We give our circumstances too much power. We hand them the keys to the kingdom and bow at their feet. Even when circumstances are good, they are not meant to rule us. The seasons of our circumstance are nothing more than terrain for the journey.
When I lived in Africa, my absolute favorite thing to do was pop some headphones in my ears and listen to music during the van rides. I watched the people and the places pass me by. I smiled and waved at them. All the while, the beauty of music flowed between my ears, in my soul.
I cannot overstate how much I adored this practice. Nor could I say exactly why. Something about the motion, the music, and the scenery swirled like a kaleidoscope of peace.
Even though the drive was fast, I can still see many of those faces in my head. The jungle of the bush, the shacks in the city, the women with baskets on their heads, and the bikes full of all kinds of cargo. The red dirt and the blue sky. I can see it all. Somehow, in the midst of the speed, I saw it better than I see most things.
Eventually, the bus would stop and I would get out and spend a certain amount of time with a certain amount of people. I’d get back on the bus and go to another place and do another thing.
Although they all had their unique beauties, struggles, and challenges, there was one thing that bound them all. Time. In a flash, I was moving on – sometimes earlier than I wanted to and sometimes later.
This is how all of life works. We move from one season, one circumstance, one setting to another.
For most of my life, it was the terrain that defined my identity. If the circumstance was bad; so was I. If the terrain was good, I flourished. I found it easy to blame my setting when things weren’t going my way. If I could just get to the right place, all would be well. If I could just get around the right people, everything would change.
Life and death and purpose and identity were assigned to each of those passing scenes. I had to restart, reengage, and relive my existence with each passing set change. No wonder I was so exhausted, so lost, so confused.
Recently, I’ve thought about those joyrides through Africa. I think the reason I connected with it so much is because it is a metaphor for the way in which we are designed to live. I didn’t pass through the circumstances asleep or unaware. I wasn’t disengaged or ignorant. But there was something else, some solid connector between the flashing of circumstance and setting that made me feel at peace.
I think the thing that truly defines who we are is our choices. Circumstances are just terrain for the journey. They provide the plot, the angst, the stakes. But in the end, it is the characters we fall in love with. And it is the decisions that characters make in the face of adversity that defines their identity and determines their fate.
The great bondage of circumstances is that they steal our ability to be ourselves. They ask as much from us as we are willing to give. Sometimes we will give it all. But the circumstance is not dependable because it is not eternal. And so, I find myself too often tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind that comes my way.
Stability is found, not in consistent circumstances but in consistent choices. We find the lasting peace, joy, and confidence we long for when we take responsibility for our own actions.
Life is a long journey. There will be many diverse terrains. Some will be tragic, some thrilling. Some will last too long and some too short. If we’re not intentional, we will hand the reigns to our parade of circumstances. If we are intentional, the power of our choices will transform our identity and transcend our circumstances.