Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
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 is contained within a letter that addresses two women who are fighting with each other and what to do when people think differently. This verse is not the whole answer, but it does address what we are to do within ourselves to keep the peace.
It is about what we are to focus our thoughts on.
And it does not say to focus on what the other person said, or did to you. Nor does it say to focus on whatever you believe to be ‘stupid,’ and ‘ungodly.’ Instead it tells us to focus on the truth, not on our opinion of the truth, but on what scripture actually says, because that is the only truth. It is only then that we may accurately discern what is right, and find the ways to explain it to others (rather than yell and try to cram the same things down their throats over and over again).
We are also to focus on what is noble. Wanting to tear someone apart is not typically ‘noble’ behavior, so all of those thoughts about what you would like to see happen to the other person need to be pushed aside. What is noble is to work in the best interests of those with whom you disagree. This may not mean that you buddy up to them and become their best friend. There are very real reasons why we sometimes disagree, and the Bible does tell us to stay far from the wicked and the hot tempered. But, as hard as it may be to do so, we are to focus on being the best person we can be.
This involves doing what is right. So there is no thought of doing anything vindictive, or passive-aggressive to get the person back. We are to do what is right to do. This also means that we do what is right with regards to the rest of our relationships as well. We do not allow the person we are in conflict with to consume us so that we do not function well in the other areas of our life. We also do not drop everything to run and cater to the person whom we are in conflict with when they make unreasonable demands. Bad behavior is often a ploy to get attention and love in an unhealthy way. Dropping everything in hopes of fixing a relationship over and over again will only reinforce needy behavior, make you miserable, and strain your healthy relationships. Doing what is ‘right’ means that you try to fix the things you can, but you also recognize when someone is being unreasonable, and you do not deprive those who are behaving for unreasonable requests.
We are also to think about what is pure. Your love for your spouse, your children, your love for the Lord- those things are pure, and deserving of your attention. Thinking about what mean thing so-and-so-said, or how much you hate someone is not. Re-focus your attention to the good in your life. Focus on what the people around you do right, rather than on what they do wrong. And learn to put the people who frequently abuse you into a low-priority slot when it comes to the things you allow yourself to think on.
Think about what is ‘lovely’ to you. God created the world and put some impressively talented people in it. Surround yourself with things that you find pleasing. Grow flowers, invest in art if that is what pleases you. I like earth-toned, well-worn objects and my children’s creations. What is ‘lovely’ to you does not have to be ‘lovely’ to everyone. Make sure your home is calming. Play music and create beautiful memories.
Think about what is admirable. When the Sandy Hook massacre happened old advice from Mr. Rogers was circulated telling us to help our children focus on the people who helped and not the man who caused the hurt. While bad people exist in this world it is still amazing to see how many people come together to help when they are needed, even to the point of giving their own lives. Focus on those who sacrifice- the police, firemen, rescue workers. And teach your children about the heroes. Sadly we probably know more about Hitler than we do Mother Theresa. This should change. People need role models to understand what it is to be admirable. Focus on those who are and apply their example to your own life as well.
Finally, we are told to think about what is excellent, or praiseworthy. It is empowering to see what someone else has done well, and doing well is what we should strive for. We are not to settle for less than we could achieve, but instead we were made to use our talents in ways that only we, being unique, could. And we are to praise those who do well. Lifting up people who go above and beyond encourages them and others to do even more. Praise, given when something is truly praiseworthy, buoys the spirit and gives one energy to push even further. Admiring what is good also makes it difficult to have the conflicting emotion that comes with focusing on what is bad. Keep life in perspective, and remember that the ‘good’ deserves more of your attention than the ‘bad.’ It is not that we do not take care of the problems, but when they are done being handled, we are to move on to more wholesome thoughts, trusting God to do the rest in His time.
So, do not allow petty disagreements to consume you, leaving you unavailable for other people who have not recently mistreated you. While words do hurt, we must work to avoid allowing the problems in our lives to be the primary focus of our attention. In doing this we deprive good people of the love and care they deserve from us as well. Prioritize those who treat you well. Not the flatterers, but the ones who truly have your back and love you.
You have a choice. You can fill your head with garbage, awful thoughts that depress and consume. And you can fill your time with people with whom nothing ever seems to go right and you are always crying over. Or, you can choose something different. You can seek people who don’t invite drama into their relationships (be warned, they prioritize well, so you will not have their constant attention- this is co-dependency and it is not healthy!). You can seek to surround yourself with what is good, and focus on what is positive, instead of what is negative. This is what is healthy. This is what allows you to love, and be free and feel joy. This is what God wants for your life.
Will petty squabbles come? Yes. But they are not to consume you. In a healthy relationship there will be fights and misunderstandings, but they will be resolved and as the relationship grows they will become fewer. Immature relationships are marked with frequent fighting, that seems to be resolved, usually with a overly emotional ending where everyone loves each other again, only to be re-enacted in the near future. These are the relationships you need to set boundaries on and de-prioritize. They resolve more quickly when they receive less attention, but it is really the maturing process of the person who engages in this behavior that will determine how long they last, not you, so do what you can, leave it to God and think on other things.