13 Mar Broccoli and Pessimism
Ha! I bet you that you didn’t even blink reading that! You see what great companions those two are?
I was doing grocery shopping with my wife (I am trying to be the devoted husband with rock hard abs, but it turns out I’m just a devoted husband) at a farm market the other day and saw that they had broccoli on sale. What absolute nonsense. Like they think they are doing us a favour! The old watered-down (I am beginning to see a similarity here) argument: “It is healthy for you.” is so 80’s (Jane Fonda wants her leotard back). I am convinced broccoli is the original “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” in the Garden of Eden. The tree God commanded us NOT to eat of. I can hear the staunch theologians gasp for air and choke on their carrot smoothies. Before you put me on your Heresy Watchlist, just consider the possibility. It is called the Tree (broccoli looks more like a tree than most trees) of the Knowledge of good (when you take one bite of it you have the knowledge that it is certainly NOT good) and evil (that taste you’re tasting right there, that is the taste, no, the embodiment, of evil). Was that so difficult? It is common sense actually. You just have to be honest with yourself. It tastes bland and stale like the colour beige. What do these educated fools know in any case? My wife thinks I have lost my mind. She is still in pro-broccoli camp, but she will see the error of her ways as I train her taste buds on wholesome foods like fudge and mutton chops.
But enough ranting about broccoli. I wanted to write to my audience about an emotion that broccoli stirs up within me: pessimism. It seems like as South Africans we have been trained for decades to be pessimistic. I’m sure it’s not only a South African thing, but I didn’t walk the streets of Switzerland with a lot of pessimistic thoughts. I didn’t look at lake Zurich and think about broccoli. Mind you, when I walked next to the Thames in England I did think about broccoli. Damn you broccoli – get out of my head!
As South Africans we are bombarded with bad news and I believe that our minds have been trained toward pessimism and skepticism. I read recently that our minds process approximately 48 unique thoughts every minute! That is over 7 000 thoughts a day (my head is spinning just by the mere thought of that). The Apostle Paul (a non-broccoli eater I’m sure) said the following:
“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
I don’t know about you, but my mind certainly didn’t get this message. It wanders off like a naughty toddler in a toy store! I think it is with me and the next moment it’s in the doom and gloom aisle looking at things like politics, recession, fuel prices and weight loss. And if you don’t keep them on a leash, they will quickly browse the “Fear of The Future” and “Regrets of The Past” aisles!
I have a friend whose wife thought she would do him a favour by filling his car with diesel. The only problem was that his car ran on petrol. I’m still trying to convince him that she has learned from her mistake, but he feels her time in the naughty corner is well spent learning the difference between these two combustion fuels. Unlike my friend’s marital “disagreement”, you and I have a choice on what we fill our minds with. A clever well-known scientist is famous for saying that we are not the victim of our biology. I tend to agree with her. According to my kindergarten teacher I didn’t like being a victim, that is why she told my mom I needed to move to another school. Apparently, the boy next to me and I had a severe disagreement on what colour crayon looked best in his left nostril. I still don’t like being a victim – not of broccoli or pessimistic thoughts.
What has led us to so easily trip into this ditch called pessimism? I mean, it’s not like you wake up one morning and all of a sudden, you’re an expert in pessimism. It’s obviously a progressive thing, like that poor frog in the pot of water on a stove where the heat gets turned up gradually (how did he get in there, I always wonder) and then after a while you are stuck with this grotesque amphibian stew (it must have been a French scientist I’m sure).
In my experience there are several factors that contribute to our minds wandering off into the dark forest called pessimism:
This is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for some of us, but nothing pollutes our heart quite like bitterness. It is funny how something silly like not closing the fridge door or leaving the toilet seat up (constantly) can turn deadly in a marriage. Not because the most loving couples suddenly go on a murderous spree, dangerously swinging garden equipment around with the intent of doing serious bodily harm to each other. No, bitterness is far more dangerous. It can grow in the most pious of people. It sits there without being detected. It slowly directs the traffic of your thought life and before you know it, you’re in a strange, freakish town called Pessimism. But this is not a town filled with strangers. The folks in this town are familiar. You recognize them from your past. They are those old conversations that you should have forgotten about. Those actions and decisions that should have been left at the feet of Jesus. But now they have all summoned the ghost called Unforgiveness. You see, Unforgiveness is the Mayor of this town. And he wants to rule your heart. The writer of Hebrews says that bitterness has a root and that it springs up and causes trouble. I’m sure he read Jack and The Beanstalk, because it sounds like one and the same thing. You plant a seed of bitterness, a massive tree springs up and it causes a lot of trouble in your life.
