Maintaining a Positive Attitude
It’s part of the total health package.
The event is the 2010 Honolulu Marathon. Television cameras and reporters are poised at the finish line to capture a long-anticipated world-record moment. The exceptional athlete is Gladys Burrill. Trackers have been following her progress throughout the course, and now the finish-line spotter identifies her in the distance. Fans lean across the ropes to catch a glimpse. When she comes into view, cheers break out, and shouts of encouragement fill the air!
Suddenly Gladys slows, then stops. The fans’ shouts turn to groans. Questions fill the air: “Why did she stop?” “Is she injured?” “What’s the problem?” After a long pause, Gladys turns the doubts back to cheers as she resumes her pace and crosses the finish line with a world-record performance.
Gladys Burrill, age 92, has become the oldest woman to complete an official marathon. Guinness World Records confirmed Burrill’s accomplishment, and the Hawaii House of Representatives honored her with a certificate and lei ceremony.
One mystery remains: Why did she stop so close to the finish line? Her time could have been a full two minutes faster had it not been for that delay. Gladys explained that a few hundred feet from the finish line she stopped in order to pray, because in her words: “I thought my life would change once I crossed that line. I knew some people needed encouragement. It’s easy to get discouraged and be negative. It’s so important to think positive! It makes such a difference in how you feel and your outlook on everything.
“I had a lot of obstacles in life,” Gladys said, “but God was always there with me.” At age 11 she contracted polio but later recovered. The mother of five lost her son, Kevin, to a brain tumor. Then, just two years before she achieved the world record, her husband passed away.
Because of the inspiration of her positive attitude, the press dubbed her the “Glady-ator”! The NBC news headline read “92-year-old Marathoner’s Secret? ‘Think Positive.’ ”
Gladys is a Seventh-day Adventist, a living example of the benefits of the Adventist health message. Her diet is vegetarian; her lifestyle is active. But her positive attitude is what caught the imagination of the press.
A positive attitude is vital to total health. Paul advised the Christians in Thessalonica to practice three attitudes that fuel life with positivity: “Rejoice always,pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Let’s consider each in turn.
Jesus’ life was filled with joy. He wanted to impart it to the disciples: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Ellen White echoed this theme: We are called to “catch the reflection of the smile of God, and reflect it to others.”1
Because of back injuries, my father suffered severe pain. Many mornings he found it difficult to walk, yet he met people with a smile. When they asked how he was doing, his standard response was “Terrific.”
To me, it seemed hypocritical to project joy in the midst of pain. I asked him, “Dad, how can you tell people you are terrific when I know you are in pain? How can you smile instead of grimace?”
His response: “A smile is a ministry. It allows me to turn my attention toward others and not myself.” I learned that his secret to remaining positive was memorizing promises from Scripture and sharing them with others.
One of my dad’s favorites Bible texts was Psalm 34:5: “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” Dad’s smile and Bible promises were a positive gift that continues to bless my life.
A smile is face evidence of a positive attitude. Researchers from Wayne State University have measured the relationship between smile intensity and longevity. The Wayne State team found that people with broad smiles lived an average of about five years longer than those with no smile or weak smiles.
The attitude of joy goes beyond smiling. It is a gift that propels us through pain as well. In bad times it enables us to pursue God’s plan by visualizing victory. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). As Ellen White commented: “Faith in God’s love and overruling providence lightens the burdens of anxiety and care. It fills the heart with joy and contentment in the highest or lowest lot.” 2
Notice that Jesus did not equate joy with emotions. Feelings can fluctuate according to circumstances. At Gethsemane He prayed, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39). His emotions recoiled from the thought of separation from His Father; but joy enabled Him to paint the picture of victory on the canvas of agony.
Joy is the attitude of heaven. At the creation of the earth “all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7, margin). At Jesus’ birth the angel message was “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). During His ministry Jesus revealed: “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). He described heaven as entering into “your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21). No wonder Paul advised: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Joy leads us to experience the positive optimism of heaven in the midst of an epidemic of pessimism on earth.
A life of prayer “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17, KJV) can be experienced only through an attitude of prayer. Prayer endows us with “the mind of Christ,” enabling us to see all things through the eyes of God. Ellen White wrote: “Prayer is the breath of the soul. It is the secret of spiritual power.” 3
Since 1990 the United States’ National Institutes of Health has funded research that focused on the relationship between spirituality and health. In the book God, Faith, and Health Jeff Levin summarizes the findings of scholarly research in this field.
A number of studies focus on the impact of prayer on health. One example is Dr. Marc Musick’s study of 4,000 adults from North Carolina. The significant finding was that the more frequently people participate in prayer and Bible study, the healthier they rate themselves. Epidemiologists have found that how we rate our health has shown to be one of the reliable indicators of overall health.
Ellen White wrote: “Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise.” 4 Gratitude is based on the belief that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). The result of God’s work is goodness: it was true in the perfect world of the Garden of Eden, and it is also true in today’s imperfect world.
As our senses become tuned to the goodness of God, gratitude and praise flow through our beings. Our spirit is lifted in praise, our minds tuned to God’s thoughts, and acts of giving to others invigorate us with a “helper’s high.”
We Seventh-day Adventists experience the Sabbath as a day of gratitude as we cast our cares on Him and experience the goodness of salvation. As we praise Him for the goodness He has brought into our lives we experience the Sabbath blessing. I invite you to practice the benefits of the Sabbath throughout the week by taking daily “rest stops” to notice God’s goodness and express your gratitude.
Gratitude is the result of seeing God’s goodness in this present world. Gratitude in the future is the result of seeing God’s goodness in the world to come. The eye of hope sees God at work in this broken world, and interprets natural disasters as evidence of the soon return of Jesus. Hope not only fuels gratitude—it enhances health.
Pioneer Adventist physician John Harvey Kellogg declared: “Hope is the most powerful stimulant for the body.” Hope has significant impact on our physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Oncologist Jerome Groopman linked hope and healing in his book The Anatomy of Hope. “Clear-eyed, hope gives us the courage to confront our circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. For all my patients, hope, true hope, has proved as important as any medication.”
May we experience the positive attitudes of heaven: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) that we may “enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).
- Ellen G. White, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1932), p. 45.
- Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 600.
- Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1930), p. 249.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 251.