Friday, September 24, 2010

It's Not What Acts on You

If anything makes me my own worst enemy, it's the habit of trying to do more than I can--and then blaming mechanical failures and outside interruptions for my frazzled spirit. If the "happenings" of life would just go bother someone else for a while, I'd be able to read two books a day, get a dozen high-income projects done each month, and have plenty of time left for long prayer sessions. Instead, other people are always messing things up for me by answering the messages I leave them and wiring traffic lights to turn red.

Blaming other people--or God, or circumstances--for one's irritability does often seem to be a national sport. One could argue that some people have a right to blame others for screwing them up: abused children become abusive parents because that's the only example they ever saw; poor kids become criminals because society never gave them a chance at anything better.

Then along comes someone who suffered all those disadvantages and still managed to make something of him- or herself. Such people are frequently least appreciated by "their own"--"Too good for us now, are you?"--probably because their very existence invalidates the "everyone who's had a rough life has a right to go around doing nothing but displaying anger at the world" argument. If overcoming disadvantage by hard work really caught on, everyone might have to start working hard to rise above circumstances. Blaming circumstances is so much easier.

St. Paul, never one to take the easy way out, would have had little patience with the idea that bad circumstances justify bad attitude. Having put up with years of persecution, a long period of imprisonment on spurious charges, and the interruption of his long-awaited trip to Rome by a storm at sea that ended in shipwreck--and now in another prison cell awaiting a trial of uncertain outcome--he could write, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13).

Paul's secret should be our secret too. Rather than letting tough or annoying circumstances make us bitter, we must learn to let God give us strength so He can use our circumstances to make us better.

The snow grows soft and the clay grows hard
In the heat of the very same sun:
It's not outside force that defines the results,
But that on which the force is done.

One heart grows soft and another hard,
Though their trials seem to be just the same:
It's not "happenings" that make you who you are,
But the attitude that you claim.

God sends His strength to all those who ask,
And no matter what else He may send,
There can be no excuse to grow cold and hard,
If you truly can call Him Friend.

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