Are You Contagious?

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I was called in to work at my part-time job yesterday by the Program Manager.  It seems that the other full-time staffer had come to work his shift, even though he was obviously quite sick with a cold.  The big boss got one look at him, called me and sent him home to get some rest.  In the closed environment that is our halfway house, the very last thing she wanted was to have that sickness spread to the rest of the staff and our residents.

“Didn’t he know how contagious he was,” she said to me with exasperation. “You’d think he would use better judgment.” Though I agreed with her, I also thought of the more than a few times over the years I had gone into my place of regular employment sick enough to have stayed home.  Whatever rationalization I used then, not wanting to fall behind/save my sick time for when I really need it, etc., I dragged me and my contagion into the shop to share with everyone who dared to breath the same air as me.

As often happens to me these days in my roll of pastor/preacher, the common place occurrences of life rattle around in my brain until they form some type of illustration for a future sermon or lesson to be taught.  Yesterday’s encounter with a sick co-worker is yet another example.

I woke this morning thinking of my cold-stricken friend, and prayed that God would give him the strength to be able to work today (after all, I don’t really want to get called in again today!).  The idea of spreading what is inside of us then came to mind.  What am I exhaling, metaphorically, that might affect others today? What are my words, thoughts and attitudes doing to the people I will encounter?

To my way of thinking, there are two answers to these questions: I can either bring people down, infecting them with negativity, or I can attempt to be an encourager, spreading hope and care when the opportunity to do so is presented.

With so much bad news spiraling around us these days, it can be easy to be drawn into it.  My advice, to both you and me, is to be careful.  Though it may at times seem easier to simply join the rising tide of negativism, I urge you to not give in.  Don’t allow your current circumstances to be the sole director of the way you feel and/or respond to life.  Many times in my role of pastor I have encouraged folks to do this (I even take my own advice, sometimes). The problem, as I see it about zeroing in on my current situation only, is that this approach puts me squarely in the middle of everything.  When I go tunnel-vision in this way, it is only the largest, most current problem that comes into focus.  The next thoughts then become inevitable, ‘if this is bad now, it most likely will only get worse.’ Seeing anything good or hopeful is obscured by what I have centered my thoughts on.

Carrying this weight with me into the day will most likely make me negatively contagious.  I tend to seek the company, not comfort, of those feeling as I do.  Here it is easy to infect each other with pessimism and lament.  Misery loving company can most assuredly be seen in this group.

I understand that it is often easier to simply go with the flow in this way.  It’s as if we become just comfortable enough with the problems we have to not want to really be rid of them.

Conversely, will being the carrier of a more positive contagion make all our problems go away? I’m afraid not.  But choosing (and it is a choice we have to make) to swim against the current can be a powerful example to others.

Bottom line: If I choose to be and spew miserable all day, the chances are quite high that I will be at least as miserable at days end that I was at the beginning.  Might I suggest a change in approach? Find something, anything, that holds some attainable hope to you.  Once identified, spend more time thinking about this than you do staying in the familiar spin of the bad stuff.

Remember, it is not the fulfilling of this particular hope that will make you a happier, more serene carrier.  Though it might help to see it come to fruition in the short-term, being in this condition long-term is a commitment each one of us will have to take on.

Back to my ill co-worker; I’m sure he didn’t choose to catch a hard cold.  Exposure happens, many times beyond our control.  What is in control is our reaction.  In his case, stay home, rest up and drink plenty of healthy fluids.  As for the rest of us, our attitude self-care is important as well.  I know I handle the challenges of each day much better when I am rested and properly nourished.  But most importantly,taking care of myself puts me in a better position to make the correct choice about what kind of carrier I will be.

If you are struggling with any of this, please know you at not alone.  What I’ve suggested is not some miracle cure-all.  But I am convinced, from my own personal experiences, that when I make the effort to choose to be in a more positive state of mind, the bad things that show up on my radar don’t dominate the screen.

Blessings to you all,

Pastor Chuck