After killing his brother Abel, Cain hid from God. When confronted by God as to Abel’s whereabouts, Cain brazenly asked God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” A more modern translation would be “What, you expect me to follow him around like a baby and keep tabs on his every move?” Basically he was using sarcasm to convey to God that he felt he didn’t have to take any responsibility for his brother whatsoever. Who cares where he was or what he was doing. It wasn’t of any concern to Cain.
But actually, Cain was responsible for Abel. Cain was the firstborn, and sometime later Abel came along. Abel was a responsibility to Cain because Abel was younger, more vulnerable, in need of learning new things. He needed someone to look out for him, someone to look up to, someone from whose experience he might gain. Cain was older and had that life experience.
I use this story to take a look at something that’s really been bothering me lately. Every now and then I’ll hear or read a comment advocating that we should surround ourselves with positive people in order to stay positive. Negative people bring you down, right? So protect yourself and keep those negative folks at bay and you’re guaranteed to feel better, have a more positive outlook, and just be happy and successful in general. I know people who delete negative Facebook people from their friends list, or more harmfully just delete them from their physical lives.
Honestly, it should go the other way. People who are positive and want to protect their positive bubble or outlook on life shouldn’t shun negative people. They should be the very ones seeking to lift up and encourage those who are downtrodden, cynical, or pessimistic. Positive people are the Cains of emotional well-being, and to cut ties with their negative human brothers and sisters is to abandon the Abels whom God has put in their lives. They are their negative brother’s keeper so to speak.
We are all accountable for each other. If someone enters our life, there is a measure of responsibility to them. We may sarcastically shirk the idea much as Cain did to God, but to our own detriment. For if our rejection and abandonment of them in their time of trouble leads to their harm, God will surely question us regarding it and then bring about a just response.
I’m not saying we need to be doormats to the naysayers and sink to the bottom with them in their negativity or despair. God says to bear each others burdens, but also to lay our burdens on him. If we aren’t going to God to unload our own burdens or relying on Him for strength to bear others burdens, then yes, we will become saturated with heaviness and at risk of being bound to negativity. Or, we will become weary of the weight of our Abels and cut them loose from our lives out of self-preservation.
So how do we deal with chronically negative people, or even the sometimes negative?
- As stated above, take it to God, and take from God.“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28 & 30)
- Regularly practice openness to God’s love; be a receiver of that love. If our love tank is empty we have nothing to pour out into others. “May your roots grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:17-19)
- Be patient. It didn’t take a negative person one or two times to become filled and burdened with negativity, so don’t expect your one or two pep talks to snap them out of the pattern. If you are living in God’s love for you and letting it fill you with love for others, patience comes with much greater ease. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (I Corinthians 13:4 – 7)
- Seek wisdom, understanding, and insight. Ask God for them. These will allow you to discern in every aspect of listening to, loving, encouraging, and teaching those who are chained to negative patterns. “Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2: 2 – 3 & 2:9)
- Have a support system/community with other positive people and invite them to tag team your investment in a negative person to help them past their negative thoughts, emotions, and patterns. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9 – 10)
As one who has dealt with a fair amount of negativity and negative people, I know it can be frustrating and difficult to endure the Debbie Downers in life, especially if I’ve reiterated my best advice till the breath has left me. Likewise, as one who has been stuck in a rut of negative thoughts and perspective, I know what it is like to be so easily dismissed and given up on. I can tell you this, cutting loose that negative person and denying them whatever measure of support you can is to shove them harder into the negative cycle and further into despair. The last verse offered above, in the last phrase says “Someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” How desperate are they, how compounded their troubles, when they are left alone by those in pursuit of their own happiness, who dare not risk the responsibility of a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.
Peace to all, and please know that I welcome your own tips or experiences on this topic.