What is the biggest battle in your life, and what is your battle plan? Not knowing your answer to these questions, I cannot reflect on them specifically, but let me reflect on them in principle.
One of the most common mistakes many make in planning the future is trying to have a better past. Your past is never going to improve, no matter how much you rearrange it, but your future can improve if you can turn loose of the past. Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago, there was an associated press story from Boston, Massachusetts, about a very unusual person. Her name is Marie Balter. At the age of 17, she was suffering severe depression and panic disorder. She was mis-diagnosed as schizophrenic and sent to Danvers State Mental Hospital where she was confined under that diagnosis for 17 years. With the help of friends and the strength of her faith she was finally released.
Her recovery was painful and gradual, but she was determined to take charge of her life. She got an apartment, got married, earned a degree in psychology from Salem State College and a Master’s Degree from Harvard in administration planning and public policy. Recently, Marie Balter returned in triumph as Administrator of the Danvers State Mental Hospital where she had spent 17 years as a patient.
What a victory for Marie Balter! She made up her mind not to continue to be a victim. She said that she would not have grown at all if she had not learned to forgive. "If you don’t learn to forgive your parents, or your children, or yourself, you never get beyond anger," said Marie Balter. "Forgiving is a way of reaching out from a bad past and heading out to a more positive future."
Not many of us will face problems of such magnitude as did Marie Balter. Not many will experience such a dramatic victory over such a traumatic situation. But, we all have our problems which are important to us. We are embattled by forces of evil and unfortunate circumstances which threaten our balance, our sanity, and sometimes even our lives.
We live in a dangerous world where accidents happen even to the most careful persons. If absolute safety is our goal, then being born was a fundamental mistake. We have difficulties of our own making. Our lives are affected by the sins, mistakes, and poor judgments of other people. There is evil in the world which brushes against our lives at unexpected times. There are natural disasters which inexplicably and capriciously destroy.
We are not always able to control the forces that cause us grief. No matter how hard we try or how careful we may be, we cannot avoid suffering, pain, and sorrow. The greatest battle in our lives, however, is not with these forces which lie beyond our control, as frightening as they may be. Our greatest battle is with ourselves. Most of our defeats come because we have not learned to fight effectively against the enemy within. We can seldom control what happens to us, but we have a tremendous margin of control over how we respond to what happens to us. That margin of control is more often than not the difference between victory and defeat.
My basic proposition is that in order to win the biggest battle of your life, you have to do wisely and intentionally all you can, but you do not have to do it all by yourself. There are people, institutions, and natural forces that will help you.
When Marie Balter got out of the mental hospital, she had some choices to make. If she had chosen to direct her energies against the people and the circumstances which caused her problem, she may well have gone back to Danvers Hospital again, but not as the administrator. She more likely would have gone back as a patient. She struggled to forgive rather than to get revenge. She worked to improve herself rather than to tear down the people and the institutions that had harmed her. She could not change what had happened, but she could control how she responded to what had happened. This was the key to her recovery, and to her return to Danvers State Mental Hospital as Administrator rather than as a patient.
There are emotional habits and styles of living which lessen our chances of winning the biggest battle in our lives. I do not know specifically what these are for you, but you know. Put up a caution sign by each of these. There are some deterrents which tend to be common to us all. I will write about them next week.
Stay tuned. Till next week...