By Joel Osteen
We live in a society that loves to make excuses, and one of our favorite phrases is: €œIt`s not my fault.
€œJoel, I`m a negative person because I was raised in an unhealthy family environment, one man told me.
€œMy husband walked out on me. I`ve been rejected. That`s why I`m always so depressed, said a woman in her early forties.
€œI`ve lost my wife, and I just don`t understand it. That`s why I`m so angry, said another young man.
No, the truth is, if we are bitter and resentful, it`s because we are allowing ourselves to remain that way. We`ve all had negative things happen to us. If you look hard enough, you can easily find reasons to have a chip on your shoulder. Anyone can make excuses and blame the past for his or her bad attitudes, poor choices, or hot temper.
You may have valid reasons for feeling the way you do. You may have gone through things that nobody deserves to experience in life. Perhaps you were physically, verbally, sexually, or emotionally abused. Maybe you`ve struggled to deal with a chronic illness or some other irreparable physical problem. Perhaps somebody took advantage of you in business and you lost your shirt, as well as your self-esteem. I don`t mean to minimize those sad experiences, but if you want to live in victory, you cannot use past emotional wounds as an excuse for making poor choices today. You dare not use your past as an excuse for your current bad attitude, or as a rationalization for your unwillingness to forgive somebody. The fourth step toward living your best life now is to let go of the past.
It`s time to allow emotional wounds to heal, to let go of your excuses and stop feeling sorry for yourself. It`s time to get rid of your victim mentality.
Nobody€”not even God€”ever promised that life would he fair. Quit comparing your life to somebody else`s, and quit dwelling on what could have been, should have been, or might have been. Quit asking questions such as, €œWhy this? or €œWhy that? or €œWhy me?
Instead, take what God has given you and make the most of it. You may have suffered much, endured great hardships, or been through a lot of negative things. You may have deep scars from emotional wounds, but don`t let your past determine your future. You can`t do anything about what`s happened to you, but you can choose how you will face what`s in front of you. Don`t hold on to feelings of bitterness and resentment and let them poison your future. Let go of those hurts and pains. Forgive the people who did you wrong. Forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made.
You may even need to forgive God. Perhaps you`ve been blaming Him for taking one of your loved ones. Maybe you are angry at God because He didn`t answer your prayers, or some situation didn`t work out the way you had hoped. Regardless, you will never be truly happy as long as you harbor bitterness in your heart. You will wallow in self-pity, always feeling sorry for yourself, thinking that life hasn`t dealt you a fair hand. You must let go of those negative attitudes and the accompanying anger. Change the channel and start focusing on the goodness of God.
CHANGE THE CHANNEL
We all know how to use the remote control to change the channels on the TV. If we see something we don`t like, no big deal€”we just flip channels. We need to learn how to mentally change channels when negative images of the past pop up in our minds unexpectedly. Unfortunately, when some people see those negative experiences on their minds` €œscreens, instead of quickly changing channels, they pull up a chair and get some popcorn, as though they`re going to watch a good movie. They willingly allow themselves to relive all those hurts and pains. Then they wonder why they are depressed, upset, or discouraged.
Learn to change the channel. Don`t let your mind or your emotions drag you down into despair. Instead, dwell on the good things God has done in your life.
You probably know some people who thrive on self-pity. They relish the attention that it brings them. They`ve lived that way for so long, self-pity has become part of their identity. He or she is known as the person that went through some great struggle, some horrible experience, the person who had something really awful happen to him or her. Certainly, when someone undergoes a traumatic experience, that person should be treated with compassion and care for as long as it takes to regain health and strength and get back on his feet. But the truth is, some people don`t really want to get well. They like the attention too much.
Fifteen years ago, Phil and Judy`s only son was killed in a freak accident at work. It was one of those senseless, unexplainable accidents for which there are no words of comfort. Family and friends hovered over the couple for several months, empathizing with them in their grief and attempting to nurture them back to a degree of normalcy.
Regardless of their comforters` sensitive efforts, Phil and Judy refused to let go of their grief. Whenever their son`s name was mentioned, their eyes welled with tears and their woeful mourning began all over again. Slowly but surely, the comforters quit coming. People stopped calling. Family members avoided visiting.
Anytime an encourager bravely attempted to lift the couple`s spirits, their efforts were met with sullen faces and a barrage of insults.
