When dealing with daily challenges in life, our minds tend to view ourselves as the victim, and circumstances and others as the cause of our misfortune. This faulty thinking is egotistical as it is “all about me.” Without basis, we assume that we are not supposed to suffer, and if we do, it is the fault of forces outside of us. It is as if the world was made for us, and our happiness is the responsibility of others. Instead of focusing on correcting our mistakes and dealing with our deficiencies, we waste our time and energy blaming others and trying to manipulate circumstances which we have no control over. Meanwhile, we neglect what ought to be done because we refuse to accept responsibility for the choices we made and the consequences that resulted from them.
In every dilemma we face, we are always given a choice. This is an inherent power that God gave us since the creation of Adam and Eve. Some choices are easier to make than others. The better choice is not always the easiest. Even if there are forces that try to sway us one way or the other, the ultimate decision rests in our hands. Therefore, whatever it is we end up choosing, it would be solely our own doing. The cigarette we picked up, put in our mouth, and lit up, was a decision we made. No one forced or coerced us to do it. The big slice of chocolate cake that we ate after a heavy meal, the forbidden relationship we got into, or the disadvantageous business deal we made because we were too complacent and did not adequately research our options, were decisions we made using the free will God gave us.
There is no question that there are various factors that may affect our decision-making. We can blame it on addiction, stress, our past experiences of lack, trauma or abuse, a medical diagnosis, our natural inclinations and tendencies, or our intellectual deficiencies. Many of our excuses cannot be undone, avoided, changed, fixed, or forgotten. Those that can be corrected should be remedied promptly, and the rest should be acknowledged, accepted as quickly as possible for what they are, and managed aggressively. The sooner we can muster up the courage to take responsibility for our actions, and humility to accept their consequences, the better for us. There is healing and power in saying, “I made the choice, it was a mistake, I have no one to blame, it was my fault, I take responsibility, and now it’s time to make a change.” This declaration will allow us to accept the truth and give us the resilience we need to take corrective actions and make amends. It can save us from ruin, and hopefully, help us redeem ourselves.
Seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, and listening to inspirational talks are all very useful resources and can help us overcome our struggles with our human frailty. But listening and reading alone would not be able to get us to where we want to be. They tell us what we need to do and give us advice on how to do it, but they do not give us the power we need to accomplish our objectives. We often want to do the right thing but end up doing the opposite. Even St. Paul struggled with the same problem. He said in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Over the centuries, we have had many philosophers and wise people who shared their wisdom with the world. I have indulged in their teachings and found them enlightening, but certainly insufficient in leading me to the life of peace and true happiness that I yearn for. It was not until I got to know God in a very personal way that I was able to fill up the gaps these human teachers left and develop the confidence I needed to tackle future challenges that everyday life brings. In Isaiah 41:10, God said, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I have experienced God’s faithfulness when He gave me courage, wisdom, and power to make the right choice when I was weak, and my feelings tried to overtake my rational mind.
We have to guard against relying on our feelings to make decisions. In Jeremiah 17:9, it is said that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Our feelings are fickle and cannot always be trusted. It changes depending on the temperature of our circumstances. It also sometimes defies logic. Feelings can intoxicate us and make us forget or ignore the potential pain from expected consequences of certain actions. The tempter knows this and can use our feelings to draw us away from God. We need to always be on guard and ready for this kind of spiritual battle. It is won or lost in our minds. Preparation is key. We need to fill our minds with thoughts that make it easy for us to choose what is right because it feels right. We need to keep our minds in the present and not dwell on what was. Those past events that caused pain and suffering have passed with time and are no longer a reality. We had experienced them and hopefully, learned from them. We should be thankful they are gone, and not resurrect them to cause hurt all over again by reminiscing about them. Daydreaming and fantasizing about something we wish to happen in the future can be as dangerous. Enticing ourselves to experience something that is yet to happen that we know could potentially hurt us is laying our own trap. Keeping our minds in the present seems like the safest zone to be in. We need to submit ourselves to God and practice acting as He would like us to at every given opportunity, in order for us to withstand the pull of intense emotions towards the dark side. In Galatians 5:16, St. Paul said, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In Ephesians 6:11-17, he urged us to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” and the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Spending time with God in prayer and meditating on His teachings from the scriptures will help us build our faith and get us ready for battle.
We seek to avoid doing what is wrong because we do not want to experience the pain from making poor choices; the shame, sadness, and destruction that await us on the other side. It is important to recognize the triggers that lead us to certain actions and be aware when they are present. An escape plan should be in place before there is a fire. When a crisis is in progress and its smoke clouds our judgment and makes it difficult to react appropriately, our knee-jerk response should always be to relax and not to resist or suppress. A calm mind is a clear mind. Resisting or suppressing reality distracts the mind and directs our attention away from managing the crisis. Be aware of what is happening, accept it, reason with it, and figure out the best way to handle it. Take responsibility for what is ours, fix what we can, make amends if needed, and deal with the consequences. Let the pain and sorrow of the latter be our teacher and catalyst for change and growth, and do not allow it to sink us deeper into the doldrums.
When we take responsibility for our own happiness, peace, health, and success, we are more likely to achieve them. We would suffer less and enjoy life more. We would not waste our energy trying to make others do what they could not or what they are not willing to do. We would not depend on others and waste our time waiting for them to make things happen for us. We would not wait in futility for our circumstances to change or misuse our energy in manipulating reality to align with our wishes. Instead, we focus all our effort in managing how we respond to others and our situation, and in trying to better ourselves. Over time, we make better choices and get more desirable results. We will make mistakes, but if we take responsibility for our wrong choices and their consequences, and choose to learn from them, we will see growth and experience renewal. We should always do our best to make good choices but never let the fear of making mistakes stop us from living. There is no reason to live in shame and regret for mistakes made, as they are part of making us who we are today. Make the best decision based on what we know at the moment. If that turned out to be a bad choice, we gained experience and wisdom if we let it teach us. For as long as we live, we will have hundreds of choices to make each day, and surely, there is a high probability of making some bad ones. Our objective is to take responsibility for all the choices we make, learn from the mistakes, celebrate the good ones, but either way, keep moving forward.