• Stephanie Ehmke, MA, LPC

More than a "Pollyanna Smile"


“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”


Philippians 4:8 (NIV)


I love this verse. On more than one occasion it has accosted my thoughts and challenged me to think differently. Because let’s be honest, there just those times when it can be so easy to think negative, ugly, disgruntled thoughts about people or situations. This verse has always been one that helps get me back on track and regain a God-honoring focus, even in the toughest of situations.


However, there is a danger in the way this verse is sometimes used. God is not calling us to be inauthentic or to put on a “Pollyanna Smile” when life isn’t good or people disappoint us. So what does it look like to embrace these words practically with authenticity? The word that comes to mind is PERSPECTIVE. God is challenging us to view life from a different point of view.


I recently had the opportunity to sit with a group of women and ask them how they appropriate this verse in their lives. The number one answer was GRATITUDE. When life is hard and people disappoint, these women said they look for the positive or what they can be thankful for in some way. Honestly, this is a great perspective to have and would benefit many people to embrace. Gratitude changes you, it really, really does. But what happens when the unthinkable strikes – tragedy, sickness, or death? Is it possible or even plausible to have a heart of gratitude or to look for something praiseworthy in those moments?


The answer is a humble, “yes” realized through years of experience walking with people through the furnace of pain. This “yes” is only possible though, once again through perspective. However, it’s not in how we see the situation, it’s how we view the One who is sovereign over all the details and events in life. How we see Him in the details is what changes everything; it’s what changes us.


I recall one of the most heart-wrenching situations of my parenting journey. Years ago, one of my children was making some devastating and potentially life-altering choices. It was a time of fear and frustration and the first time I came to realize that I truly had no control over this life. Either everything I believed about God was real and he would show up in some way or I was going to fall apart. Jesus was my families’ only hope.


The words above from Philippians came to mind, but my wounded momma's heart had no perspective of gratitude. The heartache was too overwhelming. But the one thing I could cling to, through this dense fog of uncertainty, was truth. I could think about “whatever is true”. And what was true in my situation according to the whole of Scripture was that God was with me. So that is what I would embrace. Daily, through tears streaming, I would pray what I knew to be true of my Savior.… “I DON’T SEE YOU, but I know you are there; I don’t see you, BUT I KNOW you are there; I don’t see you, but I know YOU ARE THERE!”This was all my heart could muster, but it was enough, and as I would daily express it, my heart found peace to endure.


When we read verses like Philippians 4:8, be encouraged. God doesn’t expect or want his children to live fake, inauthentic lives to make him look good. If we can find things to be grateful for in our situations then wonderful, let’s give him thanks and praise for those things. But if life is overwhelming, look to his Word and find what is true to embrace. This is a hope that will never disappoint and that will carry you through the fiercest of storms.



For Your Reflection…


In my situation, thinking on “whatever is true”was not a fake “Pollyanna Smile” or a polite “oh, life is great” attitude. It was a new perspective, forged through desperation to find “whatever is true”about God in my situation.


In your current situation, what is your perspective? Are there things for which you can be authentically grateful? If you are struggling, what is true about God that you can cling to for hope?

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