Being Mindful that Your Attitude is a Choice

current_moodContinued from here.

The first step toward choosing a good attitude is becoming aware that it is, in fact, a choice. As long as you believe you are a helpless victim of your circumstances and emotions, you will behave as if that is the case. The truth is that Jesus gave us his peace before ascending into heaven, so we always have access to it. We are not helpless victims – we have the ability to choose our reactions to whatever is going on around us.

Take Paul and Silas for example. They were brought up on charges before the magistrates, attacked by a crowd, stripped, beaten with rods, severely flogged, and thrown into prison with their feet fastened in stocks. If they were helpless victims of their circumstances and emotions, they should have been a bit grouchy after this, right? But they weren’t. Instead, they prayed and sang hymns until about midnight while the other prisoners listened.

What were the other prisoners listening to? It wasn’t a bunch of complaining and whining about their terrible circumstances. Instead, they were praising God! As a result of their choosing a good attitude, the jailer and his entire household became Christians. There’s also anecdotal evidence that perhaps some of the prisoners came to know Christ as well – after all, why else would they not have fled when given an opportunity to do so?

When we choose a good attitude amidst difficult circumstances, God’s light shines even more brightly into a dark world. The ways of the world are to grumble, moan, and complain when things don’t go our way, so people are generally unhappy unless they are pleased with their present circumstances. God’s ways are different – He tells us to rejoice always, not only when we like our circumstances. We have access to joy at all times, and we can choose to tap into that joy, no matter how difficult our current circumstances are.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in the rain with a broken umbrella, beneath the words “Current Mood.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Taking Responsibility for Your Attitude

The summer of 2014, God led me to do The Love Dare to my husband. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this book, it was the subject of Kirk Cameron’s movie, Fireproof, which focused on godly marriage. Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick wrote The Love Dare to teach the Body of Christ what unconditional love looks like in practical ways.

I was shocked to learn that I could choose my attitude. Because I was so broken in childhood, I was used to being flooded with powerful negative emotions, which I allowed to drive my attitude. This process was on autopilot, so I assumed I had no control over it. I thought that if only I could stop experiencing negative emotions, then I could be in a good mood. That’s like the tail wagging the dog, as I learned through The Love Dare.

The truth is that we each choose our own attitude. I’ve seen people choose to be grouchy while surrounded by blessings while others choose to be pleasant despite enormous life difficulties. Our circumstances don’t have the power to dictate our reaction to them – that’s entirely up to us. Developing awareness that you get to choose your own attitude is the first step toward choosing a good one.

For example, my husband was on a plane that experienced one delay after the next before takeoff. While many of the passengers grew irritable, one gentleman remained calm and joyful. He was in the same situation as everyone else, and yet his circumstances did not bother him. He did not allow the delay to steal his joy. If our circumstances had the final word about attitude, then everyone in the same situation should react in the same way, but they don’t. Why not? Because attitude is a choice, not an inevitability. Let’s talk about how to do this.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of The Love Dare. Courtesy Amazon]

 

Wrap Up of Series on the “Easy” and “Hard” Christian Life

lets_goContinued from here.

As you can tell, I could continue with this topic indefinitely. I hope the sampling I provided drives home the point that deepening your relationship with God is both easier and harder: easier in the spirit but harder in the flesh. Each of us must choose which to feed. Whichever we feed grows stronger while whichever we starve will weaken.

I don’t claim to have it all together – I don’t. The closer I grow to God, the more aware I become of my innate selfishness and how far I am in my flesh from who God wants me to be. My response is to quote Joyce Meyer, who frequently says, “No, I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!” Amen to that!

While I have grown exceedingly more aware of my innate selfishness, I have also grown more aware of the immensity of God’s grace. He loved me completely even when I made no effort whatsoever to follow Him. No matter how selfish and wretched I was, he loved me and saw something of value in me worth redeeming. So, rather than feeling defeated in my growing awareness of my innate selfishness, I fall more deeply in love with God as I recognize that I cannot “out sin” His grace. No matter how self-centered I am in an area of my life, His grace is more. This motivates me to keep chasing God, even as I repeatedly fall, because nothing compares to knowing Him more deeply.

