The grace in thinking twice

I never thought it would happen to me. I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, eagerly anticipating my pumpkin spice latte. I pulled up to the window, offered my smart phone screen for the barista to scan the code of my Starbucks Card Account. And the barista leans out and says: “The car in front of you paid for your coffee.”

We all heard about the rash of “pay it forward” acts of kindness that seem to strike people in the drive-thru lanes of coffee and fast food establishments. I’ve even done it before, paid for the order of the person behind me. And it’s an amazing feeling!

But this isn’t a post about being grateful. This isn’t even a post about being generous. This is a post about how you shouldn’t feel.

Because when this happened to me, my initial reaction wasn’t gratitude. It was irritation.

Why? Because all I needed was one more purchase on my card to earn a free drink. And because some overly nice person in front of me bought my coffee for me, I’d have to come back again to earn my free coffee.

Yes, I’m that bad of a person.

Yes. Please laugh at me. Because it will make me feel better about being such a horrible, ungrateful person. Goodness.

This is what the Bible means about taking captive every thought, folks (2 Corinthians 10:5). Maybe your initial reaction to something isn’t what it should be, but that’s not the reaction you have to act on.

Tough stuff can happen in life. Things go on that make us question what we believe or lose our faith in others. And then sometimes good things happen too. Sometimes we expect the good things that happen, and other times we don’t. Regardless, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’re still supposed to be thankful for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I would love to get to the point in my life that my first reaction to anything is spiritual, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. I would love to be the person who can look at any situation and see the beauty of what God is doing immediately. But I’m not there yet. Maybe someday I will be, but until then, I have the grace of second thoughts.

Gratitude isn’t my default. Faith isn’t my default either. My initial reaction any situation is to try to fix it myself or to evaluate it based on my own capability. But, frankly, it isn’t my initial reaction that matters.

My initial reaction to a situation only matters if that’s what I choose to act on. If somebody paid for my overpriced latte and I continued to feel irritated about it because I didn’t get my way, that’s a problem. The question comes down to what’s in your heart? What is your true attitude?

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

Initial reactions normally reflect our sin nature. People have bad days. We have difficult seasons that color the way we see our lives and other people. And if you catch us off guard at one of those moments, with a good thing or a bad thing, the way we react at first might not match up to what we say we believe. But that’s not hypocrisy. That’s a startled reaction from a flawed human being.

What matters is how we choose to act from that point on. Second thoughts are usually the point where I get a hold of myself and calm down. My second reaction is usually calmer than the first, reasoned and thought-out, once I’ve had a moment to think about how I feel, what I feel, and why I feel that way. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one out there who would say this.

So what can we all take away from this?

Don’t base your understanding of someone on their initial reaction to a situation. It takes a lot longer than a snap decision to get to know another person. Sure, a snap decision can tell you a lot about someone, but not the deep stuff.

And for those of us on the snap decision side? Maybe a spiritual reaction isn’t our default, and maybe it never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it. No, we’ll never be perfect, but the more often we choose the right reaction to a situation (good or bad), the sooner that choice will become habit.

So, thank you, whoever you are, for paying for my pumpkin spice latte. It was delicious! And thank you too for helping me understand the grace in thinking twice and the habit of gratitude.

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Little flowers on Bolivar Island, Galveston, TX

Life may not be as bad as you think

I’ve mentioned that I’m in Kansas City at a copywriting seminar. Today is the last day, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot and gotten to know some good people in the industry. But I learned something else yesterday, something beyond copywriting: I learned I have an awesome job.

Granted, I knew my job was great, but sometimes it takes really talking to other people in similar situations for me to grasp just what a great company I work for. I’m at this seminar with other people in my station who won’t be reimbursed for their parking, their meals, their gasoline. And I’m here being reimbursed for everything. I even have a company car to drive while I’m here.

It’s not that I’m not thankful for my job. I am. Every single day I’m thankful for it. But I’m not sure it had clicked in my head just how fortunate I am. On the bad days, it’s difficult. I’m not going to lie; this job has put me in tears many times. It’s full of frustrations and full of hard choices and big responsibilities, and I think some part of me had begun to take it for granted.

Many days I looked at my job as though it were something to endure, but what about these other people I’ve met at this seminar? They’re having to endure so much more than I ever have. And it makes me wonder if that’s not true all the time–that what I have to endure really isn’t as bad as I think it is.

Today’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Everyone knows we’re supposed to be thankful. Everyone knows that gratitude is essential. And most of the time, we do a pretty good job. I’d like to think I am a grateful person. I try to be. But it’s very difficult to be grateful when the ground is falling out from under you or when you’re doing your best to keep your head above water and more keeps pouring in on you.

