Every one of us has at least one problem at the forefront of our minds. We believe solving this problem will free us from negativity and open up a world of possibilities. The salvation of this circumstance will set us free. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case. What ends up happening is we trade one set of problems for another.
The idiom ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ is perhaps the most prevailent lie in our culture. Our essential belief is in the power of our circumstances. And, therefore, when life feels negative, it seems as if a trade in circumstances is just what we need.
The two circumstances we put our hopes in most often are money and relationship status. But there are others. Many others.
A Lateral Trade
The idea of being released from our current circumstance is enticing. If we could trade away our struggles for a better set of circumstances, how could life be anything but better?
A few weeks ago, our remote control went haywire. It randomly clicked buttons we hadn’t pressed. The channel would change randomly. The TV would turn off and we couldn’t get it back on. It was a thorn in my side. The remote was broken and it was making me more and more angry as the days went on.
Finally, fed up, I ordered a new remote online. It arrived and worked like a charm. I let out a big sigh of relief and waved my TV-watching-stresses goodbye. But then, a week into having the new remote, it started to malfunction. The remote flashes off randomly and we can’t get it back on. Now we can’t get the channels to change or the TV to turn off when we want to.
I’ve traded one problematic remote for another. One set of problems has replaced the vacuum left by the previous.
Our limited imaginations, mired by the specific annoyances we are facing, looks to the future and can see the hope of our current annoyance rectified. What we can’t imagine is the new problems that might arise in its stead.
One of the reasons we feel stuck in a hamster wheel is because we are making lateral trades. We trade to remove our annoying circumstance without properly understanding the potential annoyance of future circumstance. We are so impatient we just want out of where we are now without a healthy perspective of what awaits.
The Real Problem
The naked truth is this: the problem is not with our circumstances but with our perceptions. We make gods of our seasons, possessions (both ours and others), and relationships (both real and potential). A new relationship can’t save us, neither can a new job. A new diet or new hairdo or new car won’t eliminate our problems. We are obsessed with lateral trades, getting no more than we give.
What really needs an overhaul is the way we view our self and the world around us. When I traded the imperfections of one TV remote for another, I realized just how much power I was giving TV remotes in my life. The solution was not right in front of me, but right within me. I decided to laugh off the remote and be more at ease.
Some circumstances are not so easy to get over. But the fact remains that the solution to our turmoil is not an absence of the circumstance but a healthy perspective towards it. We set ourselves up for a renewed cycle of frustration and disappointment when we rely on our relationships and circumstances to fulfill us.
The Real Solution
The solution is simple. We need to decide what it is that truly brings us joy. What truly makes us come alive?
We can make choices that move us toward the person we most want to be. Circumstances and relationships are the arenas in which our identities play out. They shape, mold, and inform our choices. But a change in arena does not negate the need for us to own those choices. Each arena is going to have its imperfections. Every circumstance is going to come with hardship. We cannot find peace in arena-hopping, fleeing the difficulty of one circumstance for the false hope of salvation in another. We will find peace only when we face the circumstances with courage and make our decisions in the face of them.