Don’t be afraid of the difficult road of following God because it gets easier after the difficulty. Each new leg of the journey is painful and challenging because you must kill the flesh in that area of your life. On the other side of that pain and challenge is abundant joy that will make you wonder why you ever resisted in the first place. The more your relationship with God deepens, the more you will grow to trust Him, making it easier to obey, not because the road is easy but because you know the journey is worth the struggle. On the other side is a deeper relationship with God, and that’s worth any loss. Nothing this world has to offer comes anywhere close to what you experience as you fall more and more deeply in love with God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running and saying, “Let’s go!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Replacing My Plans with God’s Plans

whereContinued from here.

I am a planner by nature. I like to plan out where I am going before taking the first step so I know exactly what to expect. Living as God’s servant throws all that out the window, which has been extremely difficult in my flesh. My flesh does not want a lamp showing me only the next step: I want the complete directions from beginning to end so I know exactly where I am going and when I can expect to arrive.

In my flesh, I also want a say in what my assignment is. I know what my strengths are, and I want to work in a job and participate in activities in which my strengths are assets. I don’t want to be vulnerable or dependent upon anyone. I want to know that I can do something on my own without any help from anyone.

To follow God, I have had to leave all agendas at the foot of the cross and follow His path, which He illuminates only one step at a time. I have no idea where I am going, so I cannot plan ahead to make the journey easier. When people ask where I see myself in five years, I have no answer because God doesn’t tell me that far in advance. He only lets me know where He wants me today, and the lack of knowing drives my flesh absolutely batty.

However, this aspect of my life has become very simple because I put no energy into planning where I’m going. I have learned to trust that God has a purpose and plan that is good, that He will provide what I need, and that He will fulfill the desires of my heart because I delight in God. Interestingly, the things God brings into my heart are far from what I would have planned for myself.

For example, I recently started a job with a prison ministry that I am passionate and excited about. Anyone who has known me since 2016 or earlier can tell you that neither the word prison nor ministry has been on my radar. If you had asked me a year ago where I thought God was leading me, I can assure you that neither word would have made my list, much less in combination with each other. And yet, God has given me a passion for where He has led me that could only have come from Him. While my flesh balks about not knowing what’s coming, God’s plans are exceedingly good.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a map and asking, “Where?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing to Extend Grace

no_worriesContinued from here.

In my flesh, I expected the world to extend me lots of grace, and I would become offended when that did not happen. From my perspective, I had suffered greatly from years of child abuse, so was it really asking too much for people to extend me grace when I messed up?

However, in my flesh, I did not extend the same courtesy. After all, that person hasn’t been where I have, so he/she should have things together. Also, while I gave myself all sorts of excuses for bad behavior (it was “justified” because I was simply a victim of my emotions), I judged other people’s behavior from the outside, never considering that they, too, were being driven by their own emotions resulting from their own life experiences that I knew nothing about. It was easy in my flesh to be the victim, where whatever I did had an excuse (after all, I was abused as a child) while any poor behavior from anyone else was inexcusable. In my flesh, it was easy to judge others.

Learning to choose to extend grace was extremely difficult for me. First, God called me to do it in my actions, such as refraining from saying something negative while still thinking it. Later, He led me to extend grace even in my thoughts by praying for the other person rather than thinking negative thoughts about him or her. I had to stop thinking about other people in terms of how their actions affect me but, instead, see them through God’s eyes – as beloved children of God in need of grace and His tender loving care.

Learning to view people through God’s eyes has made my life so much easier! People are drawn to me because I do not judge them. They see compassion in my eyes rather than judgment, which is exactly what people need when they are hurting. That compassion points them to God, especially in situations in which they repeatedly receive grace. Although my flesh balks at extending grace, my spirit soars.

