Last summer my husband and I embarked on a 90-day, 7000 mile road-trip around the western United States. The trip was a dream come true, one that we had been planning for several years. Our itinerary revolved around our shared passions of camping, rock climbing and mountain biking, which filled the months with adventure, amazing scenery and accomplishment. It also filled our days with dirt, bugs, rain and noisy campground neighbors.
There was one week of our trip that was particularly rough on both of us. My husband got sick. The weather wasn’t cooperating. We had trouble finding campsites. And the cherry on top – our food supply was raided by mice. Yuck. Despite the fact that we were in Wyoming’s gorgeous Grand Teton National Park, I was feeling stressed, irritable and grouchy. With Josh already fighting off illness, he just didn’t have the patience to deal with my moodiness. It was the only time we almost bagged our trip and drove straight back to Arizona.
The struggle with negativity
It’s hard to believe that it would require any effort to maintain a positive, loving, upbeat attitude when were on such a perfect trip, having such a great time. But all of that leisure time leads to a lot of idle thoughts. We spent a lot of time sitting in the car, hanging out at the campsite and on long hikes. All that time spent in close quarters provided ample opportunity for psycho analysis. Words are no longer just words when one has so much time to ponder the way it was said, the tone of voice and the context. Because we could go so long without distraction, those thoughts had time to swell and expand until they became tidal waves of criticism and negativity.
It’s during times like these when it becomes important to own your thoughts, to take complete control of them. And the only way to successfully do so is to submit to the Word. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we discipline ourselves to be attentive to our thoughts. We must be able to quickly recognize when our thoughts have taken a dangerous turn. Once recognized, those wrong thoughts need to be rebuked.
The key to this process is discipline. Thoughts have the tendency to run wild and uncontrolled, flitting in and out of our mind sometimes for little or no reason. It’s easy to dismiss them, justifying them because they feel out of our control. But that’s a false belief. We can influence our thoughts. If you find yourself needing more positive thoughts, start by reading motivational books or listening to encouraging music or tapes. Meditate on the Word. Then make it personal. Set some goals; perhaps to start and end your day by giving thanks or to think positive thoughts about yourself and your spouse.
Change through positive thinking
Colossians 3:15-16 says “let the peace of God rule in your hearts…and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Dr. John Gottman has compiled several tips to keep marriages strong based on nearly forty years of studying marriage and relationships. One of his notable findings is that marriages are much more likely to succeed when the couple experiences a 5 to 1 ratio of positive to negative interactions whereas when the ratio approaches 1 to 1, marriages are more likely to end in divorce. “A good marriage must have a rich climate of positivity,” he states.
Once you’ve created a habit of generating positive thoughts, the next step is to use them to replace the negative thoughts. This requires discipline. Each time one of those irritatingly bad thoughts starts to infiltrate, be aware of it. Once you are aware of it, take away its power by rebuking it. How do you rebuke bad thoughts? Well, it’s as simple as saying to yourself that the bad thought doesn’t have any place in your mind, because your mind is ruled by Christ. Then replace it with one of the positive thoughts that you have been practicing.
This isn’t a revolutionary concept. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale first published his book, the Power of Positive Thinking nearly 50 years ago. It has since ministered to millions with its instruction on disciplining ones thoughts. With so many people receiving this message, why do we still have trouble with relationships? For the same reason we have trouble managing our finances or staying in shape – positive thinking requires discipline and commitment. Fortunately, it’s well worth it. My husband and I were able to overcome our negativity, stick to our plans and finish the second half of an amazing summer road-trip. Most importantly, we still liked each other when it was all over.