Earlier this year a friend of mine delivered a sermon at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Facebook comments soon informed him that the church had once been headed by Donald Trump’s favorite minister.
That minister was Norman Vincent Peale. Reverend Peale presided at his marriage to Ivana. Trump has spoken about Peale’s extraordinary sermons and teachings.
Regardless of what one thinks about Trump, his favorite minister warrants renewed attention. While Peale was popular in the 50s and 60s, he fell from the public eye because of some of his more conservative political positions. His writings were also seen simplistic and backwards-looking.
But there is a difference between simplistic and simple. Peale’s writing is far from simplistic. It does, however, convey some simple and overlooked guidance for living happier and more productive lives. What are they?
1. Always be optimistic because optimism makes happiness possible: Even in trying circumstances, which each of us faces, optimism benefits us. It helps us cope when things go wrong, while increasing the chance we can create a better outcome. This is not just faith talking. It is science.
Researchers have discovered what they term “the optimism bias.” The way we view the future helps shape what it turns out to be. When we view it positively, we reduce anxiety and stress. And we focus on creating the future we envision.
Much of the research in this area has, interestingly, come out of Israel. The world’s foremost optimism expert, Dr. Tali Sharot, writes that “The tendency for positive predictions to create positive outcomes is rooted in fundamental rules governing the way the mind perceives, interprets and alters the work it encounters.
“The mind has a tendency to try to transform predictions into reality because our behavior is influenced by our own subjective perceptions of reality.”
In other words, what we believe is more likely to come true because the belief generates the action we need. We will work harder to realize our beliefs. Peale knew 60 years ago what researchers are proving today. (Click here to get 10 Life-Changing Quotes from Norman Vincent Peale)
2. Find meaning in tragedy: Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In other words, we assign meaning to life’s events.
Certain events like the death of a loved one inevitably produce sadness. Yet, they can also lead us to make positive changes in our life. They remind us of what matters most. They can help us renew other relationships.
We can find hope, as Peale recognized, even in the worst circumstances. And we can turn our tragedy into a lifeline for others. Consider the victims of cancer and Alzheimer’s whose survivors have raised tremendous funds to help find a cure, so others do not experience the same tragedy.
3. Pray with intention: Peale was an extraordinary preacher. Yet, his colleagues said he always got tremendously nervous before getting up to speak.
What calmed him and gave him focus were a few simple prayers. They gave him the push to share his message with the thousands who needed it.
Peale understood prayer is not simply about saying something to God. It is also about saying something to ourselves.
It tells us of who we are and what we are called to do. It gives God an opening to into our hearts and minds so God can help use our gifts. It reminds us that God has our back.
300 years ago a Jewish mystic said “God dwells where we let Him in.” Prayer is a way of opening the door so God can come in. And when God comes in, we find the inner strength to live fully and pursue the happiness for which we were created.
Get 10 Life-Changing Quotesfrom Norman Vincent Peale
- Be patient: Longfellow wrote “good thing comes to those who but wait.” The Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908. This drought was the longest in baseball. But it ended. When going through difficult times, remember, as King Solomon once put it, “This, too, shall pass.”
- Honor the past: On my Facebook feed, so many friends posted pictures of deceased parents wearing Cubs hats. Baseball unites generations. Like faith, It reminds us we are part of a team, an idea, much larger than ourselves.
- Have a plan: When he came to Chicago in 2011, Baseball operations President Theo Epstein said, “I’ve got a plan.” He followed it. The Cubs executed on it. What do you want to achieve in life? Plan for it. Of course, you may need to make mid-course adjustments. But consistentency and persistence pay off.
- Celebrate good times: We live in anxious times. That makes celebrating all the more important. Joy is infectious. When we celebrate our joy, we spread the spirit to others. Here in Chicago, even White Sox fans are celebrating the Cubs.
- Hope is powerful: Cubs fans know all the legends of curses and superstitions. Yet, we know they don’t matter. Hope does. Hope gets us through painful times. One man held a sign at the final game that said, “Now I can die in peace.”
