It’s confession time. I am now 44 years old . . . I think. I remember at age 13 thinking that people in their 40s had reached the summit of being “over the hill” and were gaining speed down the back side of life. Older people (ha! those 40-somethings) seemed to my 13-year-old mind to be constantly irritated, as if they had breathed acrid air for 40-ish years. Between ages 14 and 44, life has been to me a highly skilled teacher, revealing that age and attitude are not connected at the hip. I used to be bothered when my plans fell apart . . . annoyed by people who are bummers to be with . . . bitter when I was judged by others . . . selfish—which makes people very lonely . . . suffocated by anxiety . . . insecure . . . and controlling toward people, which drives them nuts—not a far drive.
The skilled teacher—that is, life—still teaches me today and uses pain as part of its curriculum. At any age, those bothered, judgmental, bitter, selfish, anxious, and insecure people might try to deny they have these unhealthful attitudes, but acknowledging one’s own flaws is the very thing one must do for attitude—and might I say—soul change.
Life is very painful. It doesn’t always agree with our plans or provide happiness. Life sometimes lets us down and rarely offers a satisfying answer to our self-focused questions. I found the following quote supposedly attributed to Winston Churchill very revealing.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.[ref]Churchill by Himself: The Definitive Collection of Quotations, ed. Richard Langworth (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), 578. (Langworth is of the opinion that this quote is misattributed to Winston S. Churchill. The actual source is unknown.)[/ref]
Remember what Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians. Get this: his living conditions were less than desirable—he was a prisoner of Rome, clad with iron chains every day to a Roman solider. Yet, the theme of his letter was on attitude—the attitude of joy.
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14 NIV)
I picture Paul grinning ear to ear, perhaps thinking, Who knew? I don’t have to yell because these guys are chained to me. They are the captives, not me. How could he write this? Because his focus was undivided and fully fixed on God’s work, not on his own comfort.
Focusing fully on Christ is especially important for those with special needs—and for those of us who love and care for them. Focusing fully on Christ is the only way we can deal with the pain of life. This connects directly with Paul’s words in the book of Romans:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3 NIV, emphasis added)
Isn’t hope what we all long for? Hope infuses us with joy; it helps us to overlook and to undertake what we otherwise would not have. My dad, Chuck, has said, “Most of life is just showin’ up.” Showin’ up does not demand brains or brawn; it does demand that we examine what’s behind our attitudes—be it disappointment, or anger, or whatever—and make some choices, so that we might glorify God by becoming more like Christ.