If you open a container of spoiled yogurt, it really stinks. I found that out the hard way! I was in the third grade, walking home from school. My route took me through the back parking lot of a grocery store. Like most young boys, I played “kick the can” with about anything that came across my path. This day – it was a full container of yogurt. In my home, we had never eaten yogurt, not that I could remember anyway.
Intrigued by this unknown substance, I picked it up and opened it. Ever had the dry heaves? Oh my goodness! It had spoiled and rotted inside the container and when I lifted the lid – the most horrendous stench you can imagine over took my entire little third grade body. I threw it as hard as I could and ran all the way home. I was mad and sick all at the same time! Traumatized for life, I couldn’t stand the thought of yogurt for decades.
It occurred to me a few months ago that many of us may have a primary emotion that sits just under the surface. We’re not much different than that spoiled container of yogurt. We’re just waiting for someone to come along and open the lid just a bit to let it out.
Where I began thinking about this was sitting in church one Sunday. Our fellowship had been through a rather traumatic year. We had experienced the grieving after effects of great loss of life. Our pastor lost a battle with pancreatic cancer and a young couple had lost their three-year-old daughter in a tragic accident. It left us with questions and even uncertainty at times. Even through the strength of God, there had still been a heaviness as we emerged from those dark months. But things started to change.
I began noticing it as our pastor preached. Folks were laughing – even when things said weren’t all that funny. It was as if you could sense the whole atmosphere in the room was lightening. I made the remark to my wife that, “It seems our church is on the edge of laughing, just wanting a chance to let it out.” And there it was. Suddenly, I realized that groups of people are not much different from individuals. There is a primary emotion lurking under the surface, just waiting for the right situation to let it out.
Think about some of the people you know. Know any hot-heads? How about cynics? It doesn’t take much to set them off, does it? It’s as if they are just daring someone to tick them off or give them an excuse to vomit their sarcasm and critical opinions.
The more I think about it, I believe it’s a choice. Not necessarily like a switch you can just turn on and off – but a choice of what we fill our hearts and lives with.
Think of it this way. Imagine you’re filling a balloon. It may be with air or water or shaving cream or whatever. If you continue to fill it, at some point, the latex gives way and what’s on the inside can’t help but escape. It was in there – but you may not really see it until the balloon pops.
The choice we get to make is that we can fill our hearts with a multitude of options. We can choose to feed on negativity and fear, or anger and sarcasm. Or, we can choose to fill our hearts and minds with goodness and grace and forgiveness and joy.
This is what Paul was talking about to the Philippians: “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
I know there are those moments in our lives where tragedy comes our way – where calamity and wrongdoing bring us to the brink. Sometimes mourning is appropriate and crying is the best response.
But by and large, for the day-in and day-out routines of life, what emotion is your first response? What comes out when someone pops your balloon or lifts your lid? Will it be spoiled and rotten yogurt? Or something more pleasant? I don’t know about you, but I’ve made a decision. I’m going to live my life on the edge of laughter.