativity and turn it into something positive? Maybe that negativity is a gift? A sampling of a new flavor we just haven’t acquired the taste for.
What if, when we feed off of the negativity, we started with teensy-tiny bites? And then, we chew on that negativity, slowly. What if while we are chewing on that negativity, we bite down on the bitter shell and release a flavor that is a little more palatable for consumption?
Consider the possibility that there are some instances in which feeding off of the negativity can still provide a form of nourishment for our souls.
How was Jesus able to take the insults and challenges and respond to such attempts to trip him up with such grace? He would take their heaping helpings of contempt, outrage, anger, and hatred, chew on it, and then respond with confidence and humility, seasoned with love.
Bestselling author of The Shack, Paul William Young, once said during an interview, that “everyone is already forgiven.” He went on to say that, “If Luther and Calvin were right in declaring that forgiveness precedes confession and repentance, then it would mean that forgiveness also precedes belief.”
I would assume that Jesus knew something similar. Perhaps keeping that sentiment at the forefront of your awareness is the key to taking other people’s salty, yet bitter negativity, and asking for seconds. Perhaps, that which we perceive as negativity is presented to us in such a way that we can learn to forgive it before we have been given an apology or another reason to offer forgiveness.
Forgiveness is freely given by God, and in turn, we are to try to duplicate that kind of extension of grace. That’s a gift.
What do I mean by that?
As I have written before, while the idea that “everything is a gift” is still hard for me to swallow down, but, if paired with the idea that negativity can nourish us, I have to consider the two in relation to my own fears.
I fear that receiving all things as a gift might somehow mean that I enjoy these things. Or that I manifested these things to happen. What things? Well, if all things are a gift, that means all the good and the bad are gifts. That means all life as well as death are gifts. That means that gain as well as loss, are a gift. Even if the bad, the death, and the loss cause me pain and suffering. Which means that suffering is a gift.
Part of the path of transformation includes expanding our boundaries. Expanding our boundaries includes how we view things that we would typically classify as something to avoid. I understand the desire to avoid negativity. Truly, I do. But it’s almost an inescapable phenomenon.
So, if I take negativity as a gift, first, it means that I won’t walk away from it. I have heard a lot of people suggest that we should simply cut negativity out of our lives, I have even written about it. But, cutting things out of our lives is the same as rejecting gifts, in many instances.
And before you think that I want this idea taken too literally, please understand that I don’t mean that if you are (or have been) a victim of violence or abuse, that I am suggesting that you take that, or any form of direct assault on you, as a gift that you happily embrace.
Of course, such an example is another contribution to the list of the reasons why I still struggle with this idea that everything is a gift.
But context matters, doesn’t it? Which means, in the context that someone is hurling negativity my way, I figure out a way to respond to that negativity in a way that transgresses it.
Peel Back the Layers of Pain
I’d start by peeling back the layers. What’s underneath the negativity? Fear? Pain? Trauma from a previous relationship? Can I relate to that? Of course I can. We can all relate to fear, pain and trauma. We have all experienced these things and more.
If it’s fear, is it fear of scarcity? The fear of scarcity is one of the most primitive feelings a human can feel. What could be taken? What could be lost? What will there not be enough of if that fear becomes reality?
Is it pain? Is the negativity coming from a wound that hasn’t healed? How can I help heal that wound instead of focusing on the less than favorable negative presentation?
Is it trauma? Is there something that occurred between our interaction that triggered an emotional experience from the past that is still bruised? How can we alleviate that tender spot?
If we are willing to take a negative experience and turn it into a positive experience, we essentially expand not only our own experience, but the experience of other. And, isn’t that what adding to others is meant to deliver- an expansion of experience?