There’s always a choice.
I remember the first time those words really hit me. In many ways they were an offense to my inherently victim mentality. If there was a choice then I couldn’t always blame others for my situation, my circumstances, and my response. If there was a choice then it meant responsibility: the ability to choose my response.
But as much as those words were offensive they were also incredibly liberating. Because if there was a choice then my life no longer needed to be defined by external circumstances. As Victor Frankl 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.”
I realised I have a choice each and every day. A choice to:
forgive or become bitter
love or hate
build up or tear down
forget or remember
give thanks or remain ungrateful
keep going or give up
pray or panic
surrender to God’s way or continue in my own way
In many ways each of these choices feel fairly insignificant. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a disciple of Jesus it’s this:
the grand gestures don’t really count for much. The one-off moments of victory are exactly that: one-off victories. But the seemingly small decisions to forgive, to love when I’d rather not, to pray, to persevere – it is those decisions that cultivate a life that slowly looks a little more like Jesus.
A few weeks ago I sunk into an all-time-low. I couldn’t see a way-out. I became lost in my own thoughts, in hurt, disappointment, unforgiveness and many other equally pleasant emotional responses. At the same time I was in the midst of a running programme. The first time I went running I was left red-faced and out of breath after just 60 seconds. Perhaps this is why I always chose to run in the dark. But as my fitness increased and I looked back over the weeks of training I realised that I was able to run for 5,10,20,30, and now for 45 minutes because I simply chose to put one step in front of another and keep running. The programme took me through a gentle pace of gradually increasing my fitness and I just chose not to give up. And in my aforementioned all-time-low I ran like crazy. Everytime I ran I knew that God was teaching me: “This is how I want you to live as my disciple. Follow me. Put one foot in front of the other and don’t give up. Just keep going”
The apostle Paul had this thing nailed. He knew the importance of small choices, of putting one foot in front of the other, which is why He wrote things like:
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you”
And He’d also nailed the not-being-defined-by-circumstances-thing as well :
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul says that he “learned” how to do these things which suggests that there was a process of Him getting to this place rather than sitting back and somehow hoping he’d reach a place of contentment. He was able to do this through Christ and the empowering of His spirit but this wasn’t in opposition to effort or making choices. ’
As Dallas Willard said:
grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Earning is an attitude, effort is action. Without effort, we would be nowhere. When you read the New Testament you see how astonishingly energetic it is. Paul says, ‘take off the old man, put on the new.’ There is no suggesting that this will be done for you…. We all know that Jesus said, (in John 15) ‘without me you can do nothing’. We need to add, ‘if you do nothing, it will be most assuredly without him.
How about you? What are the small choices you need to make to put one foot in front of the other?