- Momentum defies statistics: The Cubs defied all odds by winning three games in a row rally back from earlier losses. Momentum is powerful. It can push us to overcome pain and loss. If we start with small victories in our life, we can gain the energy to help us get big ones.
- Trust: Facebook has made it possible for everyone to broadcast their game analysis to the world. Whenever a coach makes a decision, some people mock or question it. But sometimes we just need to trust. In life, God has our back. It may not always seem that way, and we have lots of questions, but sometimes we just need to act, and trust that everything will be okay.
- Life can feel lonely: A good friend wrote before game seven about remaining a Cubs fan through the long drought and painful years of loss. Whether we are baseball fans or not, we will face those periods in life. And we will feel alone. But faith reminds us we are never truly alone. And Cubs fans knew that last night.
- We are a community: A few years ago I read a book arguing that the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s helped the city of San Francisco come together and overcome its many tragedies of the 1970s. Chicago faces many challenges. The Cubs may help bring us together to confront them.
- Great achievements take time: It took the Israelites 40 years to reach the Promised Land. It took the Cubs 108 years to win another World Series series. The the best things in life are worth waiting for. They take time to come to fruition. And we are lucky enough to live in such times.
The greatest teachers of the Bible did not tell stories. They did not simply proclaim laws.
They lived what they taught. They also invited others into it.
Think of people from whom you learned. Did they just say things? Or did they live them? The most important things are not always taught. They are caught. One of those values is hospitality.
Hospitality as a Way of Life
In Hebrew, the language of the Bible, hospitality is known as Hachnasat Orchim. The phrase means “welcoming guests.” This translation does not, however, do justice to the force of the Hebrew words themselves.
Welcoming guests is not just a nice thing to do. It is not simply a display of good manners. It is not even something we do because we want to be good role models for our children or our community.
Hospitality is a way of life. And it is that brings happiness and joy.
How to Make Your Home Welcoming
This custom suggests that our concern in maintaining our home should be not be the decor inside. It is not the landscaping or architecture of the home. Our concern is that we not make it too difficult for people to visit.
That custom seems out of place today. Today, as cultural anthropologists have pointed out, we tend to spend our time in the backyard rather than front porch.
The backyard is more private, and is frequently fenced in. It does not lend itself to the casual conversation and openness of the front porch.
The Bible, however, tells us be a“front-porch people.” Rather than not turn our home into a fortress, we can turn it into an oasis, a place of conversation and kindness.
Ultimately, hospitality creates community. It builds empathy. It opens up our lives and creates the enduring that lead to happiness and satisfaction.
How Do You Practice Hospitality in Your Life?
Many heroes emerged on 9/11. The firefighters and police officers who entered the burning building and debris stand out. Their memories continue to bless and inspire us today.
Among the overlooked heroes, however, was a group hunkered down in several white tents. The tents stood by the New York City medical examiners office.
Inside them was a rotating cast of pray-ors. They recited passage from the biblical book of psalms. They were following an ancient Jewish practice of continuously reciting psalms for the deceased between the time of death and burial.
It took months for some bodies to be identified and buried, and thousands of volunteers prayed without interruption in those tents for three months!
How It Started
The practice of reciting psalms immediately after death likely began thousands of years ago as a plea for God to show mercy upon the soul of the departed and ensure they not end up in purgatory. It continues today as a way of acknowledging and expressing our emotions, and focusing the mind away from the contemplation of death.
It also acknowledges our connection with the dead, suggesting we are part of one community. The living feel a responsibility for reciting psalms on behalf of the deceased.
That certainly proved true after 9/11. The number of volunteers grew every week. The practice not only brought comfort to the mourners and their families.
This continuous prayer affected many neighbors and workers near the site. Several police officers stopped in the tent and asked for their favorite psalm to be read.
Another volunteer at the time said the praying ”gives a sense of comfort and familiarity to these unstable times.” It is, he said, “a consolation, a way of grieving, and a way of being responsible.” This volunteer summed up the way prayer adds to our well-being during times of despair.
As we remember all those who perished on 9/11, perhaps we can comfort in the words of that most familiar psalm. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” May God continue to be with us, and all those who remember.