I was talking with a friend the other day who is in a very difficult situation that’s weighing heavily on her heart and mind. In her exasperation, she professed, “I just don’t understand why these things happen to me!” It got me thinking about life circumstances and the fact that… let’s face it – sometimes, life just deals us a bad hand. Whether it’s a financial slump, a family crisis, a social embarrassment, or a relational break-up, having the right filter and knowing how to respond and come back from these situations is what often makes or breaks us. While there may be no way to change the circumstance in which we find ourselves, there is always a way to change perspective. Renowned author, Victor Frankl, once said, The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. In light of such sound advice, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to appropriately frame life’s circumstances, such that the lens through which we view them serves to liberate rather than shackle us.
Webster defines a lens as something that facilitates and influences perception, comprehension, or evaluation. In optometry, there are two types of lenses – positive and negative. Because a negative lens does not bring parallel light rays together, it produces a virtual rather than a real image. A positive lens, however, which bends light to a specific focal point, produces a real image; one that visually represents what is actually being viewed. To obtain the real image of our circumstance, the positive lens through which we view it might include the following:
Look through others’ eyes… Often, when we’re in the middle of something, it can be difficult to see the bigger picture, to recognize all the elements surrounding our individual circumstance. For this reason, it can be helpful to confide in someone you trust. Sometimes all we need is the wisdom of counsel to help us gain perspective.
Envision change… Picture yourself differently within the situation. Just as a prism can refract light to create a rainbow, it’s possible for us to approach our situation in such a way that we begin to see facets of it we never realized were there. For example, in doing career counseling, I’ve witnessed many people approach a layoff as an opportunity to redirect their career toward something they always wanted but were never able to do.
Never wallow… Time spent in self pity is time wasted that we can never get back. When we view ourselves as victims, we plunge into a self-indulgent, negative spiral that is self-defeating and counter productive. My motto is: Any day that I’m alive and healthy is a good day!
Shift your focus… When we face negative situations, it’s only natural to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” The circumstances we face, however, may not be about us at all – my situation may be someone else’s lesson, someone else’s hardship, someone else’s heartache to overcome. For instance, think about that troubled family member who has somehow become your problem… Consider which is more difficult, the responsibility you feel or the burden they bare. It’s not all about me.
The life we experience derives from the lens through which we choose to look, be it positive or negative. While it’s true that life can send some hard knocks our way, we have the privilege of choosing freedom or bondage. As the saying goes, Circumstances don’t define us; they reveal us.