In the previous post about toxic positivity, I identified what toxic optimism is, and how it is used as a way to avoid and suppress feelings and emotions. I wanted to stress that ignoring “negative” feelings is detrimental to our overall well being. In this post, I want to delve deeper into the idea of how religious faith can exasperate toxic positivity and can sometimes make you feel inadequate. As a Christian, I am aware of how other Christians use God, the Bible, and the power of prayer as an agency to be dismissive of real, raw, and ugly emotions and feelings. Avoiding Toxic Positivity
Think about how Christians console one another during times of death. Pain and sorrow are commiserated with “at least they are with God now”, “the Lord gives and He takes it away” or “everything happens for a reason”. Sayings like this can make a person feel more isolated and are not helpful in soothing their pain. It’s like the expectation is that whatever you are experiencing can and should be placated by simply looking at the bright side and sometimes that just ain’t enough.
Being a Christian or religious person does not mean invincibility. We will endure pain, experience trauma, and come against circumstances that shake us to our very core. God does admonish that we will go through such things. The Bible can be used as a tool on how to press forward during those trials, but it doesn’t suggest that we band-aid our feelings with religious idioms.
A couple of years ago when I was going through a tough time, I did a deep dive into the book of Job. I was feeling like a weak Christian because I was experiencing anxiety about my circumstances and I could not keep an elevated or positive mindset about it all, no matter how much I prayed or read devotionals on The Bible app. I would feel guilty for not even having mustard seed faith to sustain me through my circumstance, that’s until I read Job. I went to Job because I remember hearing stories in Sunday School, as a child that he lost everything; he remained faithful despite and that God rewarded him twice fold for this. I wanted to see what Job did to have this magnanimous faith that sustained him. I assumed that having a positive attitude was key. That is why you should read the Bible for yourself. I oversimplified Job’s story. In the text, I learned Job questioned God, he cursed the day he was born, expressed extreme sadness over his circumstances, and would go back and forth between lamenting and praising God for his sovereignty. After studying the text further, I felt more connected to God because it validated the fact that it’s ok to experience these emotions.
The Bible says to consider it all joy whenever we experience trials. I’d caution you to not simplify this scripture to mean that you should always have an upbeat disposition about your circumstance.
Many righteous people in the bible questioned God and lamented at their pain and suffering. In fact, the majority of Psalms are laments. This means that it is ok to acknowledge and feel the full depth of your emotions and still have strong faith. Having strong faith does not mean the absence of fear, worry, anxiety, and sadness. As I mentioned earlier, when I allowed myself to feel the full depth of my emotions, good and bad, my relationship with God became more intimate.
We’ve been taught that faith and fear cannot coexist, that you cannot have faith and be an anxious person, that depression and mental illness can be prayed away. Fear can not exist in perfect faith, but we are imperfect people. God is fully aware of this. This is why there are so many scriptures in the Bible that provide us with comfort when we are experiencing circumstances. But again, this is not at the expense of negating other emotions. In order to get better at perfecting your faith, you have to get to the source of fear, anxiety, and sadness. As I said earlier, it can’t be placated by encouraging yourself and others to look on the bright side. Perfect faith can’t happen when you turn a blind eye to the challenges. Putting this type of pressure on yourself will only send you down another emotional spiral of guilt and shame that you’re a bad or a weak Christian. Being positive and staying that way is very important but always keep it real with yourself. Feel every emotion. I promise God won’t think less of you and He will still be there to provide you comfort.