As a pastor some of my best sermons were the ones I was preaching to myself. I usually found that if I was wrestling with something, others were wrestling with it too.
This blog post is like one of those sermons. It’s for me. But it might be helpful to you.
Last week I had surgery on my hand. Dupuytren’s contracture. A hereditary condition that causes fingers to become permanently bent in a flexed position.
Please understand. I realize this is nothing compared to what a lot of people are going through. It’s nowhere near as serious as back surgery or hip surgery or a chronic heart condition. I get that.
But it’s still annoying.
And I’m getting cranky.
So, it’s time to re-read a quote from a book that I first read 30 years ago, when I was a young minister in my first appointment.
I was looking for sermon ideas for my congregation. But the sermon I found was for me.
The quote is by Chuck Swindoll, from his book Strengthening Your Grip:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.
I’m preaching to myself, but maybe you need to hear it too: We can’t control everything that happens. But we can control how we respond.
We can respond to hurt by becoming bitter—or we can choose to forgive.
We can respond to bad behavior with more bad behavior—or we can choose to break the cycle.
We can respond to difficulty by giving up, throwing in the towel, wallowing in our victimhood—or we can choose to pray, ask for God’s help, seek God’s guidance, and start working on solutions.
“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
Swindoll didn’t just pull that idea out of the air. He was reflecting on the words of the Apostle Paul:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
(Philippians 4:11b-13, New International Version)
I can’t control the fact that my ancestors passed Dupuytren’s disease down to me. I can’t control the fact that the treatment (surgery) now means that everything takes me 2-3 times as long because I’m having to do it with one hand.
But I can choose to thank God for the hand I’ve still got.
I can choose to thank God for the “new” hand I’m going to have once these bandages come off.
I can choose to enjoy the interesting things I’m learning about Dupuytren’s. For example, they say that there was a pope—maybe even St. Peter himself—who had Dupuytren’s. When he held out his hand to bless people it looked like this…
…and people decided it was a holy gesture with deep meaning—and priests have been doing it ever since.
I can choose my attitude. I can choose to “Strengthen My Grip” on God’s call and God’s faithfulness.
(By the way, does anyone else see the irony in that title for where I’m at right now? Strengthening … grip … hand surgery?)
I can choose my attitude.
And “through him who gives me strength,” I’m going to choose a better attitude than the one I was copping before I wrote this blog post.
How about you?