€œYou just don`t know what it is like to lose your only son, Phil objected.
€œNo, but God does, somebody would tell them.
But Phil and Judy remained untouched. In their minds, nobody had ever felt pain the way they had. No consolation seemed adequate to their needs. They were forever to be known as the couple who tragically lost their son. Consequently, fifteen years after the fact, Phil and Judy continue to languish in self-pity and self-induced isolation. Why? Because they don`t want to get well.
If you`ve had something painful happen to you, don`t let that experience be the focal point of your life. Stop talking about it; stop bringing it up to your friends. You must get beyond it. Unless you let go of the old, God will not bring the new, it is natural to feel sorrow and to grieve, but you shouldn`t still be grieving five or ten years later. If you really want to be whole, if you really want to get well, you need to move on with your life.
Too often we keep reliving the painful memories of the past, negating God`s desire to bring healing. Just as we are about to heal, we start talking about our painful experience again. We bring it up to our friends. We start reliving it, seeing it in our imagination. All of a sudden, we can feel those same emotions all over again, as though we were tearing open the old wound. It will never properly heal until we learn to leave it alone. Remember, your emotions follow your thoughts. When you dwell on painful experiences in your past, your emotions go right back there with you, and you feel the pain in the present. You can relive something in your mind and feel it today just as vividly as when it happened twenty years ago.
One day a few years after my father had passed away in 1999, I was over at my parents` home, and I was all alone in the house. I hadn`t been there by myself in quite some time, and as I was walking through the den, for no apparent reason I started thinking about the night that my dad died. Daddy had a heart attack right there in that same room. In my imagination, I could see it all happening. I could see Daddy on the floor. I could see the paramedics working on him. I could see the look on my dad`s face and I began to feel those same emotions of despair, sadness, and discouragement that I had known the night Daddy died.
For about fifteen or twenty seconds I stood there paralyzed, overwhelmed by my emotions. Finally, I caught myself, and thought, What am I doing? Where is my mind going? Where are these emotions taking me?
I had to make a decision that I was not going to allow myself to relive that night. I knew that it wasn`t going to do me any good. It would only get me upset and discouraged. Rather than dwelling on the hurt from the past, I had to purposely start recalling all the good times that my dad and I had known in that den. I smiled as I remembered how we used to watch the TV show Wheel of Fortune together in that room. Daddy could always guess the puzzle long before the contestants. In my mind, I could see Daddy playing with our children in that den. He loved having children around, and they loved being with him.
I recalled how sometimes I`d walk in the den and Daddy would be in his favorite chair. He`d look up and say, €œJoel, tell me all you know. It`ll just take a second. Daddy thought he was real funny. And he was. He had a great sense of humor.
As I stood in that den, I had to willfully refuse to allow my mind to go back to painful memories of Daddy`s death, and instead recall joyful moments from Daddy`s life. But notice, it didn`t happen naturally; it was a decision I had to make.
You must do something similar regarding the painful experiences from your past. Refuse to go back there emotionally; refuse to dredge up negative emotional memories. They will do you no good; in fact, strongly felt negative emotions can hold the potential to severely stifle your progress.
Think of it like this: Every person has two main files in his or her memory system. The first is a file filled with all the good things that have happened to us. It`s full of our victories and accomplishments, all of the things that have brought us joy and happiness through the years.
The second file is just the opposite. It`s filled with the hurts and pains of the past, all of the negative things that have happened to us. It`s full of our defeats and failures, things that brought us sadness and sorrow. Throughout life, we can choose which file we will access. Some people repeatedly return to file number two and relive the painful things that have happened to them. They`re always thinking about the times somebody did them wrong, the times they were hurt or suffered awful pain. They practically wear out file number two. They`re so preoccupied with the negative things, they never get around to exploring file number one. They hardly think about the good things that have happened to them.
If you want to be free, if you want to overcome self-pity, throw away the key to file number two. Don`t go back there anymore. Keep your mind focused on the good things God has done in your life.
DON`T GO THERE
An old joke says, €œIf you break your arm in three places, don`t go to those places anymore. There may be more truth in that corny line than we realize. When the pains of the past beckon your attention, don`t go back there. Instead, remind yourself, No thanks, I`m going to think on things that are of good report, things that are going to build me up, not tear me down, things that encourage me and fill me with peace and happiness, not things that attempt to steal my hope and drain my spirit.
