As we have considered the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Passover and are now in the midst of the Days of Unleavened Bread, I'd like to pose a challenge for each of us:
Imagine that you spend all day with a good friend and have a wonderful time. You do things that you both love doing. You reminisce about other times that you've enjoyed together and experiences that you've shared. At the end of the day though, they make one small comment that perturbs you. You don't say anything about it because it's such a small thing. But as you go to sleep that night, your friend's comment eats at you so much so that you end up remembering the day just for that comment - and in your memory, categorize the experience as negative when the entire day was actually positive.
Have you ever experienced something like this? If we have, that emotion we were experiencing at the end of the day - the sinking heaviness in the pit of your stomach as we revisited the comment our friend made - was rooted in our amygdala. This almond-shaped portion of our brain was programmed by God to predispose us to give special attention to negative aspects of our environments like pain and negative emotions. The amygdala works to keep us safe.
According to Dr. Rick Hansen, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, the amygdala "uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news. Once it sounds the alarm, negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory, in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage."
Negative events and experiences not only imprint more quickly into our memory, but they also linger longer than the positive ones. The proclivity for negative events to "stick" with us more than the positive is known as a negativity bias. Because of this bias, we're more likely to register an insult or negative event than we are to acknowledge a compliment or recall details of a joyous event. Our negativity bias can even instigate us to dwell on something negative while something more positive is happening.
Consider the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Leading up to the Exodus, God ground down the gods of Egypt and preserved His people. He decimated the economy of Egypt, and what was left, He inspired the Egyptians to give to His people. He gave His people such favor in the sight of those who were previously their captors that the Egyptians heaped gold, silver, bronze, fine linens, and many other riches upon the Israelites prior to their departure from Ramses. Those who were once slaves left their masters with boldness, with a high hand, with all of their flocks and herds, with all of their families, and with full pockets...only to have those miraculous events paled in their minds by the fast-approaching army of Pharaoh.
The fact that we are essentially programmed to have a negativity bias is not a bad thing though. While it can cloud our judgment and effect how we view our environment, it can also serve as a great motivator. If we recognize our proclivity to cleave to the negative and forget the positive, then we can work to catch ourselves in the act.
The examples of the past should ring in our ears (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). Our challenge is clear, don't be like our fathers in the wilderness who ate the manna, and are dead (John 6:49), but become unified with the One who offers true life through His body and blood. As was brought out in the sermonette by Chris Rowland yesterday, the Days of Unleavened Bread are not merely about avoiding the negativity of sin, but of seeking out the positivity of righteousness.