Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a Jew. The Nazis imprisoned him in the death camps of World War II Germany, where he experienced things so repugnant to a normal person’s sense that he could scarcely reduce them to words.
Frankl’s parents, brother, and wife died in the camps or were murdered in the gas ovens. Of his immediate family, only his sister survived the camps. Frankl himself suffered torture and innumerable indignities, never knowing from one moment to the next if his captors would send him to the ovens or leave him among those who were “saved” and left with the task of removing the bodies or shoveling out the ashes of those who had been cremated while they were still alive.
One day, naked and alone in a small room, Frankl began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms”—the one freedom his Nazi captors could not take away. Frankl openly acknowledged that the Nazis could control his entire environment and do what they wanted with his body. They could not, however, destroy his inner identity. He saw himself as a self-aware human being who had the ability to be a somewhat objective observer of his situation. He still had the power within himself to determine how his outer circumstances and the Nazis’ treatment of him were going to affect his inner self. He saw that there was a gap between what happened to him (the stimulus) and his reaction to the stimulus (response), and that in that gap lay the freedom or power to choose a response.
Frankl came face-to-face with the reality that his own choices, not his circumstances, defined his identity. No matter how horrifying the environment in which he lived, and no matter how much humiliation and degradation others heaped upon him, he was still in control of how he chose to respond.
The same is true for each one of us!
No matter what you may have been through, even unspeakable pain, you are still in control of your identity. No event can change you on the inside unless you allow it to do so. No person can cause you to respond in a particular way on the inside unless you choose to react that way. The freedom to forge your own opinions, ideas, attitudes, and choices rest solely and uniquely with you.
Charles Swindoll wrote: “The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it. I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude.”
There are some true children of God who induce their own darkness by morbid self-scrutiny. They are always going back on themselves, analyzing their motives, re-considering past acts of consecration, and comparing themselves with themselves. In one form or another self is the pivot of their life and only darkness can result from such a course. There are certainly times in our lives when we must look within, and judge ourselves, so that we may not be judged. But this is only done that we may turn with the fuller purpose of heart to the Lord. And when once done, it needs not to be repeated. “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” is the only safe motto. Philippians 3:13
The question is, not whether we did as well as we might, but whether we did as well as we could at the time.
A very able and gracious lady was stricken with arthritis. Her life’s work had come to an end. She lay a helpless invalid and in great pain for many years. But to say that her work ended is not quite true. It assumed a higher form. Each morning she had her friends carry her to a window in her home where the factory workers would pass by as they walked to and from the factory. As they went to their job each morning they were greeted by her friendly smile, and in the evening when the day’s work was done there was that same face with its smile—in spite of the unfairness of life. For years that face lighted all those who passed by. When she died, four factories closed down to let the men attend the funeral of the woman who had let them see into a heart of beauty through the door of pain and who had let them see God through calamity.
Could the very thing, which we thought was the end, become a new beginning?
There was a lady in India who lived as an invalid, walking with crutches because of a spinal injury. One day as she was going down the steps of her home she fell, breaking one crutch and losing the other on the way down. She lay at the bottom of the steps and called for help. But it was noon and everyone was away. Finally, when no help was forthcoming, with a prayer she drew herself by the handrail and after a long struggle pulled herself to her feet, and began to walk, and she has been walking ever since—without the crutches!
The best thing that ever happened to her was that fall, though for the moment it seemed to be, misfortune upon misfortune.
John 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus said to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” not because they were to be protected from all the troubles of this world but because they were ‘to believe in God.” Faith in God and his purposes will not save us from the troubles, but will save us through them, for the troubles themselves can be made into the agents of redemption. If this is so, then “even if the world falls to ruin, the man of faith will be undismayed under its ruins.” The fact is, that if the world’s systems do come crashing down, he can get along without the world, for he has his own inner world intact. The man who is not dependent on anything on this earth but knows he is in the right relationship with his God will live in a place of safety and peace.
God seldom uses any man unless he has experienced the testing of pain. Jesus began his ministry with a wilderness experience, but it ended with an Easter morning. Maybe your life has had more than its share of disappointments and hardships. We live in a changing world, and talks of a deepening recession, record-high gas prices, the war in Iraq, the immigration problem, people losing their homes and so much more, have all of us wondering what the days ahead might bring. But we can be sure that our Lord is faithful and secure.
The road to a noble character cannot be made except through the strain and stress and struggle that life brings to it. We sometimes cry out and ask God for answers to our struggle, our purpose here on this earth. But God is in the process of fulfilling our life’s purpose. We need to be reminded that the process of the journey to the cross, found its purpose in the finished work upon the cross.
In the North of India, some rug weavers were working. They patiently sat week after week and month after month making one rug. If you gazed at the rug you would have felt the futility of their sitting there so long, for the rug seemed to be full of blotches and blurs and knots. But you would be looking at the wrong side of the rug. If you would go around to the weaver’s side, you would see the pattern that was unfolding—–and how beautiful it would be! It was worth the patience.
We now see the wrong side of God’s purposes, and they seem without a pattern as he weaves through the ages. But one day we shall stand and see things as he sees them, and then we will gasp at the wonder of the plan that unfolds. In the exquisite weave of the tapestry we shall see our lives and of those that we have touched woven together in the beautiful masterpiece of life’s journey.
May He keep you under the shadow of His mighty wings and give you His peace that surpasses all else.
Rex and Lois