Last week I mentioned Billy Graham’s name to a 23-year-old. “I don’t know who that is,” she replied.
She might also not have known of Martha Custis Washington, who endured great difficulties in her life. She suffered through many unexpected and tragic deaths in her family. Her husband, the leader of the American Revolution and our nation’s first president, gave himself to the cause of fighting for and establishing a new nation. She sacrificed greatly for his career. Regardless…
“I am still determined to be cheerful and to be happy in whatever situation I may be, for I have learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions and not upon our circumstances,” Washington wrote.
Likewise, pastor and author Charles Swindoll has said, “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes towards life. The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life…The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
We determine our attitudes. Whether it’s how we respond to an insult or a compliment, we alone decide what our perception and perspective will be. No one can force an attitude upon us. Likewise, no one can take an attitude away from us.
Two biblical examples of attitude determination take these modern thoughts and transport them to ancient times. Attitude is not a new concept. It is still a vital one.
Ruth was a citizen of the ancient Moabite kingdom. When Jews fled Israel during a famine, they relocated to foreign lands, including Moab. One young Israelite, the son of a woman named Naomi, married Ruth. He died, however, and left Ruth with a choice – whether or not to remain in Moab or return to Israel with her mother-in-law, as the famine had subsided.
Naomi encouraged her daughter-in-law to stay in Moab to find a new husband, but Ruth had a different attitude.
“Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’ And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more” (Ruth 1:16-18).
The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians, “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:11-13).
How many of us can say with certainty that we shun knee-jerk reactions to circumstances and take the time to determine the better attitude with which we may face them? Washington and the apostle Paul both express that attitude is a learned perspective that does not come easily. Rather it often comes through the most difficult of circumstances.
Where attitude is concerned, perhaps we all have lessons to learn. Only we can determine whether or not we do.