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by Henry Brinton, December 22 2020

Advent Devotion: Signs of Light

Philippians 4:8, by Elizabeth Hughes


As humans, negative experiences weigh heavily on us. Oftentimes, it is easier to list things that didn’t happen that we wanted, or bad things that happened rather than the good. Even one small bad thing, can seemingly ruin an otherwise beautiful day. We are so fortunate to live for and be loved by God, yet we so easily dismiss the little wins, or the small acts of kindness we experience. In Philippians chapter 4 verse 8 we read the words “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” but why do we so easily dismiss them?

As a senior in college, I was enrolled in a class called “Social Psychology.” The professor spoke quickly and with a strong accent, so I often found myself scrambling to grasp small amounts of the content, having no response to questions that were asked of me and experiencing great embarrassment when I was scolded for “not paying attention” as I scrambled through pages of notes trying to make sense of what the question was even asking. Each day, I came back to class and hoped it would go better than the day before. Each day, I left class fixating on the material I couldn’t seem to grasp, or the reprimand for not understanding the material as I was struggling to do so. I still look back on that class experience and immediately remember the negative reprimands and frantic note taking. However, two very important and positive things did come from this class.

The first of which was one slide of a lecture, that cited a journal from 2001 from a professor at Florida State University. The article examined the idea of human rumination on unpleasant events more so than happy ones. The author, Roy F Baumeister, discusses the idea that this tendency is so strong, it takes five good events to overcome the psychological effects of one single bad event. This idea stuck with me. It stayed in the back of my mind, and I have thought about it often. But to be honest, a 5:1 ratio? That feels like an awful lot of counteracting spilling my morning coffee. Then I think back to Philippians. The one bad thing, my coffee spilled. But 5 things that are worthy of praise? Suddenly feel a little less daunting. I think this to myself as my daughter giggles in my arms. We walk outside and the sun is shining. I check the mail and wave to a neighbor who smiles. My daughter hugs my neck as we turn back to the house. And our sweet dog wags his tail and waits for us in the doorway. That’s 5 things. 5 things that I might have overlooked as positive events had I not been thinking and reflecting on these ideas.

The second important life long treasure from that class? In my struggles to understand the material, I joined a study group of other students in the class that were also struggling. One of those students was Charlie Hughes. That’s right, the start of the greatest friendship of my life came from my struggles in a college lecture. And that, to me, is certainly excellent and worthy of praise.

There is no doubt, that these times we are facing are trying, and negative events are all around us. But throughout our discussions, in our discussions as ministry groups and in your everyday lives, I encourage you all as Christians to support one another, spread kindness, and add to the excellent and praise-worthy events in others’ lives. And I thank you all for adding to mine. Amen.

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by Henry Brinton

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