When you’re a performance-driven person, it’s hard to truly see an ever-growing list of projects you will never complete as job security.

But the verse doesn’t say be thankful when you feel like it. It doesn’t say be thankful when everything is going right (or when everything is going wrong). It doesn’t put a time limit or a specific season when we’re supposed to be thankful. It just says be thankful and to be thankful in all circumstances.

So what does that mean? Face the day with a fake smile? Thank God half-heartedly and trudge on through the piles of work that would sooner bury you than cooperate?

Being thankful is a perspective. It’s a focus issue. If your default mode is gratitude, it makes a huge difference in how you face a day. And I think that’s where we need to be. I know that’s where I need to be.

We get so wrapped up in our own stories that it’s difficult to remember sometimes that other people’s stories might be full of more disappointments than ours. Other people might struggle more with things than we do, but it’s hard to remember that because sometimes all we can do is see our own trouble.

I’m not saying to stick with a job that you hate or with employers who take advantage of you. I’m not saying to stay at a job when you know God is calling you somewhere else. That’s not the case. But if you have a job where your needs are being met, where you are serving a purpose, where you are appreciated, and where you are being productive–be thankful. A lot of people don’t have that. And if you’re as fortunate as I am? Understand that we are in the minority.

I guess my thought this morning is that we need to have a default attitude of gratitude. Isn’t that cheesy? When we’re struggling and we feel persecuted, it’s easy to slip into endurance mode. And endurance is necessary. We need to keep going, to keep on keeping on no matter what is happening. But we also need to be thankful. And we need to keep our ears open. Because you never know how bad other people have it until you start listening and get your eyes off yourself. And once you understand how difficult life is for other people, your problems won’t seem so huge and you might even be able to see God working in your life in a way you hadn’t before.

So endure, yes. But be thankful first. It will make a huge difference in the way you view life and in the way you handle your troubles.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Circumstances

November 2012 may go down in my personal history as the suckiest month ever. Seriously. Between car wrecks, damaging storms, deaths in the family and now allergic reactions that send me to the emergency room at Midnight … I can’t even guess what’s coming next and I don’t want to.

But no matter how many ridiculously frustrating and sad things happen in life, there’s one thing I’m trying to remember.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Our circumstances shouldn’t dictate our perspective. Just because we are currently going through difficult times doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us or that He is punishing us for something. It just means that the world isn’t perfect. And it means that we aren’t perfect yet either. Or that we still have a lot to learn about living.

And personally, I think hard times are a good reminder for us that this life isn’t all there is.

There are a couple of verses in Scripture that talk about how to respond to difficult times. The passage escapes me, but there is a verse that says to rejoice in difficult times. But rejoicing in difficulty is different than being thankful in it.

Rejoicing means that you can still be positive even when you’re going through uncomfortable or unpleasant situations. But being thankful? Being thankful for adversity is hard. You have to step back and look at all the troubles in your life and turn to God and thank Him for it. That’s what being thankful in difficulty looks like, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been doing too well at that.

How am I supposed to thank Him for letting me have a car wreck that I caused? How am I supposed to thank Him for letting a crazy wind storm tear up my property? How am I supposed to thank Him for my Great Aunt’s death, for my swollen up eyeball, for my stressful work situation? Am I really supposed to thank Him for all of that?

Yes.

Granted, I don’t have to. He doesn’t force us to do anything, and gratitude is something you can’t fake. Not to God.

But so much depends on your perspective. If you can take the difficult situations in your life and be thankful to God for them and be specific when you thank Him for them, know what happens? You look at those circumstances differently.

That car wreck becomes an opportunity to be a better driver and share the story of God’s grace with people. The wind storm that ripped up my property provided a chance for me to get to know my neighbor better. My Great Aunt’s death reminded me of how precious family is and how short life can be. And my swollen up eyeball? … Well … that was a good learning experience of how I shouldn’t ever rub my eye. Ever. … No, it was a good opportunity for me and God to have a serious talk about trusting Him.

Circumstances are temporary. They’re like life. They never stop changing. They’re like the weather in Kansas; if you don’t like it, wait a while and it will change. So if you base your perspective on your circumstances, you’ll be as volatile as the wind. But if you base your perspective and your joy and your gratitude on God and on His Word, even when your life turns upside down, your focus will remain steady.

So when the difficult times come, and they will come (in droves often), don’t get discouraged. Just recognize them for what they are: a chance to grow.