Aug. 7, 2020

Spiritual Maturity: Having the right attitudes

Spiritual Maturity: Having the right attitudes

This week we discuss having the right attitudes. We also begin by talking with my son Jake who tries to define attitudes for us. The book I mention in this episode

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

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In this episode of Balancing the Christian Life we talk about having the right attitudes, and we start off by talking to my son Jake.

Well that’s my son Jake. And he’s a kid with a pretty good attitude. And he’s not wrong, attitude is hard to define. Part of spiritual maturity is having the right attitudes. But it’s hard to say exactly what an attitude is. We know what it is, but how would you describe it to someone else? Think about that for a moment. Part of our difficulty in describing what an attitude is comes from how deeply embedded they are. Attitudes are a combination of the things we think are important, how we feel about them, and how we end up acting, kind of like Jake said. They’re not the same thing as values. Values are the things we think are good or bad, better or worse. Attitudes are more complex. In class, the way I illustrate the difference is to ask students how many believe exercise is good. Almost all the hands go up. Then I ask them how many of them exercise regularly. Fewer hands go up. They told me they value exercise, but the attitude toward exercise was different. Attitudes end up being the way we frame the world. An old quote attributed to the Talmud says, “we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.” In other words, through our attitudes, we train ourselves to see the world a certain way.

Attitudes serve useful functions. They allow you to move from decision to decision without getting lost in details. Sheena Iyengar is a professor and author who wrote a book entitled The Art of Choosing. In her book, she argues most people can’t handle having too many options. In her classic experiment, she worked at a grocery promotion stand trying to sell gourmet jam. The brand had 24 jams to choose from. So on one day, she put out samples of all 24. The next day, she chose six jams as samples. So which do you believe resulted in more sales? You probably already know. More people were drawn to the 24 jams, but almost ten times more people bought when there were only 6 jams to sample. When we have too many choices, the decision-making process becomes paralyzing and not motivating. So we start looking for shortcuts to help us make quick decisions. We all know to not judge a book by its cover, but that’s exactly what we tend to do. To be fair, most decisions we make aren’t very important and attitudes serve us pretty well.

But some attitudes are just wrong or dangerous. If your attitude is the world is made of people who are evil or incompetent, we find the proof we need to support that idea. Or if we think parts of our lives are difficult, we find every reason that’s true. When I teach public speaking, I see this played out in several students. They fear public speaking because they believe it is hard. So they procrastinate on a speech to the point they can’t do well. They don’t research, they don’t practice, and by the time they give their speeches, they don’t do well. So now they have proof speech is hard. Henry Ford is credited with saying, “if you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

Jesus talks all about attitudes, especially on the sermon on the Mount. He directly addressed the mindset of someone who wants to be his follower. We call them the Beatitudes, but they are eight ideas Jesus says need to be the outlook of His followers.

The eight attitudes Jesus talks about are humility, tenderheartedness, meekness, righteousness, mercy, having good motives, seeking peace, and withstanding attack. These attitudes are easy to list but difficult to follow.  If we’re not careful, we can paint these into the picture of someone who is passive and a pushover. But think for a minute about who Jesus was and what He did. Can we agree Jesus followed his own advice and had these attitudes. Well I hope so. Remember, the Jesus who had these attitudes was also the Jesus who called out the Sadducees, threw businessmen out of the Temple, and outright condemned the actions of the Pharisees on more than one occasion. The one who told us what attitudes to have showed us someone modeling them should be anything but a pushover. Jesus told us to seek peace, but understood when it was important to stand up to things that weren’t right. The only time I can see Jesus confronting was when the people involved should have known better.

Jordan Peterson helped shed some light on the idea of meekness, especially. He said the idea behind meekness isn’t weakness. It means having the strength to fight but the character to keep yourself out of one.

It’s one thing to know the different types of attitudes we should have. Those are important. But what if that’s not where we are? Let’s face it, we all need attitude adjustments from time to time. We may love sharing news where someone else made a really bad choice. We need to spill the tea. Or sharing stories where others are always in the wrong. In other words, our attitude towards others may be they are stupid, or evil. Let’s be clear, there are plenty of people who make horrible decisions. Including me. And I’ve also been guilty of talking about the stupid choices other people make. We’ve all been on both sides of this fence. We’ve all talked about the idiot who made that dumb choice, and we’ve all been that idiot.

I’m going to argue if we truly want to change our attitudes, we need to become people who are thankful, people who ask why, and people who shift our perspectives.

Again, when it comes to attitude, it’s hard to overlook the attitude Jesus had toward those around him. He was constantly surrounded by people who weren’t as good as he was. They made stupid mistakes, they misunderstood who he was. They fought and bickered over silly things, and yet Jesus was literally the calm in the storm. And before he did something important, he thanked God. Before he fed the 5,000, he thanked God. Before he raised Lazarus, he thanked God. After the 72 disciples came back, he thanked God. As he had the last passover, he thanked God. Being grateful makes your life better. Being grateful means you recognize someone else has helped you. Being grateful keeps you from feeling entitled because you recognize someone gave you a gift. Gratitude fill voids. You already know this. The act of helping others who need it fills you with gratitude. 

The research behind the science of optimism should help all of us to at least consider trying to get happier. Optimists have fewer diseases, they have fewer psychological problems, they have lower blood pressure, less heart problems and they sleep better. 

Another way to get through a bad attitude is really an extension of episode 5, critical thinking. I want you think about one of your bad attitudes. Perhaps it’s you hate the way your boss treats you. Why? Well, because he makes you feel small and insigifncant? Why? Because you feel like you can never live up to his standards. Why? Because I don’t feel like I don’t have the skills he wants in this job. Why? Because I’m not so sure I’m good at my job. This technique is called the five whys. What you’ll notice is asking why multiple times often uncovers your fears. And then you can ask if those fears are warranted. Look, if you feel like you’re not good at your job, you can just ask your boss. Or you can go out and improve your skillset. But it sounds like your real insecurity was about yourself and not your boss at all. Your attitude was centered on your boss, but the insecurity was in yourself.

Because so many of our attitudes are madebut never questioned, trying to uncover their origins often shows us how flimsy they truly are. Asking ourselves why five times can often uncover the reason we have our bad attitude and give us a clear path to fix it.

Finally, shifting our perspective can help us challenge our bad attitudes by asking us to take someone else’s point of view into account. Jesus told his followers to think about flowers. You’ll notice flowers grow and God takes care of them just fine. Or birds. God takes care of them, too. Or someone we may criticize. Why are they like that? How were they raised? What options do they have? Is this the best they can do? It’s easy to criticize others and their choices, but we rarely have their perspectives. We rarely understand their limitations. Treating others as well as we would treat ourselves is what we call the golden rule. 

But perhaps taking another perspective may help us even more. How does God see our attitudes? How does he see our mistakes? Do you think he hates us or criticizes us. Do you think he talks poorly of us. Or do you see the prodigal son’s father who keeps looking down the road, waiting for his son to come to his senses. 

I highly recommend these tactics to help you get the right attitudes. I wish I could say you just snap your fingers and your attitudes are fixed. But I do know this, our bad attitudes towards others don’t hurt others. They hurt us. They keep us from growing. They keep us in a place of pettiness. 

Jake’s right, understanding attitudes is hard. And it’s hard to overcome bad attitudes. But it’s worth the effort.