The more annoying someone’s behavior, the more they need God. I pray that God will reveal the height, depth, width, and breadth of His love for them. After all, if they truly understood how deeply God loves them, they would not behave selfishly. That’s how God changed me – not that I do it perfectly, but I have laid down my gavel and stopped judging others, choosing to see them as beloved children of God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of smiling, holding out her hand, and saying, “No worries.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing a Good Attitude

arghContinued from here.

I used to believe that I had no control over my own attitude. I felt what I felt and reacted to those feelings. Unfortunately, because of my painful childhood, I carried around a lot of pain that could be “triggered” by many external influences. So, I did my best to avoid as many “triggers” as I could. When I was unsuccessful in avoiding a trigger, I allowed my emotions to drive my behavior, making me an unpleasant person to be around, particularly for those who lived with me.

Learning to choose a good attitude when powerful emotions were triggered was extremely difficult for me to do. It was much easier for me in my flesh to allow my emotions to drive my behavior. If I felt angry, it was natural for me to be rude to others. If I felt sad, it was natural for me to focus on my pain and ignore the feelings of those around me. It was comfortable to expect the world around me to bend to the will of my emotions. After all, I was abused as a child, so the world owed me … or so I believed.

Nothing was more unnatural for me than to take responsibility for my reactions to powerful emotions. In the early stages, having to do this made me angry because I believed I experienced more negative emotions than other people because I had experienced more pain that they had. Thus, they owed it to me to put up with my bad attitude. Choosing to obey God by not allowing my emotions to drive my behavior was extremely difficult for me and took much practice to improve.

Today, I have a very different reaction to strong emotions. I recognize that whatever I am feeling in the moment – whether “good” or “bad” – will pass because all emotions are transient. Joy transcends whatever I am feeling, and I can always choose joy. Thus, I can experience joy even as I sob over my son having major back surgery or being in physical pain. I pour my emotions out to God – not other people – and ask Him to help me. I also thank Him that His mercies are new every morning, so it is OK that I am feeling lousy right now. Joy will come again, and I trust that God will carry me through until it does.

Pouring my emotions out to God rather than people has made my relationships much easier because I am no longer expecting fallible people to do what only God can do. Being in a relationship with me is less burdensome because I have no expectation for others to bear the brunt of my emotions. Instead, I choose a good attitude, no matter how I feel, which has removed much conflict that used to exist in my relationships.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace throwing her hands up in the air and saying, “ARGH!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Discomfort

life_is_hardContinued from here.

Part of the human condition is a strong disposition toward being comfortable, and I am no exception. In my flesh, I will always choose what is most comfortable for myself, and then once I find it, I don’t want to leave. In my flesh, I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life lying in a hammock on a beach, savoring my own comfort and ignoring the pain of other people.

Since I made the choice to follow God no matter what, comfort has become a thing of the past. Someone called into the Christian radio station KLOVE with the following quote:

There’s no growth in a comfort zone … and no comfort in a growth zone.

My flesh’s inclination toward comfort lulls me to sleep to God’s ways and priorities and keeps me self-focused. God is always moving as He reaches out to the lost, but I won’t be a part of His activity if I’m enjoying the comfort of my beachside hammock. So, since my relationship with God has deepened, I have entered into a life of discomfort, which has been hard for my flesh. Whenever I break eye contact with God, I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself because my flesh screams that it deserves comfort.

However, my continual discomfort leads to growth, which feeds my spirit, making my life so much easier as I participate in God’s activity around me. My spirit is empowered each time I defer my preferences for someone who is being unpleasant. I have repeated opportunities to grow my patience and perseverance. Then, when I’m with a group that is being inconvenienced, I’m the one who is relaxed and “going with the flow” while others are expressing outrage in their misery. It’s not that I am a “better person” – I’m not. Instead, because I have grown through much experience of discomfort, I have learned how to tap into God’s joy and peace in those situations so that they don’t bother me like they used to. This makes me more pleasant to be around and causes people to ask how I could remain joyful in an uncomfortable situation, which invites a conversation about God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a coach with her hand on her, dramatically saying, “Life is hard.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]