James 1:5 If any of you need wisdom, ask God for it. He will give it to you. God gives freely to everyone. He doesn't find fault.
One of the challenges we have as human beings is that we love to play the victim. We like to place blame, find fault, and point fingers. When we seek God for wisdom, we are asked to step out of victimhood and are guided to take personal responsibility. God’s wisdom will guide us toward improving our situation by co-mingling with our own thoughts, motives, attitudes, words, and actions. Through God’s influence we will begin to ask, “What can I do that can make things better?”
It is a new question for many of us, and the challenge is that we don’t always have the answer. Because of our history of indicting and blaming others, we are unaccustomed to looking within for solutions.
Let’s suppose we want to be happy. We want to wake up happy, feel happy all day long, and go to bed happy. So we get up out of bed and immediately stub our toe on the dresser and swear. Through the pain in our foot we vaguely remember something about trying to be happy. We limp to the bathroom and realize that there is no more toilet paper on the roll. The idea of happiness is fading quickly.
We reload the paper roll and stumble toward the kitchen for our morning coffee. To our dismay we see that we didn’t put coffee grounds in the coffee maker so all we have waiting for us is a pot of hot water. Happiness is now a distant memory, relegated to that ‘someday’ when we get our life together.
This is a simple illustration, but there are people who live their lives on an emotional roller-coaster – tossed about by circumstances; their state of mind is at the mercy of every inconvenience and challenge. Wouldn’t it be great to maintain a positive state of mind despite what was going on in the world around us?
Did you know that there is a jet with the technology to fly from one country to another without a pilot? A course can be entered, and it will arrive at its destination. Pretty amazing. And do you know what percentage of the time it is totally off track during its flight? 99%. About 1% of the time the jet is on the proper heading, the rest of the time it is adjusting for wind shear, atmospheric conditions, and other turbulence. It adjusts its course without complaint, without becoming emotionally attached to its constant errors, and without quitting in disgust and shame. When it is off course it simply amends its heading regardless of how many repetitions are required, until it reaches its destination.
When we decide to be happy, we somehow expect our intentions to pave the way for a trouble-free journey along a road that has been made smooth. Isn’t that what the Bible says in Isaiah 42:16? “I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”
The difficulty with this thinking is that these references are to our ‘inner’ journey. When we are in tune with God, we are not spared difficulties; we are given the strength to see us through our difficulties. Tough decisions are not swept away; we are provided the wisdom to make the right choices.
Things are as they are. We cannot control circumstances and situations; all we can control are two things: our response to the situation, and where to look for the answers.
Sure, it would be nice that when we decided to be happy our spouse would now treat us kindly, and our work associates give us respect, and everywhere we go we would be welcomed with love and praise, and our coffee is always perfect, and our bodies are always healthy, and our vocations are always lucrative, and our newspaper is always on the front porch….
But things are as they are. The intention to be happy is like the destination for that jet, there will be constant mid-course corrections. With a strong and clear enough intention, without complaint we can make whatever corrections necessary to maintain a state of happiness.
There was a time when our family was driving somewhere distant and we ran into traffic. We were stopped dead, not moving for several minutes. As I looked out the window, I could see various types of reactions to the drivers. Some of them looked angry and upset. Some of them were apparently used to this sort of delay and looked calm and resigned.
Suddenly our son Daniel broke into a song that he later called “Flying Pig Man”. It had a simple melody that lent itself easily to harmony. He started singing this crazy six-word song over and over. Mary then added a harmony, then I added one, and even Rebecca, who was five at the time, came up with a harmony part.
For many minutes we sang this song over and over again in four part harmony, and it became like a mantra. Any emotional distress was relieved and it became absolutely fun. Eventually the congestion faded, and we were again on our way - still singing, calmly and joyfully.
This is what Spirit is guiding us toward – an inner, spiritual solution to our life challenges, a spiritual distraction and refocusing. The outer circumstances of our lives will always be changing – for better or worse. As Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Although change ‘out there’ is inevitable, there is constancy inside.
One way to create a more personalized life is to decide on what it is that we want to be today. If our intention is to become happy, God gives us unlimited opportunities to create happiness within our life’s journey. If our intention is to be more loving, God will fill our lives with opportunities to practice being loving.
By focusing on our intention, we can more easily self-correct. So instead of swearing when we stub our toe, we adjust our attitude from anger back to happiness. While staring at a pot of water, instead of feeling frustration we happily get out a tea bag as we restart the coffeemaker. We make the appropriate corrections to bring us back to our intended course. Decisions are always easier when we know where we are going.
Another way to become happier, or more loving, or whatever our intention is for the day is to mentally rehearse our intention.
An amateur actor is cast in a local play. He has only one line – “Hark, I hear the cannon roar.” But he is busy with is job and only gets to come to the opening night performance. So he gets to the theatre and practices his one line over and over again. Finally, it comes to the time to go on stage. He gets into his position and the cannon fires. He is so startled, instead of his line he says, “What the heck was that?”
He knew his line cold, but his practice was inadequate. He didn’t practice under the stress of the cannon fire, so his brain did not learn how to respond appropriately in that situation. This is why pilots practice on simulators and beginning vocal students have to sing a couple of songs per semester in student recitals in front of other students. The brain has to develop ‘muscle memory’ so that under a stressful situation it knows what to do.
If we want to be happy, we can more quickly become happy if we rehearse our intentions. Let me illustrate. Suppose my intention is to be happy at work, but when I go to work, I get depressed and somber. The cannon is roaring, and I need to train my brain to respond differently.
So for just 15 to 20 seconds a day, I rehearse a new voice in my head so that when the time comes I can make the proper mid-course corrections to stay on my ‘happy’ course. I could practice, “I have a wonderful job where I help offices manage their practices. I work from home and eliminate the expense and inconvenience of commuting to and from work. My mind stays active and I am constantly learning new aspects of the dental and sales industries.” If I have practiced my role sufficiently and with enough repetition, even when the cannon roars my brain can make the proper mid-course corrections to my attitude as that new voice sings in my head, and I become happy again.
I encourage you to take one aspect of your life that you want to pay attention to and try this experiment. Develop a “new voice” for certain recurring situations you find yourself in that you would like to change. Practice that new voice, the words, the energy, the tone of voice, for 15-20 seconds a day for a month, and check the progress.
We often ask ourselves the wrong questions. “Why did this happen to me?” “Who is to blame?” “How could they let something like this happen?” “What’s going to happen next?” Our list of questions goes on and on, and almost all of them are victim based and without answers.
Better questions are “What can I do right now to improve things – either through my thoughts or attitude?” “Where can I find solutions or guidance to what I am experiencing right now?” “What can I change within myself so that I am not affected by what is happening around me?” “Where is the source of peace in this situation?” As our questions become more attuned to our actual needs, I believe there is only one answer … and that is God.
In James 4:8 we read, “Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.” When we turn inward, to the quiet of our soul, we open our hearts and consciousness to God’s nudges, whispers, and inner knowing…we open to God’s guidance. Our awareness of Spirit and God’s Presence expands as we relax our grip on the world around us.
Psalm 143:10 - Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.
God wants us to be level, loving, peaceful, and joyous every moment that we live. Spirit wants to fill us with happiness and gratitude, playfulness and wonder. Christ within is waiting to fill in every valley, make every mountain low, make the crooked things straight and the rough places smooth. My prayer is that we will draw closer to God, so that God will draw closer to us.