A dear friend of mine recently met me for coffee and delighted me with a “publishing congrats” gift: a coffee-bean-shaped ice cube tray to keep some iced espresso on hand so that when I chill out my iced white pumpkin mochas at home, my ice cubes will offer espresso instead of watering down my coffee joy. If you’ve read a blog or two so far, you probably know how much coffee and I get along. We are companions of the sweetest sort. The sounds of my coffee machine grinding beans and whirring foam in the morning really do motivate me to not just go straight back to bed after the school buses roll away.
So, as proud as I am to have these awesome ice cubes keeping the coffee strength and love fully rocking my espresso drinks, I started thinking about how much we each need to keep the strength in our character. What does that look like? How do we do that? Where can we improve (because we all can)? Some of the things that make me question someone else’s character are exactly what I should be keeping in check in mine (your list may be different, but this is mine):
Conflict-avoidance (which is different than drawing boundaries in toxic situations)
Favoritism (preferential treatment of certain groups of people over others)
A need to control/dominate
Selfishness or chronic self-absorption
Anger/bitterness that shows a lack of self-control
A competitiveness that is so extreme it hurts people to get to the top
Taking advantage/using people
So, when I think about this list, I consider how frequently:
- I try to steer my kids away from attitudes that come too close to the extreme negative end of the spectrum where you find these traits.
- I tend to look for friendships that don’t lean heavily in these directions.
- I desire to right or improve places in myself that veer too close to these characteristics.
I think about how we each have seasons of life where, of course, we are more angry, self-absorbed, bitter, tempted to lie or criticize. The tendencies are human. But if we stay stuck in these places and don’t work on leaving them—and don’t ask God to help us find our way out—we end up perpetually circling the drain, unable to un-do who we’ve become a ways down from our initial stroll at the start of Negative Lane.
Maybe last year nobody would have defined us as bitter or critical, but this year we are the poster child, and people are heading the other direction?
Maybe we have a few close friends willing to keep a hand out for us to grab, but everyone else is running for the hills?
When this happens, we need help.
The Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is:
Galatians 5:22-26, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
That’s lovely, and it truly is an awesome way to live, but if we’re currently chomping regularly on the bitter apple, how do we get from the opposite of “Spirit fruit” to a life that bears that positive fruit, that draws people toward peace and hope instead of offering them darkness? How do we get back into the Light?
Good friendships hold us accountable. Trusted people in our lives can call us out and lovingly remain alongside us as we try to find fresh air again. But Who and what has the power to turn us around, to change us?
Prayer. Asking God’s help (conversation with God, which is prayer). If you put your faith and hope in Christ, confessing your need for Him as your Savior, you have the Holy Spirit within you. “Keeping in step with the Spirit” means to listen to how He guides us.
Romans 12:2-3, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Paul talks about not conforming to the world. The world—the news being one example—shows us darkness all of the time. It’s easy to take up residence with parts of it and become regular companions. It’s also easy to think of ourselves as “more highly than [we] ought to think.” That is often what is behind a critical spirit.
2 Corinthians 10:5, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
We have to regularly ask God to cleanse our hearts, to remind us to practice thankfulness, and to take each of our negative thoughts captive and submit them to bow to the reign of Christ in our lives.
For me, asking God to purify my heart is like asking Him to take the watery ice cubes that weaken who I am and replace them with His strength. I like my lattes strong, for sure, but even more so, I love my character strong in Christ. And the only way to do that is to ask Him to take me out of the muck and mire and give me His heart.
How about you?
Psalm 26:2-7, King David speaking, ESV
Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
More on how to renew our minds and live more days outside of the negativity whirlpool than inside can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.