Followers of Jesus are supposed to be marked with a righteous hope, a faith that all things will work for good. At the same time, we’re supposed to have a righteous indignation, an anger at the things that offend God. How do we hold both of those things at the same time?
By now, we all know how awful toxic positivity is. I am not going to argue with that. False reassurances are not healthy. Dismissing someone else’s pain with shallow optimism is especially harmful. Sometimes, we Christians have offered simplistic, positive platitudes in response to the grief and injustice in our world. Understandably, those platitudes do not ring true; they do not feel like an authentic response to suffering.
At the same time, negativity is also toxic. Our minds and bodies are not designed to withstand a steady stream of bad news. Yet that is exactly what we often subject ourselves to. We have multiple forms of social media and the good old-fashioned media-media constantly notifying us of all the horrible things happening in the world.
Obviously, we need to be informed. But, gracious! We do not have the emotional bandwidth to know about all the things, all the time.
Recently, I was scrolling through TikTok and found myself becoming very angry about some stranger’s interaction with another stranger in a grocery store in some town far away from me. I had to have a little talk with myself about what I am filling my brain and soul with. Truly, I have to be more mindful and deliberate about the content I consume. Otherwise, I will just be angry all the time.
Because let’s be real – there is plenty to be angry about in this world. It is untenable to feel outraged about all of it, all the time.
So how do we stay informed and take action for good in this world while not giving in to despair and rage? How do we remain hopeful while not succumbing to a shallow, toxic positivity? Is it possible to hold both hope and reality, to regulate our intake of bad news without turning a blind eye to real need? Is it possible to hold both a righteous hope and a righteous anger simultaneously?
As a follower of Jesus, I believe I’m supposed to love others as I love myself. Through the Bible, I see God’s heart for the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, the outcast. I see God’s care for the fatherless, the widow, the foreign travelers, the refugees. I see God’s instructions for stewarding the environment. Scripture tells us that Jesus toppled over the tables of those who took advantage of others and used religion and God’s name for their own gain. I have read the harsh words Jesus had for hypocritical, puffed-up religious people.
All of the issues in our world today that upset me SHOULD upset me. All of it matters. All of it matters to God. All of it is important.
And – not but, AND – I am one person – one human person who is not God. I cannot carry the righteous indignation for every evil carried out in our world today. I am telling you this because, honestly, I think I have tried.
There have been days when I have been so enraged by injustice and corruption and wickedness that I could barely stand myself. It is easy to get so bogged down in all the badness happening around us that we become bitter. Then we are really not very useful to do anything about the badness.
Our anger can be the impetus for action, sure. But to be really useful, we must have a measure of hope.
We must have enough hope and love and light within us to combat the darkness. In order to nurture that hope and love and light, I know that I have to limit my intake of bad news. I know that I have to practice habits of feeding my mind and soul with goodness. And I can for sure tell when I do not do these practices for a few days!
I am learning that it helps me to write down things that I am grateful for, to make literal notes in my journal of moments that bring me joy, of bits of beauty. I am learning to look for good news, to register kindnesses.
Years ago, I read something by Liz Gilbert about a happiness jar in which she stuffed small pieces of paper with little happinesses written upon them. So I bought a big jar and decorated it with the colorful lettering – Happiness Jar. Then I bought pretty paper, which I keep in a little basket beside the jar. All year long, we jot down our joys on the squares of paper and slowly fill the jar with goodness. The jar, gradually filling with paper, is a constant reminder of all the good and precious gifts filling my life.
No, I am not talking about toxic positivity. I am talking about the life-giving practice of noticing the good and delighting in it. I am talking about a practice that feeds our souls with goodness and fills us with hope and light and love so that we can expose and drive out darkness.
Learning how to hold both
I am not an expert on this. I am still learning. There are still days when I realize that my anger is consuming me rather than fueling action. However, I am trying to figure out how to hold both the anger and the love, the grief and the hope.
How do you stay informed without giving in to despair and rage? How do you remain hopeful without reverting to toxic positivity? How do you acknowledge the darkness while looking for light? Share your ideas and practices in the comments.