#2 Unresolved anger
Yes I know, 99% of Gauteng road users struggle with this one. You would probably love to resolve your anger – getting out of your car in the middle of rush hour traffic and smacking a taxi driver around just seems like a massive inconvenience while you’re on your way to work. Nobody needs to explain to HR where the blood on your shirt comes from before the day’s work begins, right?
Unresolved anger is like acid rain on your “happy parade”. It operates on a hair trigger. That trigger is more sensitive than my nose is to the smell of blue cheese. Unresolved anger is a trigger that steers our minds towards pessimism. Someone says something or does something seemingly unrelated and that trigger gets pulled. All of a sudden everyone at the party is wondering what the hell is going on and who is calling the psycho-police first. Let’s face it, we all feel like kicking someone in the kidneys from time to time. We all get angry. In fact, I will seriously question your sanity if you never got angry. It is a human emotion and it is necessary for our survival. But anger is like chocolate chip cookies. It is NOT meant to be stored up. Anger is an indicator that something is wrong or that you have been wronged in some way. So, if you ignore it, it is like ignoring the pain you feel when you put your hand on a hot plate. It will leave permanent damage. The longer you leave it the more severe the damage becomes. There are obviously healthy ways of dealing with anger and I would encourage you to speak to someone (someone a lot more qualified than me) to help you.
#3 A wrong belief about God
Many of us have a terrible view of God and since we need someone to blame, I think we should blame preachers for it (we blame them for a lot of things, let’s add this one to the list)! I mean isn’t it enough that they perform fake resurrections and spray unsuspecting congregants with Doom pesticide? Not to mention throwing snakes on visitors catching up on their nap-time during the sermon. (As soon as our church’s Finance Board responds to my various e-mails, I’m investing in rubber snakes; real ones might want to eat my children’s guinea-pigs and child therapy is expensive these days.) These fiends should be shipped off to England where they should be taught manners and etiquette in proper British fashion. While they are there, they can help the Europeans cope with the obvious Islamic invasion. Maybe a couple of infidels jumping out of coffins on a Sunday is all the persuasion the Imams need to ship back to their mother land.
We get outraged in the religious world by the wrong things. We put the focus on a few outrageous incidents, while the real problem is God being misrepresented week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after decade. I cannot stress this enough: what you believe about your Heavenly Father matters! We cover the most horrific beliefs about God in some of the prettiest religious dresses. “God understood why this happened and He wouldn’t have allowed it if it wasn’t His perfect will.” “God knows best.” If we changed the scenario and we put an earthly parent in God’s place within the same context I am sure those parents would get locked up for child abuse. Most of the nonsense that people believe about God is not even close to what Scripture teaches us. You can only stomach so many lies that go against the grain of common sense before pessimism starts to settle in your heart. Your world view will become pessimistic because your belief in God is pessimistic. But if you believe in a good God; if you believe He has your best interest at heart; if you believe He cares for you – then that is what you fill your thought life with. Believing God is good is like that annoying bossy lady in your GPS that can’t shut up. Every time your thoughts drift toward pessimism your belief systems goes: “recalculating route”. But instead of taking you to every broken traffic light on William Nicol in Sandton, this one takes you to the corner of Hope and Peace Avenue.
Pessimism is like broccoli, it is an unwelcome guest on the plate life dishes up for us. God never created you to live with it. It is not an emotion or character trait that I believe God wants for His children. How can I be so sure? Because “hope” and. “faith” is mentioned so many times in the Bible. Scripture tells us to be prisoners of hope, not prisoners of negativity and defeat. The more you see Jesus – the more I pray your heart gets filled with hope. And unlike broccoli, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE HOPE. Dish up plenty of that.
“The honorable, doctor, coach” Norman