In a culture where even our favorite “good” guys often come with a bit of a dark side, it may be difficult to fathom (if you are younger) or remember (if you are older) the days when a hero could be so good, we used terms like “syrupy” or “wholesome” to describe them. But the 1960 Disney film, Pollyanna offers just such a hero. In fact, the young girl from this film who maintained a positive attitude in the face of all things to the contrary became so synonymous with the concept of goodness that those for whom goodness is an uncomfortable concept turned her name into an actual insult: “Don’t be such a Pollyanna,” they’ll say. And what they mean by that is that you are putting your head in the sand, ignoring reality, and being just, plain stupid.
But Pollyannas are actually quite the opposite. In fact, Pollyanna is a forerunner of an idea that has been around since time began, but that cycles in and out of popularity, like so many things: the concept of CHOICE. For no matter where you turn in the pages of history, or even your Bible, those who find peace are those who master the ability to realize that we choose how the things that happen to us will actually affect us. By choosing positive, God-directed thoughts, we keep ourselves on the narrow way of Kingdom citizens. Let’s see how Pollyanna did it.
As the story opens, Pollyanna has every reason to curl in the fetal position and hide in the attic room her aunt has stuck her in following the death of the young girl’s missionary parents. She could be angry that her aunt owns the town and yet sees her as a charity case. She could even be cowered by the servants who snarl at her and warn her not to get in the way.
But Pollyanna has been raised to be made of sterner stuff. First, she introduces to anyone who will listen the “glad game,” a way of thinking her father had taught her when the missionary barrels brought crutches instead of dolls to play with. If any situation comes up that might make Pollyanna feel down, instead she looks for a way of thinking about the circumstances that could be a good thing. She CHOOSES to be glad.
Guided by Pollyanna’s aunt, the local minister spews fire and brimstone from the pulpit each Sunday that leaves his congregation with a case of indigestion to last for the rest of the week! One day, as the preacher is alone at the top of a hill worrying himself over how little he seems to reach that congregation, up comes Pollyanna with a folded note to deliver from her aunt. As the preacher finds himself sharing his lamentations with the young girl, she has a bit more wisdom to impart from dear old dad.
If you look for the evil in mankind, expecting to find it, she tells the preacher, you surely will.
“Abraham Lincoln said that,” Pollyanna concludes. She goes on to explain that about the time her father found that quote, he had begun his study of what he called the “glad texts.” These were the verses where God instructed us to be happy, to find joy, to embrace love. Pollyanna tells the preacher there were 800 of them. “My dad said, ‘If God told us 800 times to be glad and rejoice, He must have wanted us to do it,'” she tells him.
The next Sunday, the preacher has obviously done some thinking about choice. He delivers the happiest sermon of his career. And, he lets Pollyanna know there are actually 862 glad verses. He knew because he had spent the better part of the night before staying up to count them.
Last week, I offered the roadmap to beginning your walk with Christ. With Christ in your life, you’ll soon discover that CHOOSING a Pollyanna world is more than possible, mainly because you are no longer facing the challenges of this world alone. The moment you accepted Christ as your Savior, repenting of the sinful life you have led, that we have all led, you were open for the entrance of the Holy Spirit, our Helper in this world to shine the light of Christ for those still in darkness.
There are many places in the Bible that likewise show a CHOOSING plan of action. Here is one of them, from Romans 12:9-21:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Each day, you are exposed to messages from television, the music you listen to, the billboards on the street. Many times, you don’t even have control over the messages that you are being bombarded with. But you do have the ability to CHOOSE which messages you will accept as truth. And you will have a growing understanding of God’s truth the more you study His word, communicate with fellow believers, and spend time in earnest prayer. Don’t forget, the devil has a real stake in making us believe the things that will keep us down, like “God can’t forgive me,” or “Nobody cares about me,” or “the Church will just judge me.” But God’s truth is about love and a believing community. Don’t let the devil make you confuse what feels good with what is good (but more on that another time).
For today, embrace the “glad game.” Choose to see the light in your situation instead of the darkness. Pollyanna managed to affect her entire new community in a positive way. It may have been a typical Disney ending, but it’s an ending God gives us the right to CHOOSE. Just open your hand and reach for it.