Forget the Weeds, Focus on the Flowers


positive attitude

Do you find yourself in a deep well of discouragement, disappointment, or frustration these days? Do you often believe your circumstances are much more negative than positive? Do you find it difficult to keep a positive attitude?

If we are honest, most of us answer yes to these questions. We all experience down times, times in which the glass feels half empty rather than half full. Certainly, God gave us all a full range of emotions, both positive and negative, and we are going to have times in which we feel depressed or anxious. But what can we do about it? One of the greatest ways to deal with our down times is to grow the African violet parts of our lives.

An African Violet Life

Milton Erickson, a now-deceased psychiatrist, once went to a friend’s home in Milwaukee. His friend had an aunt who was very old and very wealthy. She lived in a huge Victorian home with incredible antiques, but his friend was concerned because she was depressed. And so at his friend’s request, Dr. Erickson visited this aunt.

The aunt took him on a tour of her entire home. All the blinds were closed. It was dark, gloomy, and depressing. The last place she took him to was a bright and cheery room full of gorgeous African violet plants. It was in stark contrast to the rest of the house. Standing in the beautiful room, Dr. Erickson felt compelled to speak. “I can see what your problem is,” he began.

Looking deep into her eyes, he simply stated, “You are not really a very good Christian.” Completely insulted, the depressed woman finally managed to ask, “What do you mean?”

“Here you have this great gift for growing African violets,” Dr. Erickson gently explained, “And you keep it all to yourself. If I were you, I would get your church bulletin, and whenever someone had a birthday, or a death, or a wedding, or an anniversary, or whatever, I would take them one of your beautiful African violet plants as a gift.”

After that, Dr. Erickson left and never spoke to the old woman again. As Dr. Erickson told this story to a group of students, he pulled out an old, yellow Milwaukee newspaper article. The headline read: “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Dies… Mourned by Thousands.” As usual, a curious student raised his hand and asked, “Why did you have her give out plants instead of treating her depression?” After a short pause, the wise teacher explained, “I decided it would be easier to grow the African violet part of her life than to weed out the depression.”

What is Your Focus—Weeds or Flowers?

What does this story have to do with your emotions? Plenty. Whenever you start to experience down times, times in which you feel depressed or anxious, your focus can change. Instead of being able to focus on what is positive or on possible solutions, when we experience depression or anxiety, we tend to focus on our problems. That is the true danger of these negative types of emotions. If we do not deal with them in a constructive manner, our outlook can become negative or “problem-focused.” When this happens, we run the risk of becoming consumed or overwhelmed by our own negativity, or worse, feeling helpless and hopeless.

The Key to Fighting and Fixing Our Problem Focus

Become “solution-focused.” Solution-focused people deal with their problems in the same manner that Dr. Erickson encouraged the African Violet Queen. Don’t try to weed out the negatives. Instead, grow the positive parts of your life. In other words, instead of focusing on your problems or negative emotions, focus on your strengths or on possible solutions to your problems.

Try to remember what worked in the past. For example, if you are feeling depressed, think back to a time when you weren’t depressed, when you felt happy or satisfied. What was different about that time? What were you doing differently? Remain focused on what you can do for yourself. If you believe your happiness before was because of someone else, then you run the risk of becoming dependent upon others. We want to be proactive in looking for things that used to cause personal satisfaction. If prayer, exercise, or reading made you happy before, for example, start doing those things again.

Remember, no matter how discouraged, disappointed or frustrated you may get throughout the day, no matter how negative or pessimistic your outlook on life is, you can change your focus. The best way to become solution-focused is to review your life for the exceptions to your problems. By doing this, God can use you to minister to many people. Perhaps you are the next African violet Queen (or King) of Milwaukee.

How can you change your focus from the negative in your life to the positive?

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and is passionate to equip premarital and married couples with the knowledge, skills and insights necessary to enjoy a lifetime together.

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