Everyone has bad days. In fact, as I write this, I am among them. These kinds of emotional lows are just a part of life. But I think it’s safe to say we have all dealt with at least one person in our lives who is just excessively negative. That individual who almost always leads off a conversation with something that’s going wrong in their lives or the world in general. Offers of advice for how to improve things are quickly struck down with excuses; reassurances and encouragement are quickly trumped with “Well, I’m glad you believe in me, but I sure don’t.” These people just seem determined to wallow in their misery. And it can be draining to be around them!
There’s a lot the Bible doesn’t tell us about the day-to-day life of God, Jesus, and the other men and women of the faith. But one can pretty safely deduce that dealing with negative people is an ongoing thing; after all, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are! As I’ve gotten older—and it seems like the world in general has gotten more negative—I’ve found myself turning more and more often to God, begging Him to show me how to handle the oppression of negativity. Below are just a few ways that I feel God has guided me to deal graciously with the negative people in my life…and I hope these will help you, too!
Remember that Jesus loves them, too.
Putting this clichéd phrase at #1 may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but bear with me. I know this from experience—it can be hard to love a negative person. Especially if they reject or doubt that love. But wherever that negativity is coming from, Jesus sees it…and he loves them through it. This is something we have to learn to do, too—especially because we cannot force people to change. We have to deal with them wherever they’re at; and if we want to do that in a godly way, it helps if we’re first and foremost looking at them like Jesus does, with eyes of love and a vision for their growth.
Don’t feed the monster.
Some people are genuinely venting in search of a solution—to let off some steam and then find a solution. But there also those who aren’t looking for healing or change; they simply fume negativity until someone tells them how wonderful/wise/okay they are. While it can often feel like the best course of action is to be conciliatory—to commiserate and let the person vent—there comes a point where the negativity just feeds on the reassurance it’s met with, without helping the person to actually heal. We have to guard ourselves and ensure we’re not perpetuating negativity by simply reassuring the person or telling them everything is perfect in such a way that it strokes their attitude without actually encouraging them to make a change. The negativity “monster” will never be fully satisfied, no matter how much human validation it receives; so we have to be careful that our attempts to comfort the aggravated don’t become a placebo for the genuine healing that comes from a relationship with God—and the validation of knowing who we are in Christ.
Don’t let the negativity in!
The saying “misery loves company” is likely so popular because it’s so accurate. Whether intentionally or not, a lot of excessively negative people tend to spread their unhappiness like a nasty cold. Scripture warns us to guard our hearts, and in the cases of negative company, we have to work hard not to allow another person’s sour outlook to become ours. Spending time focusing on the things of God—His goodness, His promises, and the things that He says are true about life—can help us to remain anchored so that we aren’t pulled out by the riptide of the unhappy people we deal with on a day-to-day basis. The saying goes that “a boat doesn’t sink because of the water around it; it sinks because of the water that gets in it.” This is true for our joyous spirit when negativity is involved. We have to have healthy boundaries where we are ready to hold fast and not let other people’s negativity drag us down.
Pray for them.
Another cliché, perhaps, but it’s true that in some cases, the only way to a help a person through a bout of negativity is to pray for them. God knows the heights and depths of the heart, and He knows what can cause a person to wallow in negativity and the way out of that pit. As much as we may want to speak into a situation and lift an individual out of the depths of their misery, it’s many times the case that the only One who can rescue them is God, through His infinite wisdom and ability to touch and heal the heart. In these cases, the very best, and by no means the least, that we can do is to pray fervently for that person’s healing and deliverance, which can bring them peace—and joy.