“We can count on death and taxes”, the saying goes, but in between is the parade of disturbing unplanned happenings that occur without fail. We cannot avoid all troubles, but we can be ready with ‘given’ pleasant, positive responses.
Dealing with uncontrollable events: Mishaps, calamity, confusion, perplexity, complication, disruptions, turmoil, irritation, wrought up, perturbed are a few related words and synonyms connected with events that disturb and delay, but please add your own.
To: lawn mower shut-downs, car problems, flat tires, water in the basement or power outages, Jim’s first response--accompanied by a light chuckle was “Well, how ‘bout that!” No one would have suspected that he was disgusted or upset, he was so even-tempered. I attribute some of his gentle reaction to needed physical repairs from his personal confidence and extreme enjoyment in repairing whatever broke or stopped working, but even toward circumstances beyond his control/repair like flight cancellations, detours, an axle-on-fire sort of happenings, he just quietly thought through what the next move should be. But most of all, Jim depended on the Lord to give him a quiet spirit and take in stride whatever happened.
Just a side example which further describes Jim’s outlook: We were traveling with our camper and a car-full of sleeping kids and Jim. I was driving, headed for Nashville where I had an appointment with one of our editor friends when the smell of smoke woke Jim who ascertained very quickly that a tire was on fire. I pulled the car and camper over more quickly than I thought I would ever be able to manage. A trucker pulled up behind us and quickly extinguished the fire. How fortunate we were. While I used the trucker’s phone to alert our friend that I would not make the appointment, Jim was thinking through what needed to be done—something more serious than he could repair. The trucker called for a tow-truck as a patrolman pulled alongside to check everything out. Jim placed lawn chairs from our camper for my mom and me under–believe it or not—shade trees and a grassy area.
In about 20 minutes a car coming from the opposite way made a U turn and pulled behind us. It was our friend, Johnnie, who had left his office and had McDonald’s hamburgers and milkshakes for all of us. Jim and Roger rode in the tow truck to a station equipped to repair axles. Johnnie took the rest of us to their home where his wife welcomed us with open arms and he went after Jim and Roger for an overnight. The repair was not going to be anything quick. But in all of this, Jim was ‘calm, cool and collected’, as the saying goes.
Johnnie’s wife spent a good part of the next day waiting with us at the station where the axle and tire were being replaced. Their teenaged son never left Jim’s side. By late afternoon, we were bidding our friends goodbye when Johnnie put a hundred-dollar bill in Jim’s hand saying “I’ve been wanting to give this away, and I thank you for coming.” That was money we needed badly. But the best part of our ‘axledent’, I learned about later. Johnnie’s son told him later how impressed he was with Jim’s attitude, “He never got ruffled even when the station made a mistake and had to start over”.
Time-tanglers pay visits to your life and mine ranging from insignificant spilled beverages to larger crashes and stoppages none of which are life threatening, but our reactions are indeed contagious as listeners observe and often copy it. How did your parents react to slowdowns and mishaps along the way? Our mom used to merely quietly utter, “rats”, but others raised the roof sending those in close ear-shot seeking shelter.
Not so with me. My first words are often “Oh, boy, now what am I gonna do?” Especially, if there are technical difficulties, Jim’s favorite description was “A dark shroud covers our house when Ruth’s computer is unresponsive.” I endeavor to incorporate Jim’s even-steven approach to the normal household, yard and auto problems even though I am not good at physical repair but the problems are still all mine. However, and this just occurred to me, I rarely get rattled with unexpected writing or counseling challenges because of my people-problem-solving expertise. I wonder how each of you is affected when things fall apart? Fill in the blanks about your normal response when things go awry.
When the power goes out, I Hurrying to get read, drying my hair, when the breaker is tripped, I Headed to work this morning discovering a dead battery, I When I am in a hurry and the gas gauge is on the last quarter, I When unexpected company is in the driveway, I After a full day and the person calling always means an hour’s listen, I After seeing patients all day, eager to relax and eat; no one is home nor is there prepared food, I No vacancy signs and we’re all road-weary, I
When meeting a problem head-on several said: “I take a short walk to think”, “A nap relaxes me”, “I count to ten”, “Usually, I grab a Dr. Pepper or iced tea”, “Humming a tune or even singing a line creates the calm for pursuing plan B.” A few said that they dismantle difficulties by praying silently to calm their nerves and to control what they say and do.
Learning to talk to ourselves is a workable procedure for deflating angst. Say nice things to yourself. Find an expression that is relaxing and provides time to think clearly. My newly acquired calming self-messages, usually spoken aloud, are: “You’ve had this problem before, don’t let it ruin your day.” or “Ok, Jim, what should I do now?”
Give yourself time to assess whether or not you can fix your problem or whether you will need to call a specialist. The last thing you want is to become angry with yourself or anyone else related to the problem. Avoid adding to your frustration by determining whose fault created this problem.
Recall in dealing with little children who spill juice on the living room carpet, the best approach is to always focus on and protect the child’s character rather than on the spilled juice. “I’ll get some wet paper towels and help you wipe this up.” Then, later, you can review the rules regarding where he/she may drink juice. This approach applies to mud or grass tracked in, books and coats on the couch, apple cores and dirty cups not carried to the kitchen, always relying on non-offensive ‘I’ statements.
The magic ‘I’ statements are applicable to yourself as well in case you caused the current disruption.
A wise man/person keeps himself/herself under control. Ps. 29:11 NIV.
Seek peace and pursue it. Ps. 34:14 NIV.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. I Pet. 5:7-8 NIV.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:6-7 NIV
Father, I praise you for your constant love and humility. Help me to reflect your grace and peace in responses to problems. Amen