A Battle of Wills
It’s June in southern Alberta, which means torrential rains, spring run-off from the mountains, and flooding. Lots of flooding. We have been back in Alberta for three years, and two of them have been characterized by miserably wet Junes. On Tuesday evening I arrived home to nearly ankle-deep water in our basement, and we have spent a good chunk of the rest of this week hauling out furniture, ripping out carpets, and trying to dry out a soggy and smelly house.
It’s quite easy to feel sorry for oneself in these situations, I have discovered. It’s amazing how standing in a basement full of water can produce feelings of despair, helplessness, and anger. Even though I know full well that this, too, shall pass… Even though I know that life will go on, that we will be fine… Even though I know that far too many people around the world deal with far graver circumstances than this every day, and with far less supports than we have…
Yes, yes, I know all of that. But still. There’s water in my basement. And basements are meant for sitting and relaxing and playing piano and watching TV and playing X-Box with my son and sleeping and playing board games. Not for ankle-deep water. And it’s going to be a lot of work and money to get it all cleaned up and fixed.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells me that I must give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for me. And that’s all very well and good, but giving thanks in all circumstances isn’t really my will for me. My will for me is to grumble and moan and whine about the inconvenience and expense of this circumstance in particular. This circumstance naturally calls forth not thanks but grouchiness and self-pity. Not the first time, alas, God’s will for me and my will for me bear very little resemblance to one another.
I was sitting, head in hands, at our cluttered kitchen table on Wednesday around noon. It was my kids’ thirteenth birthday, and our house was a mess, furniture and clothes everywhere, the smell of dank, wet carpet wafting leisurely and oppressively up the stairs, un-iced birthday cupcakes and pizza boxes strewn about the kitchen after a morning spent sucking water out of the basement and pulling up carpet. A friend who had come to help was talking about perspective. She had recently spent time at an orphanage in Africa; I was recalling my time in an equally soggy slum outside Bogotá Colombia a few years ago. We were talking about gratitude, about the things we have to be thankful for, even in trying times. “After all,” she said, “we have so much to be thankful for.” She looked around at our disaster zone of a kitchen. “Like cupcakes,” she said. “And fridges.” I couldn’t help but smile. I may almost even have laughed.
It is a cliché to say that gratitude is a choice, a disposition that we learn to cultivate, whatever the circumstances. But you know what? It’s actually true. We actually can decide not to allow our emotional temperature to be dictated by the quality of the events that come our way, we actually can choose to focus on the many good gifts that we are given to enjoy, we actually can hold our reactions up to the light and ask ourselves some irritatingly uncomfortable questions about whether or not we may just be blowing things a bit out of proportion.
We actually can give thanks in all circumstances, because there are always things to be thankful for. Like cupcakes. And fridges. And friends and family to help in times of trouble. And sunny, breezy days after a week of rain. And health and strength and love and laughter. And the sure hope that no matter what comes our way, we are loved and held by a gracious God, whose will for us is that we would rise above our circumstances and become people who are defined not by the things that happen to us but by how we decide to live and move through them.
And the realization that when there is discrepancy between God’s will for me and my will for me, it’s probably best to go with the former rather than the latter.