In a sermon my pastor recently preached, he mentioned a man named Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the German Holocaust. Though Frankl survived, he lost several of his immediate family members to death by gas chamber, including his wife. From that and other life circumstances, Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. In it he made an interesting observation—especially coming from a man who had lost so much: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
As the gate to 2019 has now been opened, it would be good for us not only to think about what Frankl said, but also to take it to heart. Buried in his statement is this truth. No matter what happens to us in 2019—whether they be the best things we can imagine or the worst—how we respond to them and the attitudes we take away from them are choices each of us gets to make. And while it is true that we have the freedom to make those choices, we are also responsible for the choices that we make. At no point can we blame others for the attitudes we adopt in response to any life circumstance.
Reflecting on Viktor Frankl’s statement about attitudes led me to think about my father. When describing him to others, I like to express my admiration for him by saying, “When I get old, I hope to be just like him.” My father is a remarkable man for a lot of reasons. First of all he is just a few weeks shy of being 97 years old. He lives alone. He cooks his own meals. He mows his grass and rakes the abundance of leaves which fall from three large oak trees which surround his yard. When the weather allows, he walks up to a mile through his neighborhood.
What makes my father even more remarkable is that he is all but blind from macular degeneration in both eyes. For over twenty years he has had such a significant tremor in his right hand (his dominant hand) that he’s had to retrain himself to fulfill many basic motor skills with his left hand. About a year ago he was diagnosed with stage four kidney failure. And the most remarkable thing of all? I have never once heard him complain. Ask him how he is doing and he’ll tell you, “I’m just cruisin’ along.” Ask him how he is able to accomplish so much in the face of such physical limitations and he will simply respond, “I follow Dennis the Menace’s philosophy—a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”
Whereas my father will tell you with a smile that he follows the example of Dennis the Menace, in actuality, as a godly man he follows the example of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul tells the spiritual secret to how he could handle his ups and downs of life with such a positive attitude. There he says, “…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him (Christ) who strengthens me.”
The key to choosing great attitudes no matter the circumstances we face? Contentment. And the key to choosing contentment as our dominant attitude? Avoiding the tyranny of more, and the trap of entitlement, and a spirit of ingratitude. Contentment and God’s strength can take us a long way in 2019.
Happy 2019. Choose well!