We cannot control circumstances. We can control how we respond to them. Life is not contained in situations. It is contained in the response. How you answer determines whether life is flowing in and out of you or you are just being led or knocked around by experiences.
You are not responsible for what people do to you. That is their issue, not yours. You are responsible for your responses. If you excuse your anger and say, “I cannot get over it because of what they have done,” then you are being controlled by the circumstances instead of taking charge and acting responsibly. People being eaten alive by resentment don’t yet understand that life is contained in the response, for better or for worse. People who forgive those who don’t deserve it are proving that it is possible not to live by circumstances but by our replies to them.
We cannot choose our circumstances any more than we can choose the weather. But we can make choices on how we will interpret those circumstances. How we interpret events rather than the event itself is the difference between life and death.
“In all things give thanks.” Really? When you’ve lost your job or when the car breaks down at a really bad time. Yes, because your joy didn’t rest in the job? It rested in Jehovah. So circumstances can come against you and your keel keeps the boat from tipping. Your hope is in the Lord, not as the line in the musical “Oklahoma”—“everything’s going my way.”
It is not what happens to us that determines joy; otherwise we would ride the roller coaster of up and down emotions, which truckloads of people choose to do. It is what happens in us that makes the difference. One brother reacted to his sibling’s sinfulness and his father’s seeming stinginess and irresponsibility. The younger brother accepted his immaturity, was able to receive forgiveness, and discovered just how generous his father was. Same dad—opposite responses. One receives grace, another stiff-arms the compassion that is two feet away. So with God. Some are discouraged because He hasn’t come through for them. Others are singing His praised, weighed down by blessings. And the circumstances have nothing to do with the difference.
Are you living with any negative emotions bottled up inside, like fear, shame, rejection, or bitterness? Could it be that you failed to understand that you were not responsible for what was said or done to you, but you could still respond in a way that could lift those crippling emotions? Perhaps you can stop right now and ask a good Father: “Are some of those emotions inside my heart? Did I choose to blame you for my painful disappointments? Did I react with anger out of the pain I felt rather than with a response of forgiveness?
Good news: you still have the grace of choosing. Power is given and released in the response, not in the event. You can reinterpret the event and take your God-given privilege of choice to receive forgiveness for wrong responses and extend forgiveness to those who have hurt you. Suffering well keeps your heart open, your mouth closed, and your conscience clear (I Peter 2:22,23). A wise thing to do—a wise way to live.