Monday, June 21, 2010

All Things Work for Good for Those Who Love God

WARNING: Reading this blog may waste approximately 2 minutes, 55 seconds of your life.

In fact, if you just read that sentence (and this one) you will have potentially wasted about 10 - 15 seconds.

If you're still reading, thanks. I hope that either you have an extra 3 minutes to spend in any way you choose, or that you don't find reading this blog to be a waste of your time. If it's the latter, I know that your approach to what I write will have a much greater impact on the quality of time spent in reading than any eloquence in my words or profundity in my message. It's our attitude that will determine the worth of things.

Think about it this way: if you are optimistically reading this to get a message or an idea or an insight, chances are good that you will glean something that satisfies your appetite or at least satiates your hunger. On the other hand, skeptically reading this with the attitude that I will either dazzle you with poetic diction or bore you with verbose nonsense will most likely result in you wanting for more. Beauty is everywhere if you have the eyes to see it; unfortunately, so is ugliness.

Recently, I finished reading J.D. Salinger's famous story of teenage angst, "The Catcher in the Rye". As my wife Emily can attest, I was less than impressed. On more than one occasion she advised me to either stop reading it or to stop complaining about how much I disliked it. Much to her pleasure, I chose to read the final 100 pages without updating her on Holden's exploits, or lack thereof.

Would I read the book again? No. Am I glad that I read it? Of course. Not only am I glad that I read what is considered one of the greatest American novels (and despite my displeasure I can see why it is held in such high acclaim), I am glad that I finished something that I started.

No matter our situation in life, we can choose our attitudes. More often than not, our chosen attitude will bear fruit. I would bet that if you set out tomorrow to have the worst possible day, you would succeed. You could get in the wrong lane in traffic (or worse yet, the grocery store). You could get frustrated with others at work because they are not behaving as you want them to behave. You could be upset about your weight, or your clothes, or your job, or your house, or your life. Even in writing this I can feel my blood pressure rise. In reading, I bet yours is higher, too.

Or, we can choose to have a positive attitude. We can focus on those few extra minutes in the car to gather our thoughts (or pray!) prior to getting to work. We can recognize that our relationships with others are ways to grow closer to God and accept the challenges of being more patient, forgiving, understanding and loving. We can resolve to eat a little better/exercise a bit more. We can pare down our wardrobes to only those items we actually wear. We can recognize that having gainful employment and a roof over our heads are blessings. We can live each day as if it truly were a gift from God. (Feel any calmer?)

The choice is ours.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the main difference between optimists and pessimists is how they explain setbacks to themselves. Optimists see the setbacks as temporary, limited in effect, and have a clear understanding of their responsibility for or control over those setbacks. Pessimists, on the other hand, consider the setback to be permanent, far reaching, and entirely their own fault. The setback for the pessimist is debilitating; for the optimist it is merely a bump in the road.

Furthermore, Dr. Seligman concludes that optimistic people are more successful than pessimists. This, in turn, leads to either greater optimism (and success) or pessimism (and failure).

Whichever path we choose, optimism or pessimism, will ultimately become our reality. Therefore, we must choose wisely. We must choose to act instead of react. We must choose to become problem-solvers instead of problem-spotters. We must choose to become up-standers instead of by-standers. We must choose to achieve excellence instead of just accepting mediocrity.

As Christians we must choose to follow Christ up that hill, carrying our own cross, believing with the same fervor of St. Paul that "all things work for good for those who love God" (Romans 8: 28).

The choice is ours.