I had a lovely chat recently with a friend who has undergone a shift of perspective – a re-focusing, if you will. He had been in a situation which was not unhealthy, but where there was a certain tension. His situation has remained mostly the same, but he is now viewing it in a different way: rather than seeing this tension as a cause for stress, he’s choosing to see it as an opportunity – a chance to explore new avenues previously unthought of.
It reminded me of a number of times in my life where I expected one thing and a slightly different version was realized. In a previous parish, for example, when I was hired at half-time I was assured of a shift to full-time within months. Years later, I was still receiving only a half-time paycheque. Rather than continue to struggle with what had been promised, I adjusted: I reduced my hours at that setting to reflect the pay and position. This then freed up not just time but the healthy mentality to undertake other exciting opportunities. I taught; I wrote; I researched; I began a delightfully fulfilling chaplaincy. I no longer felt the need to defend my time, nor to try to prove why I deserved a full-time pay. I simply moved on, because of a shift in perspective. It was incredibly liberating; my stress levels decreased, my leisure time seemed more enjoyable, I found myself laughing more and worrying less.
Nothing had changed – except me. Everything became different because I was willing to adjust how I was responding to the world around me.
Perhaps as Christians we are constantly being given opportunity to examine our lives for such opportunities, to recognize that some of the stresses in our lives may simply exist because of how we are seeing things, not that they are being externally imposed. Perhaps these times of discomfort, of feeling like a round peg in a square hole, is the Spirit gently nudging us in a different direction – if God wills it, it won’t be awkward and frustrating. (It may still be difficult and cause us to grow, but it won’t feel like a burden.) Maybe these situations of tension are a how God guides and directs us into the ministries we’re called to exercise, encouraging us to be active participants in acknowledging our calling in and to the world. For when we do spend some time in self-reflection, and we do see areas in which we can shift perspective and re-focus, we recognize there are amazing things ahead of us. There are always ways to grow, ways to improve, ways to reach out into new things. We can be amazed and inspired by what may happen that had been previously unimagined and undreamt of.
Perhaps one way we can start this re-focus is with the little things, small areas of self-reflection. Imagine focusing all our conversations and interactions as if God was standing with us: would we still be short-tempered with the cranky person in line in front of us, would we be dismissive of our colleague’s feelings because we had a need to be right, would we ignore a family member’s request for help because our favourite TV show was on?
Of course we cannot change how other people will respond to a situation. Nor is it our place to judge what their response is (or what we think it should be.) But we can assess our own actions and responses, and perspectives. And we can choose to bring our faith with us into each of our situations and reflect on where we feel God calling us each day. We can choose how we are going to focus on the world around us; and sometimes, when we need to, we can change that focus. We can make the world a more Godly, faithful, amazing place all by how we choose to see it; or we can decide to never be awed by the wonders that God is newly unveiling and revealing for us. We can choose to realize and celebrate that sometimes it may seem like nothing’s changed, but that because of how we’re looking at it, everything’s different.