A little boy wanted to go outside to play. It had been raining for two days, keeping him cooped up inside. When the sun finally came out, he asked his mommy if he could go play. She responded, “You can, but stay out of the mud. Your aunt is coming over for dinner tonight.”
Delighted that he was finally free to get out of the house, the little boy rushed outside. Not long after, he came across his friends. They were making mud pies—and it looked like a lot of fun. But then he remembered what his mommy had said. He didn’t want to get muddy. After thinking for a moment, he came up with a solution.
The boy sat at the edge of the muddy area and watched. Every once in a while, his friends would ask for help, or tell him it would be okay if he only used his hands—after all, his hands were easy enough to clean before dinner.
Throughout the afternoon, the boy stayed on the edge, never fully going in. At the same time, he reached in with his hands, scooped up the mud, and pushed it around to make it form mud pies. No matter how hard he tried, the mud pies did not turn out quite the way he wanted, and his hands got muddier than he thought they would become.
With the sun starting to set, the little boy heard his mother call him for dinner. He stood, said goodbye to his friends, and rushed home. Instead of going inside, he went to the garden hose to wash off his hands.
The mud from his hands got on the faucet as he turned it on. Still, the clean, clear water came out the end of the hose. Knowing he was already late for dinner, the boy cleaned off his hands the best he could, and then went inside.
When his mother saw him, she gasped. The boy wasn’t sure why until he looked down and noticed that despite his best efforts, small spots of mud had splattered on his clothes.
“You played in the mud, didn’t you?” she asked.
“But I didn’t. Not really. I just sat on the edge and reached in with my hands. And I cleaned them off? See?” He showed her his hands. While they were mostly clean, there was dirt under his fingernails.
The mother then knelt down and looked the little boy in the eye. In a soft tone, she said, “Sweetheart, the best way to stay clean is to keep away from the mud the best you can.”
I’ve been thinking about this parable a lot recently. There is so much in the world which is negative. Every time I pull up the latest news stories, there is account after account of all the bad that is happening in the world.
When I worked in the TV news industry, over the course of the years, I realized that focusing on the negative all the time was impacting me personally. I was becoming a negative person—focusing a lot on all the little things that I thought were wrong, and in the process, losing sight on the important good things in life.
I found that when I got home from work, I would focus on all the little, negative things: the kids left a mess in the basement, dinner was late, there were clothes that needed to be folded on the bed—and so on and so on. Never mind that my wife was actually a superstar and home all day with our four young daughters. I was losing sight of all the wonderful things in my life because I was focusing my attention on the wrong things.
Even though I’ve left the TV world behind, and I’ve worked hard to focus on the positive things in life, I can still get bogged down time and again with some negative aspect which affects my whole mood.
I’ve learned that while my family isn’t perfect, there is a lot to love about them. They make me happy. Sure, there are things that come up which can cause stress, or even make me question certain things, but I found that if I focus too much on these elements, I’m missing out on the bigger, more wonderful blessings I have.
And it makes sense. After all, how long would my marriage last if all I did was look for faults in my wife? (Granted, she’s remarkable and it would really take some effort to find faults. She is human, though, and humans are not perfect.) Even if I could force my wife to change things I thought were “wrong,” unless I changed from focusing on the negative, I would constantly be unhappy.
Yes, sometimes bad things happen; I’ll get some mud on me. But I’ve learned that that happens less often if I stay away from the mud pit.