Everyday, without fail, things happen. Life is a long list of events. Circumstances are the scenery in which the human drama plays out. We spend almost all of our time trying to make sense of what is happening around us, trying to perform best in our scenes, and reacting to the roles of others.
Circumstances are inevitable. No matter how many times we hit the snooze button, we cannot avoid them altogether. There are two ways to look at our circumstances: as opportunities or obstacles. Making the most of our lives is about learning how to harness the former and give ourselves permission to take responsibility for our part (and nothing more).
On The Defense
When we view circumstances as obstacles, we think of them as attackers. They are foreign invaders trying to breach our carefully constructed walls. The presentation at work, the final exam at school, the spousal argument at the dinner table – all of it is an affront to our carefully constructed layers of self-preservation.
Unknowingly, we cast ourselves as victims in the story. You hear people say, “why is this always happening to me” or “why can’t I catch a break”. When we do this, we elevate the circumstances to the role of main character. It’s like having the scenery of a play start to talk and direct the actors.
Because of these defensive positions, we often attack our circumstances. We want to control them before they control us. Living from a place of fear, we try to overcompensate and be the gods of our world.
Understanding that this perspective is prevalent in our lives is a huge step toward a better way. When we can name the chaos that is happening within our lives and our spirit, we are on our way to healing and correction.
There are only three things we can control, but they are powerful and important in their own right.
When a circumstance arrives, it is nothing less than an opportunity to steward those three things you can control. It is an invitation to make a choice. Circumstances cannot make choices for you. They are the arena in which you make your choices.
It is easy for me to say this about your life from the comfort of my keyboard. I realize circumstances can be extremely tough. There is hurt, loneliness, and all kinds of things that can happen as a result of tragic circumstances. But the reality is, no matter how horrible the circumstance, we still have to take responsibility for our choices. This doesn’t mean our decisions will eliminate the pain or even change the circumstances. We don’t have the control to do that. The best we can do is make our best choices within the circumstances presented.
It isn’t easy to navigate this life, with its confusing twists and heartbreaking turns. Our choices certainly have the ability to influence circumstance, but not to control them. And that is one of the biggest frustrations in the human journey. The good news is that the flip side of that is true – circumstances have the ability to influence us, but not control us. Viktor Frankl writes about this in Man’s Search For Meaning. Nothing the Nazis did at the concentration camp could take away the choices he made about his own character. Our circumstances never determine our character. But we can decide to adopt a character in line with our circumstance so that we can blame who we are on what happens to us.
But there is a better way. Making the most of our circumstances means remembering the authority they do and do not have. And the authority we do and do not have in kind.