Life is full of challenges, and, in my experience, we like to tackle a challenge by throwing optimistic clichés at it. Nothing worth having was ever easy to get. It will be worth it in the end. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And so on and so forth.
But rather than regurgitating the same “power of positive thinking” messages over and over again every time something difficult appears in your path, wouldn’t it be more effective to alter your perspective entirely? After all, why does a challenge have to be challenging? What else is a challenge but an opportunity in disguise?
Today’s verse is James 1:2-4.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
At work yesterday, I found out that my office is going to be majorly restructured — again. My department was part of a major restructure about a year and a half ago. It was a big deal for many people, but my department escaped relatively unscathed. Not this time. And the result is that my boss (who I love) will be staying in one place while the rest of us move to another division.
At first, I tried to think positively. I really don’t like change. I try to like it. I try to accept it, but it’s difficult for me. So when change comes along and I am forced to comply with its wishes, I do my best to look on the bright side. But positive thinking can only get you so far. And that’s the wall I hit yesterday because no matter how positively I think, I can come up with a possible negative scenario for each positive option.
What if our new boss (who hasn’t been selected yet) is uptight and controlling? What if our new boss is a micro-manager and a OCD-ish bully? What if he or she is stingy about vacations and FlexTime? What if we aren’t allowed to take off an hour early for emergencies?
No matter how many positive spins you put on any of those, having a challenging boss could make my professional life very difficult. It could be a challenge. And I could treat it like a challenge. But if I treat it like a challenge, I’m going to be defensive. I’m going to spend all my time scrambling to hold whatever ground I think I already occupy. I’m going to clamp down hard to cling to my rights and my privileges and my this and my that.
But what if I change my mind about what defines a challenge? What if instead of focusing on how I react when it goes wrong, I focus on what opportunities I will have to make a difference? How will that change my attitude? How will that help me grow, not only as an employee but as a believer?
If I look at my professional life with a difficult boss and I treat the situation like an opportunity to make a difference instead of a challenge to be overcome, my entire attitude will change. There won’t be any defensiveness. There won’t be any arguments or scrambling to get out of the kill box. There won’t be a stampede or a rush to gain as much ground and hold on to as much as possible. There will just be meekness and agreeableness and pleasantness.
Isn’t that the way we’re supposed to be anyway?
Now please don’t misunderstand. If you’ve got a boss (or even a coworker) who’s deliberately taking advantage of you, you probably need to say something about it. Or it could be a sign that you’re supposed to move on. But more Christians that I have met are developing an entitlement mentality about their jobs. Yes, as employees we have a right to expect certain things, but I think we take it too far sometimes. A job is a job; your boss is your boss. If you don’t like it, don’t just sit and complain; either change your perspective or quit.
It’s better to change your perspective, honestly. Because if you can learn to change challenge to opportunity in your own mind, there’s not much that will be able to slow you down in every other area of your life. If you can tackle difficulty with true joy, what can Satan throw at you that will stop you? If you can look disappointment square in the eye and try again, knowing that God’s timing is perfect, what can keep you down?
Challenges are a part of life. We have to deal with that. But they don’t have to be challenging. Turn the challenge into an opportunity to grow. And you’ll not only succeed professionally but you’ll learn how to handle the things that really matter in life.