Gratitude, Holidays (Other), Mailbag, Thanks/Thanksgiving

The Mailbag: When Negative Nelly Comes to Thanksgiving Dinner

Originally published November 11, 2019

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.

Faith, Obedience, Old Testament, Sunday School, Trust

Trust and Obey ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 3-2-14

sunday school

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 9 ~ Feb. 23-Mar. 1
Numbers 1-15, Psalm 90
Trust and Obey

Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, but is blest if we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Dilemma → The People’s Response → Moses/Leadership’s Response ←→ God’s Response

Today, we’re taking a look at four incidents from this week’s reading which follow the paradigm above. All start out with a problem. We’ll look at how the people responded to that problem, how Moses and the other leaders responded, and how God responded, which will show us how we should respond to the dilemmas we face: with trust in, and obedience to, God.

 A Generic Gripe (Numbers 11:1-3)

The Dilemma (11:1):
This seems to have been a general discontent with the aggravations that come with marching around the desert. Various translations mention “hardships,” “adversity,” and “misfortunes.” We can’t tell from this verse whether these were hardships of their own making (as two of the subsequent problems were) or they were just things that came up outside their control.

Israel’s Response (11:1-2, Psalm 142:1-2):
Israel’s response was to gripe. How was this different from Psalm 142:2, where David said, “I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”? Check out verse 1: David said, “I cry out to the Lord…I plead for mercy to the Lord.” David was crying out to the Lord. Israel was crying out against the Lord (“in the hearing of the Lord”).

God’s Response (11:1):
God’s anger was literally kindled. Why such a harsh response to a little complaining? We’ll see more clearly in the next incident.

Moses’ Response/God’s Response (11:2):
Moses intercedes in a picture of the way Christ intercedes for us. He gets between the sinful people and God’s wrath and pleads their case before Him. God’s wrath abates, not because there’s anything righteous in the people, but because of the righteousness of the one interceding.

 Where’s The Beef? (Numbers 11:4-35)

 The Dilemma (11:4-9):
“Waaah…we’re tired of the same old food day after day!” Notice, it wasn’t that they didn’t have food and were crying out to God to help them and keep them from starving. God had provided plenty of the food He thought best for them. He even delivered it right to their doorsteps—they didn’t have to go out and hunt! But that wasn’t good enough.

Israel’s Response (11:4-6,10, Philippians 3:19, Romans 1:25):
Israel’s response to this dilemma (which wasn’t really a dilemma at all—this was about what they preferred—it was a problem of their own making) was to turn their noses up at what God had provided for them and cry out against Him.

Their complaint was a disdain for all God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt. They didn’t want to do things God’s way anymore. They actually preferred going back to (and thought they had it better under) slavery! And for what? Food. The kind of food they missed and preferred. The food of their old way of life. The fruit of slavery.

Their complaint was essentially a contempt for and rejection of God’s salvation because they were willing to toss it all aside for something as paltry as a different kind of food. “They worshiped and served the creation rather than the creator.”

What are some ways we do the same thing? (Thinking we had it better when we were lost and longing for the things we had back then.)

Moses’ Response (11:10-15, Philippians 4:13, Matthew 11:28):
Moses had had it with these rebellious, childish people, and he cried out passionately to the Lord about it. This “friend of God” was not rejecting God or His ways. He was saying, “You’ve asked me to lead and care for this people, and I want to comply, but I can’t. It’s too hard. I need Your help!” His response was not to reject God (as was the case with the Israelites’ complaint), but to trust God and ask for His help in obeying Him.

When it is our desire to take up our cross daily, God has promised to either give us the strength to carry it (Phil. 4:13) or lift it off our backs permanently (Matt. 11:28).

God’s Response (11:16-35, Psalm 37:4):
Two different complaints. Two different motives. Two different responses: God showed kindness to Moses, but anger towards the Israelites.

Yet, in a way, the same response. God gave both Moses and the people what they asked for. (Actually, He gave the people much more than they asked for!) When Moses got what he wanted, it was a blessing because He was asking according to God’s will and out of a desire to obey Him. This is what Ps. 37:4 is talking about when it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” When the people got what they wanted, it was a curse because God gave them what they never should have wanted in the first place.

