“Every problem introduces a person to himself.” This was the opening thought Mike gave us on one of this week’s Leadershift calls. He then asked us what we believed that meant. One of the students responded by saying, “In adversity, we are reactionary, and what’s inside us comes out.” It’s true, isn’t it? When problems arise- especially problems that have to be addressed immediately or have a personal impact on us, it’s easy to react quickly. It’s easy to let that gut reaction take the wheel and guide the way we not only initially react, but also how we choose to handle the situation as a whole.
I’ll admit that there have been times that something comes up and I respond in a way I am completely ashamed of. My claws come out, my selfishness takes a front seat, and the idea of being “inconvenienced” becomes such a burden to me. Sometimes my response will shock me (and my husband), and I’ll mutter something like, “I don’t know what just happened.” But thinking about those moments now- I do know what happened. I was so focused on myself and how everything impacted me, and I didn’t have a tight reign over the pride in my heart. Writing this now, I feel a little gross. It’s not like I want to confess my shortcomings to you, but I say these things because I know I’m not alone in this. I know I’m not the only one whose gut reaction (with all its ugliness) takes the steering wheel.
I don’t like that ugliness. I don’t like the pride and entitlement that finds its way to the surface when a problem arises. It’s no way to live. Pain and problems can strike at any moment, and if I’m not prepared to respond in a healthy way, then I’m being controlled by my pride and my lack of self-control. There are deep rooted reasons as to why we respond the way we do. Trials will expose who we are. They reveal who we are on the inside- whether we like it or not.
So, what now? How do I get out of this perpetual state of poor reactions? Here are five action steps that Mike laid out for us on the call on Thursday.
First, choose a positive posture. This will give you the best chance to succeed. You have the choice to make life more livable, and you can make life’s lessons more learnable.
Second, there are times that you need to think creatively. It might seem impossible to see anything beneficial that could come from the trial you are facing, but just because it seems impossible doesn’t mean it is. Take time to gain different perspectives of your situation- it might just open your eyes to how you want to move forward.
Third, embrace the value of bad experiences. Something can be learned from every bad experience- every single time.
Fourth, make good changes after learning from bad experiences. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. And what is at the heart of change? Your emotions. Don’t stuff down your emotions. Rather, allow them to be the catalyst for change.
Fifth, take responsibility for your life. You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you alone decide how you will respond to it. Often times, a situation becomes a hundred times worse when we respond poorly, versus responding with grace, love, and self-control. If you respond in anger, it isn’t a coincidence when the problem begins to escalate.
As Mike says, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I can’t just hope that my response will be seasoned in grace next time a problem arises. That would be foolish. I have to do the grunge work first. I have to get dirty, get uncomfortable, and be willing to pull those overgrown weeds in my heart.
I’ve used the word “problems” up until now, but the fact of the matter is, this applies to pain just as much. Painful situations such as losing a loved one, financial burdens, broken relationships, addiction, infertility, etc. aren’t an excuse to lash out at others. Often times people will understand why you lash out, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good.
Pain doesn’t excuse sin. Pain isn’t a get out of jail free card or a hall pass that allows you to live however you want. I think that it’s often treated that way though. “Oh, they are just going through a hard time.” “Oh, they didn’t mean what they said.” “Oh, that’s just how they cope.” These are all excuses that we make for others, and sometimes the same excuses we use for ourself. I’ve been guilty of this. My husband and I have longed to start a family for a while now, but quickly into marriage we realized we were facing infertility and would need the help of science if we ever wanted to have children. On a few different occasions I remember lashing out at my husband, and then using my pain as an excuse, yelling defensively, “Well, I’m the one who can’t get pregnant!!” I thought my pain justified my actions. But it never did and never will.
No amount of pain justifies treating others poorly.
Leadershift has a deign for dealing with pain, and I’m going to share it with you in just a moment; but first I wanted to reiterate the concept we’ve been discussing, and it’s actually pulled from a verse in Scripture. Matthew 15:18 says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” If you aren’t proud of how you respond to pain and problems in your life, it doesn’t just mean you are stuck that way. Every day- every moment, you have the opportunity to choose differently and to seek what is good for your soul. When you feed your soul with good things, when you practice selflessness and humility, and when you admit when you’re wrong, your heart will begin to change, and that’s where it all begins.
So here is the Leadershift design for dealing with pain:
Define the problem or painful experience.
Understand your emotion.
Articulate the lesson.
Identify desired change.
Brainstorm numerous pathways to get there.
Receive input from others.
Implement a course of action.
Like I said before, you can’t just decide to be different and then you are. It takes work, and this is a great way to get started. You are at a pivotal point in your life now. You recognize what needs to change. You know the steps you need to take to get there. Now, you just have to make the decision to put in the work. No matter how big the problem or how painful the experience, you are always responsible for how you handle yourself and what comes out of your mouth. Don’t buy into the excuse that pain is a hall pass.