WHEN GIVING THANKS BECOMES TOXIC by Andrew Menkis for Core Christianity
In the past year, I’ve had a lot to give thanks for. After several years of renting, the Lord blessed my family with a home of our own. Shortly after moving, we had a healthy baby boy, our second child. These are amazing and wonderful blessings, undeserved gifts of God’s grace! I do my best not to take them for granted, and sometimes when I’m feeling down or overwhelmed, I remind myself how blessed I am.
We hear a lot about the power of gratitude from therapists, psychologists, and scientists. Expressing gratitude is healthy for our spiritual, emotional, and even physical wellbeing. In addition, thankfulness is at the heart of the Christian life. Believers are encouraged to have a thankful heart in all of life. As Christians, we can give thanks in all things because God has redeemed us, sustains us, and guides us safely to eternal life.
Yet, despite the importance and benefits of expressing gratitude, it’s possible for giving thanks to become toxic.
I was intrigued when I first heard the term “toxic positivity.” How could positivity be a bad thing? The phrase refers to times when being positive (expressing thankfulness or gratitude) is used to ignore or suppress hard, negative aspects of life, rather than focusing on and acknowledging hardship or pain. The fact is many parts of life are difficult because we live in a fallen world. Even the blessings in our life are tainted by the effects of sin. A new house is a blessing for my family, but that blessing comes with increased work and financial responsibility which, to be truthful, is tiring and frequently stressful. A new child is a wonderful and gracious gift from God, yet taking care of a newborn is no easy task. It’s demanding and exhausting. Every blessing, in a fallen world, has its challenges and difficulties.
This isn’t to say that it’s bad to focus on the good things we have in life. Finding what’s positive in dark and painful circumstances is a helpful and healthy way to work through hard times in life. As the saying goes, “Every cloud has its silver lining.” This becomes problematic, however, when we focus on the “silver lining” in order to ignore the cloud. Sometimes we need to focus on the cloud and acknowledge that it’s there and it’s affecting us. If we don’t, our positivity can become toxic. Gratitude becomes toxic positivity when it’s used to suppress negative feelings and thoughts about our lives, rather than accept that those thoughts and feelings are present, and that they may be very valid.