Have you ever been to an event in which someone used the phrase, “You will get out of this what you put into it”? I’m sure you’ve heard some iteration of the saying, since I feel like I can’t get away from it. At work, at the gym, at church, over and over again: “What you get out of this is a direct result of what you put into it.” I’m not saying that the sentiment isn’t true, I just think it needs to be broadened: it seems to me that what we put into life is what we get out of it.
In Luke 6 Jesus alludes to at least part of this reality, stating, “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes. A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken” (v. 43-45). Ultimately, Jesus tells us that the quality of what we do and what we produce is directly related to the quality of our hearts.
This could not resonate with me more. There seems to be a three-part process that goes something like: 1) we encounter information, emotions, and experiences, 2) those shape our hearts and selves, and 3) out of our hearts and selves we then act and speak. And our relationship with God impacts every single one of these steps in a foundational way.
During my masters degree I specialized in Religion and Psychology. One of my favorite psychologists does positive psychology and teaches at Harvard. Please watch his TED Talk here, because I can’t come close to summarizing his work in this blog post. One of the strongest points he makes, though, is that we train our brains what to notice. The more often we focus on the negative, the bothersome, the irritating, the more our brains scan for the negative. If instead, though, we intentionally choose to focus on the positive and the encouraging, our brains will follow suit by scanning for the positive. It’s pretty amazing!
We can take intentional steps to choose what goes into our minds and hearts, and therefore what shapes us. From there, we speak and act in ways that demonstrate what is already rooted inside of us. This isn’t an exact science: for instance, I can’t control whether a driver is going to cut me off on the interstate. I can, though, decide how deeply that will impact my mood, which words I choose to say (eek!), and how long I will hold onto the experience. If we inculcate anxious, distressing, and despairing experiences, we will then produce anxiety, distress, and despair. However, if we embed our hearts with the encouraging, the positive, and the hopeful, we will then produce encouragement, positivity, and hope.
Another word for the phase 3 acting and speaking is teleology. It comes from the Greek telos, meaning the ultimate end. I use this as a helpful frame for evaluating most things in life, simply by asking, “What does it produce? What does it create? What grows out of it?” One of my former pastors used to say that we are always creating either more good or more counter-good in every action we take. So today, may we look at what we produce and create, and evaluate whether we are germinating more love and goodness in the world. And if not, may we re-center ourselves and make the changes we need to make in order to begin scanning for the good, making our inner selves more whole, and ultimately producing good, good fruit for the world.