The words people tell us: why do we believe the negative words more than the positive words?
This question has been swimming in my head for some time now. The instigator of this question is a section of the book of James. Take a look:
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. [James 3:5-10]
Oh man. Is that not one of the most convicting and sadly, relatable things you’ve read? James refers to the tongue as “a fire”, a “world of evil”, “a restless evil”, and indirectly calls it a huge hypocrite. The great thing about James is, even though he calls you out, he’s doing it to everyone. These words address mankind as a whole. He’s exposing an issue that plagues us all – our tongue and its propensity for sin.
This criticism of the tongue got me thinking hard about the words we say. As I talked out this section of James with my small group, I expressed how the tongue’s power to hurt is immensely more powerful than its power to heal. Think about it. We often associate good things with actions but we are often scarred by the words people throw at us. For instance, if you say “I love you” but don’t express it with action, the words lose their power. People often ask others to “prove it” when they are expressing positive things. On the other hand, if someone calls you a bad name you certainly don’t need them to prove it to you in order to feel those words impact you. Why is that? Why are we so quick to let the barbs of the spoken language damage us but doubt the words that encourage, lift, and compliment?
Before I continue, I want to talk about why I feel as though I need to write about this. The reason is because this is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I am so quick to believe the bad things I hear from others, as well as the bad things I tell myself, but it takes time, convincing, and a miracle to help me accept the good things said by myself and others. My poor husband. He knows that words mean a lot to me. He does his very best to speak into my need for affirmation but the weird thing is, I have a really hard time accepting it! Even though I need positive talk from my loved ones, I am not able to let it affirm me without a struggle. It’s this weird dance I lead because for some reason, I have to be deeply and irrevocably convinced of the good things being said to me. How messed up is that? So, this blog post is a little selfish because I’m using it to sort through something I really struggle with personally. I hope it can help someone out there too.
Back to the question at hand – the words people tell us (and the words we tell ourselves)…why is it so easy to accept the bad and not the good?
My perspective on this issue is tough
but ultimately encouraging.
Here is what I think.
Our acceptance of negativity about ourselves and opposition of positivity about ourselves is a symptom of our resistance against God’s grace.
Let me break that down:
We accept and internalize negativity about ourselves.
- You aren’t smart enough. —-> I’m not smart enough.
- Why can’t you do this? —-> I can’t do this.
- It’s too hard. —-> I will never get this right.
- I’ll never look like her. —-> I’m ugly.
- What is wrong with me? —-> I will never be lovable.
- You’ll never get better. —-> I’ll never get better.
We oppose and deflect positivity about ourselves.
- What a great idea! —-> Oh, I’m sure someone else thought of it too.
- You look so pretty tonight. —-> No way! Look at x, y, and z.
- You worked so hard on this. —-> It’s not a big deal.
- I deserve to be here. —-> Actually…I don’t.
- My friends love me. —-> What if they actually don’t like me?
- You are so brave! —-> I am not. Trust me.
These two inclinations we have are symptoms of our inability to freely accept God’s grace for us.
First off, there is a big difference between humility and the rejection of positivity. Humbling yourself before God requires you to say, “I am nothing without you, Lord”. Rejecting positivity requires you to say, “I am worthy of nothing good”. There is a big difference between these two ideas, and this is something I have really confused in the past. I thought that if I said thank you to a compliment then I was being arrogant. That isn’t the case! We should be grateful that others see good things in us. The problem arises when those words serve to feed our ego versus fill our spirit. Be careful to not confuse an inability to accept positive words with being humble.
Now that the conversation of humility is sidelined, I want to go back to what I said about our inability to accept God’s grace freely. God’s promise to us of salvation without strings attached is extremely hard for our human minds to comprehend. How can we be offered something so precious without having to give anything in return? This is His promise to us:
That is all God requires of us to have eternal life. It seems impossible…but this is God we are talking about. He chooses us over and over again, and the only thing He asks is for us to choose Him.
I think that it can be hard to accept things we don’t deserve. In Romans 3:23, it says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. None of us truly measure up to the gift He has given us. Deep down, we struggle with this inadequacy. We know the thoughts we think. We know the actions we carry out. We know the way we can treat others and the decisions we make. We see our sin all the time. So we resist the grace God gives us and try to earn our way into heaven or we find ourselves accepting our flaws and believing the lie that God could never love us. We tell ourselves that God’s grace is too big for us, and that is why I am here, wondering why I can accept the bad and not the good.
When we allow ourselves to think that we aren’t good enough for God’s grace, we crush the ability for anyone to make us feel good. Here’s why: I try to earn God’s love by doing “good things” or I rationalize my behaviors because “who cares, I’m a sinner”. When I do this, I also put a wedge between myself and others. I try to earn their positive words by needing proof of what they say, or I dismiss those words because I have internalized all the bad things I have heard or said about myself. There’s a direct correlation. I recently read that “all our relationships are about Christ. They mirror different facets of our connection to Him” (She Reads Truth
). So, when we resist His overwhelming goodness, we also resist goodness from our relationships.
I think the key to this is to build our relationship with God first. I think when we know Him fully, when we invest in our relationship with Him, we can accept who He is instead of resisting it. Whether we like it or not, He loves us so much. Whether we like it or not, when people say positive things about us, it is truth. We don’t have to resist God’s grace or the good things about us. We don’t have to believe the lie that we aren’t good enough. When we are able to do this, our hearts will soften to the goodness around us.
So, instead of Our acceptance of negativity about ourselves and opposition of positivity about ourselves is a symptom of our resistance against God’s grace.
Let’s turn it into Our acceptance of positivity about ourselves and opposition of negativity about ourselves is a symptom of understanding the fullness of God’s grace.