Get Up and Get Moving
In the Bible, we read about a man in Jerusalem who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. He spent every day of his life lying on a mat by the pool of Bethesda, hoping for a miracle. This man had a deep-seated, lingering disorder.
I think many people today have lingering disorders. Their maladies may not be physical; they may be emotional, but they are deep-seated. lingering disorders nonetheless. They could stem from being unwilling to forgive, holding on to past resentments, blaming the past for their behavior, or other emotional wounds. These lingering disorders can affect your personality, your relationships, and your self-image, just as the man lying by the pool, some people sit back year after year, waiting for a miracle to happen, waiting for some big event to come along to make everything better.
One day Jesus saw the man lying there in need. It was obvious that he was crippled, but Jesus asked the man what seemed a strange question: €œDo you want to be made well?`
I believe God is asking a similar question of us today: €œDo you want to be well or do you want to continue lying around feeling sorry for yourself?
Jesus asked a simple, straightforward question, but the man`s response was interesting. He began listing all of his excuses. €œI`m all alone. I don`t have anyone to help me. Other people have let me down. Other people always seem to get ahead of me. I don`t have a chance in life.
Is it any wonder that he remained in that condition for thirty eight years
I love the way Jesus answered him. He didn`t even respond to his sad story. He didn`t say, €œYes, friend, I agree with you. You`ve had a tough time. Let Me commiserate with you.
No, Jesus looked at him and said, in effect, €œIf you are serious about getting well, if you are serious about getting your life in order, if you really want to get out of this mess, here`s what you must do: Get up off the ground, take up your bed, and be on your way. When the man did what Jesus told him to do, he was miraculously healed!
That`s a message for us today. If you`re serious about being well, if you really want to be made physically and emotionally whole, you must get up and get moving with your life. No more lying around feeling sorry for yourself. You must stop going back to file number two all the time. Stop making excuses; stop blaming people or circumstances that disappointed you. Instead, start forgiving the people that hurt you.
Today can be a turning point in your life, a time of new beginnings. Don`t waste another minute trying to figure out why certain evil things have happened to you or your loved ones. Refuse to live with a victim mentality any longer.
You might be saying, €œI just don`t understand why this is happening to me. I don`t understand why I got sick. Why did my loved one die? Why did my marriage break apart? Why was I raised in such an abusive environment?
You may never know the answer. But don`t use that as an excuse to wallow in self-pity. Leave it alone, get up, and move on with your life. Many of the €œwhy questions of life will remain a conundrum, but trust in God, and accept the fact that there will be some unanswered questions. Keep in mind, just because you don`t know the answer doesn`t mean that one does not exist. You simply haven`t discovered it yet.
Usually, we can deal with a situation if we can locate a file in our thinking in which to put it. €œHe got into trouble because he was running with the wrong crowd€¦
But what happens when things don`t make sense? When a good person is stricken with a serious illness? Or a child is born with a birth injury? Or a husband or wife walks out of a marriage? What happens when life doesn`t fit neatly into our categories?
Each of us should have what I call an €œI Don`t Understand It file. When something comes up for which you have no reasonable answer, instead of dwelling on it and trying to figure it out, simply place it in your I Don`t Understand It file.
In the meantime, you must muster enough faith to say, €œGod, I don`t understand it, but I trust You. And I`m not going to spend all my time trying to figure out why certain things have happened. I`m going to trust You to make something good out of it. You`re a good God, and I know You have my best interests at heart. You promised that all things will work together for my good.
That is faith, and that is the attitude God honors.
My mother had polio when she was growing up. She had to wear a heavy brace on her leg for many years, and even today, one leg remains shorter than the other. Mother could have easily said, €œGod, this isn`t fair. Why did this happen to me?
But instead, she took up her bed and got moving with her life. In 1981 when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she didn`t collapse and say, €œPoor me. I should have known it. I had polio; now I`ve got cancer. I always get the short end of the stick.
Mother didn`t do that. She dug in her heels and fought the good fight of faith. She didn`t go around complaining. She went around speaking words of faith and victory. She refused to see herself as the victim. She saw herself as the victor. And God brought her out of that difficulty. Your adversities can make you bitter or they can make you better. They can drag you down and make you a sour person, or they can inspire you to reach for new heights.
