To begin, I want to ask us all a question: Do we feel we have to answer the door every time there is a knock or doorbell ring?
If I’m not expecting someone, I don’t always answer, especially if answering means grabbing a robe, hurrying out of the bathroom, or interrupting something going on that needs my full attention. I will fully disclose that I’m not much of a phone or drop-in visitor person; however, if a knock sounds urgent, I usually make an attempt to answer it. Otherwise, I don’t feel I have to get to it just because it’s a noise beckoning me. Same thing with the phone ringing.
So, I got to thinking:
Why do we feel we have to entertain negative voices when they come along?
Why do we let them in, help them take their shoes off, hang up their coats, and invite them to take up space in our living rooms?
Why do we mislead them into thinking they are welcomed and may cross our threshold any time that suits them?
We are often afraid:
- to offend
- to lose the relationship
- to not meet expectation
- to hurt someone without meaning to
- to deal with repercussions from anger
But I would like to suggest it’s dishonest to let them (the negativity, not necessarily the person) in unless we plan to join them (and I surely hope we don’t). I also think it’s easier to be passive and open the door.
It takes courage and action to say: “No, we’re not going to go there. That is not a place you may make commentary or cast judgment upon,” or “It’s lovely to see you, but rejection, disrespect, and discouragement are not on the menu today. What else would you like to talk about?”
I have been pondering this quite a bit recently as several friends shared some relational struggles they were having with others. We all have them. These were my thoughts:
Boundaries aren’t for shutting people out, but they are defined as being unwilling to remain in dysfunctional, dishonoring patterns, but simultaneously inviting the other person to come along and engage in—or at first learn—new, healthy patterns of relating. We can invite people to get on that train, but we cannot make them ride it.
Now, this all sounds like I have this under control and sit above everyone else doling out boundaries right and left. Quite the contrary. I learn much from those who have drawn them for me over time. Sometimes, their boundaries may be out of over-self-protection, but I still need to observe them. At other times, lines drawn in the sand for me have at least indicated where the relationship could or could not go.
Boundaries are like navigational tools to help us know how to relate better with someone. They provide a map of safe topics and interactions and clue us in, if we’re willing to listen, to where we should and should not tread. If we’re careful about communicating, our boundaries should do the same for others.
But, bringing it back to negative voices: We don’t have to allow them. Plenty of naysaying goes on in our lives every day—some of it constructive but much of it destructive. When people want to go down Toxic Alley with us, we don’t have to permit it. In fact, they are often looking for us to provide some guardrails for the relationship, and if we don’t, they are like children who don’t know the rules in their own homes: insecure and lost. Not only that, by being passive, we give negativity permission to come in and stay a while. Once it gets in the door, it often takes over the relationship, gets into our heads and hearts, and hijacks everything that could be good or constructive.
That doesn’t mean we shut the person (or people) out, necessarily—just the behaviors that are destructive.
This can also be true when nobody real is knocking at the door…only our own negative voices from the past. I write a lot about this in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day. Whatever we have let in and made welcomed will keep coming back. Guaranteed. When we swirl around in negative thinking, we’ve already let the first thought in the door and offered it a cup of coffee.
So, how do we stop the madness inside our minds and hearts? The perseverating? Bitter chewing? Stewing in ugly thoughts of insecurity, misunderstanding, misconceptions, wrong assumptions? How do we stop them at the door?
We don’t let them in.
Just because negative voices knock on our doors, bang into our minds, and try to take up space in our hearts,
we do not have to let them in.
Here are some answers I draw from my faith in Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. The first selection talks about how not to be anxious (bring it!). Really, doesn’t negative thinking contribute to anxiety, and vice versa? It’s an ever-hungry beast.
What’s the remedy for stopping negative thoughts and voices at the door?
Let your requests be made known to God.
The peace of God will guard your hearts and your minds.
Think about good things.
Take every thought captive to obey Christ.
God gave us a spirit of self-control (sound mind).
We need to ask Him to help us do this. These are His promises for those who believe in Him.
Negativity will keep knocking on our doors. It’s part of what tries to invade and keeps our focus off the love of our Savior. There will always be a battle there: either from others or within our own selves.
But we now have a loving answer—one with structure, safety, boundaries, healthy relating, and a Savior who spread His arms out on a cross as His pledge and promise to always help us defeat the dark things that plague us.
Because He’s already defeated them.
And He’s got our backs.
Philippians 4:4-9, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
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.
2 Timothy 1:7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control*.
*The King James Version says “sound mind” for “self-control.”
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