Power Play (Numbers 12)

The Dilemma (12:1-2):
Miriam and Aaron were annoyed with Moses for some unclear-to-us reason having to do with Moses’ new wife. Whether they were opposed to her because she was a Cushite or because she had done something to tick them off, we don’t know.

Miriam and Aaron’s Response (12:1-2):
Their annoyance led Miriam and Aaron to grumble against Moses. And once they started grumbling against him- which was really grumbling against God, because God had called Moses, placed him in authority, and spoke through him- it was easy enough to convince themselves that they should be in charge, or at least equal to Moses. “And the Lord heard it,” indicates that they were implicating God in their complaint. Here is another incident that’s a problem of the complainant’s own making.

God’s Response (12:4-10, 14-15):
Again, God’s anger is “kindled.” He comes down personally, since they are denouncing Him personally by way of Moses, and sets them straight. “Yes, there is a difference between y’all and Moses. No, you’re not equal to him. Moses is the one I’ve put in this position, not either of you.” Miriam’s name being mentioned first (v.1) and the fact that God gave her leprosy but not Aaron, probably indicate that she was the instigator in this situation.

Moses’ Response (12:11-13):
Again, Moses intercedes between the sinner and the wrath of God and asks, trusting in God’s grace, for Miriam’s healing. God grants his petition, but not right away. God wants Miriam to understand how serious her disobedience is, so He allows her to experience His chastening for a week. But after her time of discipline is over, God’s grace allowed her back into the camp to be reconciled to Moses and the people.

Ten Were Bad, Two Were Good (Numbers 13:25-14:35)

The Dilemma (13:25-33):
The spies came back and gave an accurate report of what they saw. The land itself was awesome, but the people were strong, militarily, and the cities were strongly fortified. All of the spies and the people who heard their report were understandably afraid. This was not a problem of their own making.

Israel’s Response (14:1-4, Exodus 3:8):
Again, the people’s immediate response to fear was not to trust in the Lord and obey Him, but to rebel. Again, their response was to quickly abandon and disdain all God had done for them. They tossed aside His salvation in favor of slavery and what they thought would be safety. They knew what God had promised (Ex. 3:8- compare to 13:29) and called Him a liar (14:3- compare to Ex. 3:8). Again, they cried out against the Lord instead of crying out to Him.

Joshua and Caleb’s Response (14:5-9, 13:30):
Nowhere do we see Caleb and Joshua {13:30, 14:6-9} denying or minimizing the difficulty and scariness of the situation, but confirming it. They knew what people like the Hittites, et al, were capable of doing to their enemies. They were well aware of Israel’s military weakness and disadvantage.

Yet, instead of letting what they could see and experience determine reality, they trusted God’s word and promises to them to determine reality. They had seen what God was capable of doing to His enemies. They saw what He had done to Pharaoh’s army without their even having to fight, and trusted that, if He had promised them this land, He could do something like that again.

Moses’ Response (14:13-19):
Again, Moses stands between the sinful people and God’s wrath- just like Jesus does for us- pleading with God to forgive them so that God’s name will be glorified. He calls God to act in accordance with His own character: slow to anger, steadfast love, forgiving.

God’s Response (14:20-35):
Again, God grants the request of the intercessor (Moses), not because of the sinful people, but because of the righteousness of the one interceding, and because of His own character. Though they will still suffer the consequences of their sin, God pardons sinners.

What Can We Learn?

1. When we have a problem, need, or desire, God wants us to bring it to Him in prayer with a heart submissive to His will. He desires for us to cry out to him, not against Him.

2. Sometimes, we’re the problem. Sometimes we’re in anguish over a problem that’s not really a problem, but a selfish or ungodly desire we’re not even supposed to have.

3. When we face difficult situations, God wants us to calm down, trust His word and His promises, and obey Him, not reject Him in order to do things our own way. Like the song says, “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”