What I Learned From Charlie Brown

What I Learned From Charlie Brown

by Nick Stumbo December 19, 2019 1 Comment


Every year at Christmas, among the television replays of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and It’s a Wonderful Life, you’ll find the holiday adventures of the comic-strip kids from Peanuts in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Standing tall among other yule-tide heroes like Santa and his elves, Charlie Brown always seems a bit out of place in his starring role.

Yet this round-headed character with one squiggly line for hair has something to teach us, if we’re willing.

I think many of us feel a sense of affinity for Charlie Brown. He’s relatable. It always seems like, in spite of his good intentions, life has a way of turning out poorly for ol’ Charlie. We can relate to his anxiety about the little red-haired girl he likes, his fear of failure, and his worry that something will soon go wrong. Haven’t we all been a “Charlie Brown” in some part of our lives?

In another Charlie Brown movie, The Peanuts Movie, Charlie voices his personal opinion about himself. A conversation takes place at the very end of the movie between Charlie and the little red-haired girl. After countless opportunities of not having the courage to talk to her, he finally catches up to her just before she leaves for summer camp. He has a burning question to ask her, “Why, out of all the kids in our class, would you want to be partners with me?”

She replies, “Oh, that’s easy! Because I’ve seen the type of person you are!”

Charlie Brown responds to her with this self-abasing assessment, “You mean an insecure wishy-washy failure?” There it is in a nutshell—Charlie gives us a snapshot of how he seems himself. 

This scene always makes me wonder—where did this opinion come from? If we were to take an overview of Charlie Brown’s life, his circumstances do not seem to reflect his perceived reality. Charlie Brown, from all we know, grew up in a stable, safe neighborhood. His parents and family, though rarely if ever seen, appear to have created a loving home for Charlie and his sister Sally. Charlie has a close circle of friends who are constantly playing games, going on adventures, and working on Christmas pageants together. Oh sure, his friend Lucy is notorious for telling “Chuck” to kick the football, only to jerk it away at the last second, but they are playing football together all the time. 

What I see in Charlie Brown is that this intensely negative self-assessment is a by-product of his own thinking and interpretation of events in his life. From what I observe about Charlie Brown, his life is filled with no more “kite-stuck-in-a-tree” moments than the average person. If anything, he has more reasons for gratitude than most. But at the end of the day, his perception of the hand he’s been dealt is through a very critical, self-condemning lens.

I can be guilty of doing exactly the same thing. Though I have much for which I can be grateful, I often give in to the temptation to look at my circumstances and assume the worst. I can assume that I am not more successful because I don’t work hard enough. I can allow negative emotions, or an off day, to convince me that I am worthless. I can mind-read the thoughts of family or co-workers and assume they are thinking the worst about me. Left unchecked, thoughts like these, and so many more, can leave me believing that I am an insecure, wishy-washy failure too. 

Have you ever been there? Probably. I think we all have. We have learned to look at certain factors—a relationship that isn’t panning out, a perceived lack of success, the number of social media reactions we get, to name a few—and determine our worth or value based on these realities. But do we realize—do we pause long enough to recognize—that these conclusions are faulty and not the full truth of our story? 

So, if we find ourselves stuck in Charlie Brown thinking, what can we do? Here are three suggestions that I have discovered to keep a positive self-perspective in life:


1. Listen to the right voices

Our internal dialogue is being influenced by various sources. The key question for you and me is, “What sources will we listen to?” After all, in the scene I have described from the Charlie Brown movie, the little red-haired girl immediately offers a different perspective on Charlie’s life. While he looked at his life and described himself as an “insecure, wishy-washy failure,” she countered with a different perspective. She walks through his decisions and says, “No, you were compassionate…honest…brave…funny…and sweet. You have all the qualities I admire!” 

She was interpreting the exact same life with an entirely different conclusion!

We all need people in our lives who will help us do this. Friends and family can be the secure, trusted voices that help us see the good and the value in ourselves. And ultimately, their words can become the portals that take us right to the heart of our heavenly Father. The One who made us knows us best, and sometimes the trusted voice of others can help us recognize His voice as well.

2. look at your sources of GRATITUDE

Like Charlie Brown, we can choose to look at sources of pain and complaint—the kite-eating-tree, the failed school project—or we can choose to look at our sources of gratitude. Even on the very worst of days, I have many factors in my life that I can look at and find cause to worship. I am alive. I have breath in my lungs and strength in my muscles. I have a wife and children who love me. I have a home, possessions, friendships, and a good job. 

While your list and mine will not be the same, what is the same is the ability we have to choose where we look. You can look at what is wrong—and beat yourself up—or you can look at what is right, holy, and good around us. The amazing truth is that when we make the choice to focus on sources of gratitude and goodness, our brain is transformed. We become a by-product of what we focus on and fill our minds with. So today, what sources of gratitude and joy can begin to fill up your vision?

3. learn to speak differently to yourself

Finally, we need to allow these first two points to make an actual difference in the way we think and talk about ourselves. The reality is that no one talks to you more than you! We all carry on an internal dialogue that far outweighs the words of anyone else, both in time and frequency. So the words we choose to use to and about ourselves is absolutely crucial!

In this area, I like to quote a good friend of mine, and Pure Desire Clinician, Harry Flanagan. When it comes to the topic of self-dialogue, Harry says,

When you talk to yourself, speak as if you are talking to someone you love. 

You are a person created by God on purpose and for a purpose. You have value and worth. So speak to yourself as someone worthy of love and admiration. 

How would you speak to your children or family member, whom you love, when they are down? Take these very same words and begin to speak them to yourself. As we take the loving words of our heavenly Father and the friends and family around us, and begin to speak them daily to ourselves, we will find that our perspective begins to shift in all areas of life.

The truth is, we all have loved Charlie Brown throughout the decades of the Peanuts cartoon more than he loved himself! Imagine the difference it would have made in Charlie Brown’s life if he valued himself as much as we all do! And imagine the difference it would make in our lives if our internal dialogue began to change. We just might find this Christmas to be a little brighter—and merrier—as we let love in.

Merriest Christmas to you!


image attribution

"Charlie Brown Christmas Around the Tree" by DrPhotoMoto is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


             


nick stumbo

Nick is the Executive Director of Pure Desire Ministries. He has been in leadership for 15+ years. He was in Pastoral Ministry at East Hills Alliance Church in Kelso, Washington for 14 years. Nick has a Bachelor’s in Pastoral Studies from Crown College and an MDiv from Bethel Seminary. He has authored two books, Setting Us Free and Safe: Creating a Culture of Grace in a Climate of Shame.





1 Response

Del Whitman
Del Whitman

January 17, 2020

Thank you, Nick, for writing, for sharing Godly truth and wisdom. Sometimes the simple is the most profound. This blog is not rocket science nor nuclear physics — it’s deeper and higher than those. The three suggestions you give are fundamentally powerful for my mind, heart, and soul. I will reread this blog often and ask Holy Spirit help to live these truths and suggestions in my own self-talk and Christ-focus. Thank you!

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