The Only Thing You Can Control
My heart sank as I read the email rejecting my application for my dream entry-level job post-grad school. My dreams were shattered. I had no idea where I would be working, how I would make money, or how I would finally get out of Western Pennsylvania.
Instead, a local anti-trafficking organization was able to hire me on as a manager at their thrift store, and I was also able to work as a volunteer in their safe home. It certainly wasn’t the career I had imagined. For 11 months, I had a paycheck; I gained skills; I found support and encouragement in a community; I built my network in the city; I was able to fill needs that the organization had.
But I still wasn’t content. I spent 11 months wishing for my “dream” life, wondering why I wasn’t living up to my potential. I got angry, lazy, apathetic, bored. I complained, cried, procrastinated, shut down. I had everything I needed for those 11 months, but I refused to see it and accept it.
So many of life’s circumstances are out of our control, and there are so many ways to react to the chaos—we lash out; we give up; we back down. For me, in a season that could have been full of personal growth, I chose to block out any potential opportunity to learn and thrive and instead let my discontent eat away at my joy and confidence. In situations that are out of our control, the only thing we can control is how we chose to react.
So, how to we get to a place where we learn to grow in the out-of-control moments?
First, anchor yourself in the core of your identity: Christ.
In Matthew 14, Jesus’s disciples are in the middle of a huge storm while they’re out at sea. They’re afraid; they’re lost, and the situation is completely out of their control. In fact, they let their fear grip them so much that they think Jesus is a ghost when they see Him walking towards them on top of the water. Peter wants Jesus to prove Himself and asks Jesus to help him walk on the waves. Peter’s first few steps out of the boat are fine—he walks on water. But instead of being amazed by this miracle and by Jesus’s power, he allows himself to focus on the storm and the waves around him. Immediately, he begins to drown, until Jesus pulls him out.
Jesus reminds Peter that his ability to walk on water in the midst of chaos was only because he had focused on Him.
In the midst of the chaos in our lives, where we choose to focus will shape how we react. If we focus on the wind and waves around us, we’ll quickly drown in our fears and failures. But if we focus on Christ, we have an anchor for our identity that will keep us steady and strong.
Choose joy and peace in the midst of chaos.
Those 11 months that I spent grumpy and discontent could have been so much better had I just chosen to be joyful and to have peace about my situation. Instead, I made a conscious choice to be frustrated and bitter and to continue wishing my circumstances away.
I knew how I should have been reacting, but it was easier to be angry and disappointed than to be joyful over a situation that was not my idea of ideal. I chose my own agenda and plans over God’s plans for me. And I likely missed out on a lot of opportunities to see Him work in and through my life during that time.
It’s certainly not easy to choose to feel joy and peace when life feels out of control, but it will impact every decision you make throughout the situation.
Shift your perspective to focus on those around you, rather than yourself.
Had I taken the time to think about the people I was serving in the store and in the safehouse every day of those 11 months, I likely would have had an attitude shift. I would have realized even though what I was doing seemed small and insignificant to me, it was very important for many of the people around me every day. Mothers in poverty had a place to buy clothes, toys, and other items for their kids. Trafficking victims had a safe, secure, and loving environment to recover in. And the organization had a way to financially support their efforts and raise awareness about human trafficking in the city.
That time in my life was not for me—it was for the people around me. It was an opportunity for me to fill a variety of needs the organization had, to be a friend to women who had been trafficked, and to be a leader to the staff and volunteers who worked at the store every week.
If I had stopped to view it through the lens of those around me, instead of through my career and status-focused lens, I would have seen the opportunities God was placing in front of me. I can only be thankful that He was able to use me, even with my poor attitude and discontent.
In situations that are out of control, the only thing we can control is how we react. Will you choose to drown? Or will you choose to walk across the waves?
Author: Allie Reefer
Allie is a writer, musician, and advocate working with refugees & immigrants in Pittsburgh, PA. She plays bass and sings on her local church worship team and is involved in several social justice efforts around the city. She loves coffee, travel, naps, inside jokes with her sister, and personality tests (ENFJ/Enneagram Type 4, FYI), and she’s passionate about living out the Micah 6:8 life–act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.