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What are some ways we can remain thankful when dealing with a family member that is quite often a “negative nelly”?

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and for most of us, that means spending time with family members. Family members who sometimes rub us the wrong way. How to maintain an attitude of gratitude while Negative Nellie natters on? Try this:

1. Remember that God created Nellie in His image just like He created you, and keep that thought pinned to the front of your brain whenever you’re engaged in conversation with her. This is someone God loves, and He desires for her to know Him despite all her faults and foibles the very same way God loves you and desires for you to know Him.

2. And right next to that first thought at the front of your brain, pin this one up too:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
Luke 6:31

It’s the Golden Rule we’ve been hearing since childhood: “Treat other people the way you would want to be treated.” Although I frequently fail at carrying out this command, one thing that helps me is to remember that for every person who gets on my nerves, there are probably ten people whose nerves I’m getting on. How would I want those people to treat me?

3. The more people I talk to, the more I’m convinced that the longing of many folks’ hearts is just to be heard. We don’t take a lot of time to simply sit and listen to others any more. That leaves many people feeling lonely and invisible. Sometimes the best way we can show someone she is loved is just to hear her out.

Additionally, taking the time to listen to someone benefits you in a couple of ways.

First, you might gain some insight into why Nellie is constantly complaining or pessimistic. Maybe she’s lonely, or in a lot of pain from an illness, or there are problems in her marriage. If you get a better grip on what the underlying problems are, maybe there’s a way you could serve her, help her, counsel her, or pray for her.

Second, when you invest time in listening to someone, she’s much more likely to listen to you when you speak to her. (Which, of course, should not be your main motivation for listening to her.) And that means you’ll hopefully have a much more receptive audience with her when you…

4. Share the gospel with Nellie. If she’s lost, that’s one of the reasons she’s being negative. She’s burdened down with sin and its consequences and she doesn’t have the hope, joy, and peace that only Christ can give. Be kind, compassionate, and understanding, and steer the conversation toward the cross.

5. Pray three ways:

•If you know you’re going to be seeing Nellie at Thanksgiving dinner, start praying for her, the needs in her life, and how you can minister to her, now. It will prepare your heart for interacting with her, it will change your heart attitude toward her, and it will help you to continue being thankful instead of getting bogged down in Nellie’s negativity.

•Stay thankful by offering a silent prayer of gratitude to God whenever Nellie starts nay-saying. Thank Him for giving you the opportunity to minister to her, thank Him for protecting you from whatever circumstances she’s complaining about, thank Him for her.

•If Nellie has been going on in a negative vein for a while, take a moment when she pauses to offer a few genuine words of kindness and compassion and then ask if you can pray for her about the situation, right there, right then. Don’t do this often enough to be annoying, but do it more than once, if the opportunity presents itself. She will either be touched by your compassion and reminded to be thankful instead of grousing, or she may be averse to the idea and stop complaining to you so you won’t keep asking to pray for her. Either way, win-win. (And, of course, you can still pray for her in your heart.)

6. Set an example of thankfulness. Before Nellie even has a chance to open her mouth in negativity, you start – and set the tone for – the conversation. Tell her the latest in your life and remark on what you were thankful for in that circumstance. When someone else, or even Nellie, is telling her story, gently “bring out the blessing” in her tale: “Wow, God was so good to heal you from that cold!” “How wonderful that your son took the time out of his busy schedule to come visit you!” “I know how annoying it is when your cat runs away, but it’s so awesome that your neighbor found her and brought her back to you!”.

7. If Nellie is a Believer, it might be time for a gentle, biblical rebuke and encouragement to thankfulness. You’ll have to be extra vigilant to use godly wisdom in doing this at a family gathering (and you may want to just wait until after the holidays), choosing just the right moment, being careful to speak to Nellie privately and to cloak your words in kindness and understanding (see #2). (Also, keep in mind that sometimes the things we do are so habitual we don’t even realize we’re doing them. She might be totally clueless that she’s constantly complaining or looking at every glass as half-empty.) A great way to start a conversation like this is with a few questions. You might say something like this:

Nellie, I was just wondering, are you doing OK?

Of course. Why do you ask?

Well, from the things you’ve been telling me (cite an example or two) – maybe you don’t even realize this – but it sounds like you might be struggling a little with joy and thankfulness. Is there anything I can do to help? Any way I can pray for you? As your sister in Christ, I love you and I want to be an encouragement to you. I’m concerned that you might be experiencing some bitterness or discontent in your heart, and I just wanted to step in, offer you some love, help, and encouragement, and hopefully help you keep that bitterness from taking root. I want that joy and peace for you that are ours in Christ Jesus. I want you to be able to give thanks in all circumstances. Is there any way I could be helpful to you with that?

 

It can be difficult, depressing, and frustrating to be around someone who always sees the black cloud behind the silver lining. But if we keep in mind that, as Believers, it’s really not about our feelings of discomfort, it’s about God presenting us with an opportunity to show love and minister the gospel to someone, we can face those negative nellies in our lives with a whole new Christ-centered perspective. Happy Thanksgiving!


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.