Our response determines our growth…
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, survived three years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He endured starvation, disease, and constant violence at the hands of prison guards. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Dr. Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing—the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
In the face of dehumanizing violence, Dr. Frankl chose his attitude. He realized that between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose how we respond.
How we respond to difficult people matters. Those we consider “difficult people” can range from the guy who cut in front of us at the DMV to the person who treated our child unfairly to the one who destroyed our marriage. Whether the offense is small or great, the space to choose how we respond is always there. Choosing that response wisely can make a world of difference.
We choose our thoughts. We control what we think about. Philippians 4:8 says, “So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.” When we focus our thoughts on those who hurt us or frustrate us, we feed the hurt and frustration and encourage it to grow.
We choose our words. My mom always told me to take a breath before I spoke. I’ve never regretted that pause before speaking, but I have often regretted not waiting and saying something stupid or hurtful. “My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry” (James 1:19). What we say can escalate or diminish a difficult situation. Take a second before speaking—and remember that sometimes saying nothing is the best response.
We choose our attitudes and actions. Consider these instructions from Jesus in Matthew 5:44: “…Love your enemy, bless the one who curses you, do something wonderful for the one who hates you, and pray for the very ones who persecute you.” We choose whether to love or to hate, to bless or to curse, to be kind or to be mean. We choose to seethe with anger at those who persistently mistreat us, or to pray for them instead.
Dr. Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Friend, there are some people and some situations we may not be able to change. But as we carefully choose our responses to those people and those situations, we will see God use those things to change our hearts, grow our character, and bring good into our lives.
Dear God, give me grace to control my responses to people who hurt me or make me angry. Help me choose uplifting thoughts, words, attitudes and actions. Bring all of my life under your perfect control. Protect my heart from becoming bitter or resentful through troubles. Instead, let me grow kinder and stronger through the difficult people and situations I encounter. I ask these things in Jesus’s name, amen.