Guess Which Circumstances Are Beyond Your Control

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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When I was a kid in the early 1960s, we often lost our TV network signal. The screen would suddenly go blank, and eventually there would appear a cartoon of a cut power cord and the words “Due to circumstances beyond our control . . .” In the days before cable and satellite transmission, television technology was primitive and the airwaves were indeed out of anyone’s control. So whether you were dying to find out who won the quiz show, learn whether Marshall Dillon would catch the bad guys, or see how Perry Mason would win his case, you just had to sit and wait.

I was actually accustomed to lack of control. My life circumstances were at the mercy of my parents and teachers and every other nosy adult in my small Southern town. But for professional adults in New York City or some sophisticated place to have lost control of a whole TV channel—wow!

As I became one of those seemingly omnipotent grownups, I got in on the secret: most circumstances in life are beyond our control. We may or may not get to decide where (or whether) to go to college . . . whom (or whether) to marry . . . how many (if any) children we have . . . where to work, where to live, whom we befriend, how we spend our money, how we worship. We have a measure of control over those choices, but it’s not complete.

But I also learned two exceptions to the “beyond our control” rule: our own actions and attitudes. I couldn’t control others or dictate outcomes, but I could take positive actions and give positive responses. Somewhere along the way, I heard a speaker say that difficult circumstances either make you bitter or better. In The Miracle Worker, William Gibson’s play about Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan dismisses the horrified responses to her description of growing up in a state almshouse with: “It made me strong.”

Think about people who had even less control over their circumstances than you and I—people like Nelson Mandela, John McCain, Chuck Colson, or Christopher Reeve. Imprisoned by racial prejudice, war, personal misdeeds, or the physical body, each could have despaired, wallowed in self-pity, grown embittered, dropped out of society. But none of them did. They absorbed the hard truths imprisonment taught them about themselves and others. They determined to help others who also suffered. They became strong—strong in convictions, strong in resolve, strong in faith. They became better.

You and I probably won’t face prison or paralysis. But we will face financial setbacks. We’ll have to deal with personal conflicts in our homes and jobs. We’ll come up against injustice and unfairness. We’ll struggle with aging bodies and failing memories. Like it or not, in the crucible of everyday life, those circumstances are beyond our control. But how we respond—control freaks, take heart!—that’s in our hands. The Apostle Paul recommended to the Philippians: “Have this attitude in yourselves that was also in Christ Jesus,” and proceeded to lay out Jesus’ reactions to unspeakable difficulties and horrors . . . followed by His final reward and exaltation. That’s the attitude to emulate: confident that while we’re not in control, Someone is—a sovereign God who loves us and longs for fellowship with us.