My dad could have said, €œGod, why did You let me be born into this impoverished family? We don`t have a chance.
But he didn`t use that as an excuse to stay in defeat or to feel sorry for himself. No, he got up and got moving with his life. When he began preaching at the age of seventeen he didn`t have a church, so he preached on the streets, in the nursing homes, in prisons and jails, anywhere he could. He didn`t have a car, so he walked or hitchhiked wherever he went. He could have easily withdrawn and said, €œGod, we`ve been through too much in life already. Please don`t ask me to do any more. We`re just poor, pitiful people.
But no, Daddy picked up his bed and got going, and you need to do the same thing. Your past does not have to determine your future. We can all sit back and make excuses to stay in mediocrity. That`s easy. We can all sit back and make excuses to have a bad attitude, to have a poor self-image. Anyone can do that. But if we want to live in victory, we need to shake off self-pity and move on with our lives.
That`s just what my sister Lisa had to do. She went through a very painful breakup in her marriage. It wasn`t fair; she was mistreated and wronged. Yet for seven years, Lisa prayed and believed that her marriage could be restored. She did everything she knew how to do. But for some reason, it just didn`t work out.
Lisa could easily have become bitter. She could have become depressed and said, €œGod, this is not fair. Why did this happen to me?
But Lisa made a decision that she just wasn`t going to sit around by the pool for thirty-eight years feeling sorry for herself. She wasn`t going to stay in that black hole of depression. She decided it was time to get moving in her life. She didn`t get bitter; she got better. She rose up out of those ashes. She said, €œGod, I don`t understand it, but I`m going to trust You anyway. You know my heart. You know I`ve done everything I can do. I`m releasing it into Your hands.
Not long after she made that decision, God brought someone else into her life, and she and my brother-in-law, Kevin, have been happily married for many years.
Please understand, I`m not telling you to give up on your marriage. You must do what God is leading you to do. The point I want you to see is that sometimes we go through things we just don`t understand. Through it all, we must learn to keep a good attitude and trust that God is still in control of our lives, even when events are not going the way we had planned or hoped.
In the Bible we find an interesting account of when King David`s baby was dreadfully sick, near death. David was extremely distraught; he prayed night and day, believing that God could heal his child. He wouldn`t eat or drink; he didn`t shave or shower. He didn`t attend to any business. He wouldn`t do anything but pray, crying out to God.
Despite David`s passionate prayers, on the seventh day the child died. David`s servants worried how they were going to tell the king that his baby was dead. They thought he would be so devastated, so distraught that he couldn`t handle it. But when David finally figured out what had happened, he surprised them all. He got up off the floor. He washed his face and put on some fresh clothes. Then he asked his servants to bring him some food, and he sat down and ate a meal.
His servants were flabbergasted. They said, €œDavid, when your child was alive, you fasted and prayed. But now that he`s gone, you act as though nothing`s wrong.
David answered, €œYes, I fasted and prayed when my son was sick, thinking that God might heal him. But now that he is gone, I cannot bring him back. He will not return to me, but I will go to be with him. Notice David`s attitude. He didn`t get bitter. He didn`t question God. He could have snarled, €œGod, I thought You loved me. Why didn`t You answer my prayers.
David didn`t do that. He dared to trust God in the midst of his disappointment. He washed his face and moved on with his life.
Friend, you and I have to learn to do the same thing. People may have mistreated you. Somebody may have walked out on you, or maybe you prayed fervently, yet God didn`t answer your prayer the way you had anticipated. That`s over and done. You cannot change the past; there`s nothing you can do about it now. But you must make a decision. Are you going to sit around by the pool for thirty eight years, or are you going to get up and get moving with your life? Are you going to keep going back to file number two, reliving all those painful memories, or are you going to stay in an attitude of faith? God is asking, €œDo you really want to get well?
If you do, you must walk out of any emotional bondage in which you have been living. Nobody can do it for you. You must rise up out of those ashes. You must forgive the people who have hurt you. You have to release all those hurts and pains. Leave the past behind. When you go through situations you don`t understand, don`t become bitter. Don`t question God. Learn to do as David did: just wash your face, keep a good attitude, and move on. Get ready for the new things God has in store for you.
If you will stay in an attitude of faith and victory, God has promised that He will turn those emotional wounds around. He`ll use them to your advantage, and you will come out better than you would have had they not happened to you.