I’ve been single all my life, and when major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive, I experience strong emotions. It might be that I have unrealistic expectations of some sort of idyllic family gathering like on the Waltons TV show, or that some long-lost love or sibling separated at birth (do I even have any of those??) will show up at my door and hug the daylights out of me, or that I’ll wake up to the miracle that I have a fulfilling job after two and a half years of jobless insecurity and frugal survival with no income.
It would be really easy to rehearse the negatives of the past, even the recent past, and trust me, sometimes I do.
“Humans have something called a negativity bias where 'bad stuff' in our life outweighs the good by a measure of about 3:1,” said Renee Jain, a certified coach of positive psychology, who is quoted in this article: Thankfulness Linked to Positive Changes in Brain and Body.
But then I’m reminded of how, even in the midst of news of unprecedented greed in commerce, and lying and power-grabbing in government, there really is love in this world, and many of those lovers are my friends.
Ages ago, I divided people into the have-God and have-not-God categories, because I was taught that we, the Christian Elect, the Remnant Church, know that God is Love, and there is no love apart from God. If you didn’t obey the Ten Commandments (which most people don’t), you couldn’t love God, and surely he doesn’t approve or like you, so You. Are. Going. To. Hell.
Along the way, I learned that that is a false theology! First, it’s not the Ten Commandments spoken of in that statement—the original word is “command” (singular) and refers to Jesus’ one command to love one another in a life-changing way. “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you.” John 15:12 MSG
Second, I learned that God created humans in his image, but it wasn’t his image in the mirror, with two eyes, a nose, a mouth, ten fingers and ten toes, etc. He created our spirits in his image: God is spirit. In every human being (and I like to think, in some animals), God has created our spirits to love and be loved. And even those who say they don’t believe in God nevertheless have a capacity to love because MY God created it there. As it says in the Good Book, “he who loves his fellowmen is coming to know and understand God!” I happen to know quite a few people who don’t claim to be Christ-followers, but they are full of love for fellowman.
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is (springs) from God; and he who loves [his fellowmen] is begotten (born) of God and is coming [progressively] to know and understand God [to perceive and recognize and get a better and clearer knowledge of Him]. 8He who does not love has not become acquainted with God [does not and never did know Him], for God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest (displayed) where we are concerned: in that God sent His Son, the only begotten or [a]unique [Son], into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for our sins. 11Beloved, if God loved us so [very much], we also ought to love one another. 12No man has at any time [yet] seen God. But if we love one another, God abides (lives and remains) in us and His love (that love which is essentially His) is brought to completion (to its full maturity, runs its full course, is perfected) in us! 1 John 4:7-12 Amp
And despite apparent evidence that I’m not loved (all the negatives in my life), I’m WRONG. I am loved! A few months ago, friends poured out love upon love for me, including thousands of dollars of dental treatments, taking time to go out to meals or movies with me when I visited friends in California, meeting me at the beach for walks and talks, people who sent me gift cards and checks to help me make it through some tough times, people who keep me in their prayers regularly, and those who put me on the scent of job openings. One friend even entered a contest to try to win tickets to a Sting concert for me.
This week, I received a Thanksgiving card from a friend I’ve never met except online. She wrote,
“I just wanted to let you know that you are thought of. I don’t know if you know or not, but you are an inspiration to me. I feel you are a positive person when it counts, something that is so difficult and I admire that. And I strive to be more like that. I’m thankful to know you and see your examples. Sometimes we know we’re blessed, but we also struggle. I wish you blessings so large you can’t contain it.”
Another person wrote, last month,
“I just wanted to take this moment to tell you how in awe I am of you!. Your gift to others is support and understanding and it is reflected in your messages and postings on Facebook. I was reading about Richard and your words, again, of comfort while passing on a difficult message to others was very moving. You are truly an inspiration and I thank you for...being you. I do not share too much in public. My family and I have had some very sad times this past year, mother's health, father's health, in-law's health, passing of our dear brother-in-law. Your words and actions, although not directly aimed at me, have meant so much and provided support. You are a wonderful human being!! With heartfelt thanks, C.”
I am feeling the dopamine!
I liked what the Thankfulness Linked to Positive Changes in Brain and Body article said about an attitude of thanksgiving:
“Studies have shown measurable effects on multiple body and brain systems…Those include mood neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine), reproductive hormones (testosterone), social bonding hormones (oxytocin), cognitive and pleasure related neurotransmitters (dopamine), inflammatory and immune systems (cytokines), stress hormones (cortisol), cardiac and EEG rhythms, blood pressure, and blood sugar…. The brain's primary reward chemical is called dopamine…The interesting thing, however, is that we can't feel rewards and threats unless we focus attention on them. Many good and bad things happen in our life every day, but until they come to our own attention, we don't get the neurotransmitter release that allows us to feel good or bad."
So before, during, and after the Thanksgiving holiday, we should choose to have an attitude of thanksgiving. Don’t rehearse all the events that sucked the wind out of you. Remember the people who lift you up and carry you when you’re too weak to keep going alone. Remember that in every person is a spark or a bonfire, that reflects the love God put in them. Let the spark light your own fire. Remember the people without families, who need to be reminded that they are loved. (It could be as simple as a Facebook note, or a card in the mail.) I promise that loving others will release the dopamine, just as receiving love gives you that shot of joy-juice to your brain.
And, um, if you should spot one of those nearly-extinct “job creators” (cough-cough) hanging around with a requisition, send them my way.
Related post: Friends and Family