By Dillon Schupp
Life’s felt a little chaotic recently,hasn’t it?
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” is probably your response!
Like probably most if not all of you, I’m excited 2020 came to come to a close. There’s something about a new year that brings a sense of hope that things will get better.
And they will- eventually.
However, the start of 2021, I’m afraid, seems to mirror the words of that fantastic group of theological scholars, otherwise known as the Who: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
There’s going to be much about the start of 2021 that is just like 2020:
- COVID is still here (and it may get worse).
- The country will remain bitterly divided as the President-elect Joe Biden is viewed as illegitimate by approximately half the country.
- Debates about lockdowns, safety measures, and vaccines will continue.
2020 ended with life feeling out of control, and 2021 has started practically the same way.
So where does that leave us? With things feeling uncontrollable around us, is there anything we can do to make it better?
In one sense: No. We can’t change what’s happening around us.
However, in another sense: Yes. In fact, I believe there are four things any of us can change and, if we make those changes, then regardless of what’s happening in the world, 2021 and our lives will be both be better.
#1- Go on a content diet.
Here’s what I mean by this: Consider the content you consume on a daily basis. Is it helpful to your life- or is it sucking your life away?
If you’re feasting on a steady diet of COVID news, the latest political/ legal developments, and arguments that populate your Facebook feed, your outlook is probably going to be pretty bleak. You’re thoughts will be dominated by negativity. Your attitude will trend towards hopelessness. And you’ll probably go through life a little on edge.
I’m not saying we should be uninformed. I’m not saying we never need to look at the news again.
I’m saying we should know enough to be informed and aware…and then cut it off and replace it with something that breathes life into us.
I’d suggest starting with the Bible. After all, as one of Jesus’ disciples, Peter realized, those are “the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).
I can’t control what’s being posted or published, but I can definitely choose whether I consume it and how much of it I consume. And if I’ll be wise in what I consume, I’ll be able to make another crucial change in my personal life that will lead to a better year.
#2- Get a new occupant upstairs.
We all have a voice in our head- typically our own. And it’s always talking to us.
It’s really not all that weird. This is just another way of viewing our thoughts.
Here’s the thing about our thoughts: We tend to think in default mode, and it’s often driven by the content we consume. We rarely if ever push back on the voice in our head as the occupant of our mind plows ahead with an unchecked monologue from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed.
And if our content diet is unhealthy, our thoughts are going to be unhealthy as well. Even when consuming helpful content, our thoughts are still a minefield full of anxiety, despair, frustration, and even anger. We end up absolutely miserable in our mind.
Which is why we have to choose to think on purpose.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians almost 2,000 years ago, tells us to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Put another way, we can choose what we meditate on. We don’t have to allow anxiety, fear, and stress run rampant and unchecked through our thinking. We can capture the voice in our head and evict it, replacing it with a new occupant: God’s truth.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)”
And when our minds are at peace instead of in a state of chaos, it makes it much easier to make a third change, one that begins to impact the lives around us.
#3- Stop the flow.
I learned something fantastic recently: when the toilet stops up, you don’t have to stand there helplessly and watch it overflow.
You can turn the water itself off and everything stops.
For some of you, that’s going to make this year better today!
The point of that (gross) illustration is this: Just because something inside is gross and things are not going well doesn’t mean we have to let it overflow and create a bigger mess.
Yet that’s exactly what we often do when we’re consuming unhealthy content and allowing negativity to permeate our thinking; because when those things are happening, it almost always comes out in our attitude.
My attitude is simply the way I approach the world. Am I joyful and optimistic? Hopeless and cynical? Am I on edge or at ease? Am I sour and bitter? Or am I grateful?
What we consume and what we think about tremendously shapes our attitude; and, just like what we consume and think about, our attitude is something we can control- regardless of what’s going on around us.
“But I feel so frustrated!”
I get that. Me too.
However, I’m learning that, while I can’t necessarily help what I’m feeling internally, I can certainly help whether or not to let it overflow into the way I present myself to the world and my interactions with others.
I may not be able to help the frustration and stress I feel…but I can certainly help whether I stomp around and make it obvious that I’m irritated, or whether I choose to take a deep breath, trust God that He’s in control, relax my shoulders, put on a smile, and greet the world with a sense of hope and joy.
After all- we’re commanded to be joyful and thankful- always. Those are even described as God’s will for our lives (1 Thessalonians 5:16,18).
Now: that doesn’t mean putting on a front- at least not to everyone. There should be people that you are fully transparent with and honest about how you’re doing. That’s the only way we ever get to navigate our internal struggles effectively.
We just don’t need to let that out in front of everyone…because if we do, the result will be we end up mistreating people who have nothing to do with our struggles. Which, as it turns out, leads to the fourth change we can make:
#4- Stop kicking the cat
I think there’s a lot of “kicking the cat” going on these days.
We’re frustrated and sick (no pun intended) of COVID and everything related to it. We’re ticked at politicians. We’re angry at people who think about things differently than us. And if we’re consuming rage, thinking about what we’re so frustrated over, and that bleeds into our attitude, we’re likely to snap at people around us.
People, by the way, who not only have nothing to do with what’s going on…but people who are facing the same struggles that we are.
There is no pandemic or political exception to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet it seems so often this year we’ve acted as if the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in give us a pass to treat others poorly.
That’s not right.
Yes- we’re frustrated. But…just like we don’t have to let our frustrated attitude out around people, we can also choose whether or not how we’re feeling inside comes out in how we treat people around us.
Regardless of what we feel, we’re always called to treat people with love, kindness, and respect.
And I think if we did that, regardless of what went on around us, not only would we be happier people, our world would be a much better place.
Even when it feels like it’s spinning out of control.
By the way: I’m going to be teaching through some crucial ideas that will help us make these changes in our lives starting Sunday, January 10, at LifeSpring Church in a series called “Reset”. You can join us online each Sunday at 11am at live.lifespringnc.com. I’d be honored to serve you in that way.