March 8, 2021
Freedom to Choose an Attitude
March 8, 2021
By Monicah Muhomba
When Paul wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, he was in a Roman prison. The letter is considered a “joy letter” which he wrote to thank the church for the gift they had sent him while in prison and to encourage and strengthen them in their faith by showing them that true joy comes from Jesus Christ. He says in verses 3-5: “3 do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”.
As I reflected on Paul’s letter, I had all kinds of questions the biggest one being; “How is it possible for Paul to have such a positive attitude while in prison, of all the places? Even strengthening the faith of those who are not in prison? In my mind, I believe prison is one of the worst places to be– a place where there is no freedom at all. This quote by Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Neurologist, Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor has helped me make sense of Paul’s situation and other difficult circumstances:
“Even in a situation where you have no freedom at all, including the freedom of choice, the freedom of decision…any human being always retains—up until the last moment of his life, up to the last breath of himself—retains the freedom to choose the attitude towards this tragic situation”
Many times in my life, multiple times in 2020, I have been in situations where it felt like I have no freedom at all including the freedom of decision. I can tell you this is not a comfortable place to be at, it’s very painful and it can be crippling—I believe many of us can attest to that. Yet even with all these challenges–I still cannot deny the fact that I still have the freedom to choose how I respond to these horrible situations. While the pandemic has stolen all kinds of freedom and the racial unrests in the country have stolen my freedom to be treated like an equal human being as a person of color, none of these things will ever steal my freedom to choose God as the source of guidance and comfort. This freedom to choose my attitude is what has sustained me through all these challenges. My attitude determines how much suffering I experience in any given situation. While it has not been a smooth process, it has been reassuring to realize that I have that choice.
Paul was able to do that, while in prison reminding us that when we work together caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first and we experience unity. Imagine if each of us were to choose this attitude during the pandemic and civil unrests?
Viktor Frankl goes on to say, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” This is exactly what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when the time had come for him to be killed; he prayed for the, “cup” to be removed from him. Jesus, however, quickly realized he was not going to be able to change the situation, so when he went back a second time to pray, he said in Matthew 26:42: “Father if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done”. Jesus changed himself instead of the situation– even when faced with death– he still had the choice to change his attitude and he did. What attitude are you choosing today when faced with difficult circumstances? May the Lord help us to choose helpful and not harmful attitudes toward others and ourselves during these challenging times.