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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Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

What Sherlock taught me about facing difficulty

I don’t watch television. If I find a show that I enjoy, I wait for it to come out on DVD and then marathon it, because I don’t like being tied down to a television schedule. And I’ve never been able to figure out how to get digital recorders to work anyway. Well, last year, I got hooked on a remarkable television show: BBC’s Sherlock. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. It’s amazing. Created by two Arthur Conan Doyle freaks (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the evil geniuses behind Doctor Who, my other current BBC obsession), it’s brilliant and funny and exciting and fresh and just all-around great entertainment. And it’s British. And it has Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in it, so what more could you ask?

Well, the season two finale was just evil. Evil, I tell you. And I’ve been waiting–waiting, waiting, waiting–patiently for the new series to come out. And I’ve got friend who watched it early because it launched in England earlier, and I thought about doing that. But for once, I wanted to watch it with everybody else, like a normal person. So I cleared my schedule on Sunday night and sat down to watch it on PBS.

And PBS was having major signal issues.

Now, if folks have cable, they didn’t have a problem. But I don’t have cable. I live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere with no access to cable systems, so I still operate on rabbit ears, which are hooked to a converter box and plugged into my television set. And something was wrong with the signal because every 15 seconds, the picture would fuzz and go silent for 5 seconds. And if you’ve watched any Sherlock, 5 seconds is a heck of a lot of time. You could miss an entire Cumberbatch soliloquy in 5 seconds.

I. Was. Pissed. Frustrated. Angry. Irritated. And just plain grouchy. I mean, seriously. I’d been waiting how long for this? Looking back on my reaction now, I’m kind of embarrassed about it because it seems like a very small thing to get so bent out of shape about. And that got me thinking about my life and perspective on a grander scale.

Speedy's Café at 187 N. Gower (more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC's Sherlock), London, England

Speedy’s Café at 187 N. Gower more popularly known as 221B Baker Street in BBC’s Sherlock, London, England )yes, I’m that kind of geek that goes and takes pictures of set locations)

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 7:13-14.

Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
Enjoy prosperity while you can,
    but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
    Remember that nothing is certain in this life.

As I’ve posted before, Ecclesiastes is one of those books that you have to be careful with because Solomon was in quite a funk when he wrote it. So it’s not a book to just pick and choose verses and base your life off them. It’s a book to read in its entirety and understand as a whole.

To a certain extent, what this verse is saying is true. God has a certain way of doing things, and we have nothing to say about that. But God doesn’t bring hard times into our lives. God doesn’t take away good things from our lives. The world does that. Our own sin does that. The frustrations and irritations in our lives aren’t because of something God is doing; it’s a result of where we live and how we live.

But this is the verse that came to mind this morning after my frustrating experience with PBS last night. Not saying that PBS is like God. Not at all. But the situation reminded me of some similar events in my walk with God, where I was powerless to change anything, where I had a choice to either give up and cry about it or do the best I could until God revealed why it was all happening.

I’d like to think I’m a really great Christian who can handle whatever life and the world throws at me without complaint, but that’s not really the case. It’s funny. What I’ve found is that I can usually handle the really big things okay. The terrifying illnesses? No problem. The ridiculous expenses or the massive inconveniences? Not a big deal. But the small things? The tiny irritations? The pebbles in my shoe? They drive me flippin’ insane.

The tiny irritations of the Christian life are what make me crazy, and that’s not the way it should be. How I deal with the tiny irritations, especially when they stack up, will help me deal with the big problems later down the road. Like Sherlock last night. Instead of being grateful that I could see any of it, my first reaction was to get snippy and irritated. Why? Because I didn’t get what I wanted? How childish is that?

God doesn’t bring difficulty into our lives, but by the same token, He usually doesn’t snap His fingers to take it away when we encounter it. Some people like to say that means it’s His responsibility, and that’s their prerogative. But that’s like blaming a gardener for weeds. Weeds just happen; it’s not the gardener’s fault, and blaming him for it is a waste of effort and resources, especially since he will probably know the best way to deal with them anyway.

The perspective you choose when you encounter difficulty in your life will change everything, either for good or for worse. Don’t delude yourself. You are going to face tough times, regardless of whether you follow Christ or not. Why? Because our world is broken. And, no, God isn’t always going to step in and save you from the bad times because that’s not the way He works. There have been instances in the past where God has done that, where He’s intervened in ways that people can’t understand, and that’s not to say that He won’t do it again. But that’s His choice. That’s His prerogative, and if intervening doesn’t fit in His plan, He’s not going to do it. And He has that right as Sovereign God.

But just because He doesn’t step in doesn’t mean He’s abandoned us, doesn’t mean we’re alone or that He doesn’t care. It means He’s got something better. It means there’s a bigger plan and intervening would wreck it. Let’s face it, I learn more from difficulty than I do from comfort. I grow as a person when I face difficulty, and if I’m going through something tough right now, that means I’ve got something to learn. And whatever I learn is going to help me later on.

So if God has set you on a crooked, winding, steep path, don’t complain about it. Push forward and be thankful He’s equipped you for it. And when difficulty comes, don’t complain and don’t give up. He let it come for a reason. And when you don’t get what you want, remember that there’s something better on the other side.

True story. After I complained about PBS crapping out on me, my amazing friend Jessica told me about an incredible app. A PBS app! That allows you to watch current PBS episodes! Seriously? How awesome is that? So even though I didn’t get to see Sherlock last night, I’ll be able to watch it and the other episodes and the other PBS shows I love on my tablet, probably with better reception.

See? Something better.

I don’t know everything. I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t see the big picture. God doesn’t give me difficulty, but He lets me go through it so I remember He’s the one in control. And in His grace, He gives me what I need to get through and helps me learn something along the way.

So why be afraid of difficulty? Why get upset about it? Rejoice about it. Embrace it. Because you’re going to come out the other side better.