Recently, a driver at an intersection pulled out in front of me when I clearly had the right-of-way. My first reaction was to continue my speed to let him know he shouldn’t have done that. However, almost immediately, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit about my attitude. I made the choice immediately to ask forgiveness and repent by easing off the accelerator.
In life there are obvious monumental choices, such as marriage or a career path, that we likely have to make. But there are also the small, daily choices we make that have a way of adding up over time. Repeated choices lead to a pattern of life. Take my attitude while driving, for instance. I have long had a sense of fairness and responsibility when I get behind the wheel of a car. Follow the rules and don’t put others in danger just because you are in a hurry to get somewhere. I don’t hesitate to honk when people pull out in front of me forcing me to slam on my brakes. Or refuse to yield to a car entering onto an interstate when they are clearly supposed to yield to me (there is a distinct difference in the meaning of a yield sign and a merge sign). I could go on with more examples, but you probably get the point.
No one can control the choices of others, but we do have control over our own. What I’ve humbly realized is my daily choices while driving has formed into a pattern that adds stress to my life, as well to that of my wife. She hates it. But for years my reasoning has been that I’m right, which I still adamantly believe. However, what I am finally beginning to realize, even though I have heard it many times before, is that being right is not an excuse for being unkind or harsh. One cannot find either of these in the attributes of love or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So the other day, I took a small step in changing my attitude by making a simple choice to show grace even though I was right in principle.
Working among college students, I see regularly how daily choices lead to formed patterns in life. Upon entering college, most students have poor time-management skills. Typically, when they have assignments, they procrastinate in completing them. Instead, they hang out with friends or binge-watch Netflix. Or they attempt to study, but then allow distractions to erode the time they had originally dedicated to completing their work. The result of these choices is sleep deprivation, which leads to anxiety, which leads to a sense of being overwhelmed, which then leads them to procrastinate even more. The majority will eventually mature enough to avoid this being a lifelong issue, but they inflict upon themselves a lot of hardship in the meantime by the daily choices they make.
The fabric of our lives is made by the individual threads of choice. We can have a view of what we want our lives to look like as we look back on them, but the reality will be determined by the choices we make each and every day. When I was in high school, the most popular show on television was, “The Waltons.” The main character, John-Boy, was an aspiring writer and every day he wrote in his journal. I wanted also to be a writer and so I started journaling. But I never had the discipline to keep it going as John-Boy did. I was a perfectionist and wanted to cover everything that happened each day. It was too much and I kept falling behind. Soon, I just gave up. That pattern was repeated numerous times over the years. Now, I wish I had been much less of a perfectionist and had just written a little bit each week. Imagine how many journals I would have filled if I had just made different choices toward my writing. However, my daily choices formed a pattern that is very easy to see many years later, but wasn’t obvious at the time.
Similarly, if we choose daily to retain our hatred or bitterness for someone or something that happened to us, or continue to believe the negative things others say (or what we think they say) about us instead of what God says about us, then our loathing forms a pattern that makes for a very unhealthy life. We likely won’t recognize it in the moment, but we can be assured it won’t have a positive result.
In reality, if we have been in the habit of making bad choices time and again, this can be very distressing. Life can merely become a repository of regrets. I admit that is tempting for me in a lot of areas where I know I could have done better. Yet, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…” (II Corinthians 7:10 NIV). We don’t need to live in regret of our choices before we were saved, and we don’t need continually to wring our hands about the poor choices we made after we started following Jesus. Grace and mercy allow us to start each day anew, and even if we falter during the day, we have the Lord’s promise of forgiveness if we repent (I John 1:9).
Each of us may be facing monumental choices in the near future, but let us not forget that our lives are more shaped by the small choices we will make today, the day after, and the day after that. Focusing on those will have far more impact on our lives in the long run.
© Jim Musser 2018