Trust me. It’s not what you’re thinking. I am not, I have never been, nor will I ever be, an abortion rights supporter. But this is not about choice that I do not support. Rather, this is about choice that I do support. I support choice in attitude. I support choice in perspective. I support choice in emotion.
Unfortunately, too many people allow externalities to constantly rule their lives. They let people and circumstances dictate their attitude, cloud their perspective, and direct their emotions. Even more unfortunate is that, in most instances, the people and the circumstances to which this power is yielded are beyond their control.
Consider your reaction to the following people. A driver who is aggressive or just plain rude. A spouse who doesn’t react the way we’d like them to react, or presume that we would react. A child, sibling, or other relative who doesn’t behave the way we think a family member should. A friend’s actions don’t coincide with our expectations.
Now consider your reaction to the following circumstances. An accident on the freeway hinders our commute. A flight delay adversely impacts our plans. Our computer unexpectedly crashes, causing hours, days, or even weeks of work to vanish. Inclement weather ruins or alters our plans. We do not get the raise (or bonus) we were hoping for, the promotion we were seeking, or the recognition we believe we deserve. The stock market plummets, and along with it the money we put into our 401(k).
All of the above people and circumstances certainly impact us, sometimes quite adversely. But here’s the thing. All of these people, all of these circumstances, along with myriad others that could be mentioned, are beyond our control. Yet, we allow uncontrollable people and circumstances to dictate a negative, pitiful, or self-righteous attitude. We allow uncontrollable people and circumstances to make us believe we are destined for poverty, adversity, or failure. We allow uncontrollable people and circumstances to drive us into depression, anxiety, disappointment, or anger.
The truth is, we don’t “allow” uncontrollable people and circumstances to dictate our attitudes, cloud our perspectives, or direct our emotions. No. We ourselves, by our own choices, determine our attitudes, perspectives, and emotions. That’s right. Regardless of what other people do or say, regardless of our circumstances, we can (and should) make choices that positively impact our attitude, perspective, and emotions.
CHOOSE THE “WHATEVER”
When it comes to people, the Apostle Paul provided some great advice. In his letter to the Philippians he told his readers: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV).
Admittedly, this type of thinking is not easy – especially when it comes to some people. People wrong us. People offend us. People disappoint us. Some do so repeatedly. When they do, we have a choice. We can focus on their character faults, or we can focus on their “whatever” – whatever about them (even if it is ever so slight) that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable. For some people, it may be difficult to find their “whatever.” Nonetheless, unless a person is an absolute psychopath, we can find something good. That is, if we choose to do so.
I am not naïve enough to believe that this kind of thinking will take away the hurt that a person may inflict. But I do believe it will keep us from becoming bitter, angry, and anxious. Indeed, Paul quite clearly states that peace, and more importantly “the God of peace,” will be with us. Let that sink in.
Paul also advised the Philippians regarding circumstances. About this he wrote: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.” (Philippians 4:11-12, NIV).
The best way to learn something is to do something. And you only do what you choose to do. To learn to be content regardless of circumstances, to ultimately rise above circumstances, we must choose contentment. When we choose contentment, we will have a positive attitude. When we choose contentment, we will have a hopeful perspective. When we choose contentment, we will be happy, joyful, peaceful, and loving.
Interestingly enough, before Paul offered the Philippians advice about dealing with people and circumstances, he encouraged them to pray. He taught them that peace is the residue of prayer. Specifically, he wrote: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NIV).
If we want peace, real peace, supernatural peace that can only come from God, then we must pray. More specifically, we must pray with thankful hearts, in every situation, regardless of who may have wronged or offended us, regardless of our circumstances, regardless of our feelings.
TAKE THE PRO-CHOICE CHALLENGE
I challenge you, just as I challenge myself daily, to wake up each morning and consciously choose. Choose to see the “whatever” in people. Choose to be content regardless of the circumstances. Most importantly, choose to pray. Choose to pray thankfully for the people and circumstances in your life. Such choices are concomitant with a positive attitude, a hopeful perspective, and a joyful disposition.
It will not be easy. Trust me. There are days when I fail miserably. But if we reflect on these additional words of wisdom that Paul communicated to the Philippians, I believe we can: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).