The first time I heard these words I was appalled. Did anyone actually believe that someone would choose to lose a loved one or to die themselves of cancer? It was absurd. What moron came up with this nonsense.
Yet over the intervening years I have continued to encounter this idea expressed from a variety of sources. Whatever the background or reason prompting someone to say such a thing, it was apparently not confined to one or two.
As I have aged and in the process noted how powerfully our minds mold our concept of the truth and its personal picture of reality, I believe I have come to understand, at least in part, what these people are saying. The idea is probably not that we control and dictate the events and circumstances which we face day to day in our lives. Many, if not most, of those are definitely outside our control.
Instead I think the point is that we do have a choice about how we react to each event and circumstance. And that reaction, in large measure, determines how that circumstance or event affects us, for good or ill.
I suspect everyone of us has noticed how differently some people react to suffering and loss. Some are devastated for the rest of their life and others seem to bounce back stronger and more vibrant than before. Some endure pain without complaint while I am personally a pain coward. Is the difference a greater pain tolerance as we so often assume, or is it something else? What role does our state of mind play in this variance in how we react to adversity?
Is the mind capable of turning lemons into lemonade? Do we have to suffer from adversity or can we refuse to be a victim and instead use our troubles as a means to our own good? These questions don’t seem so absurd any more to me? Of course, just raising them abstractly does not mean I am immediately stronger and wiser in dealing with sickness, death, and loss. But it does open the possibility that I could become better at employing a positive attitude as a powerful tool when faced with life’s many heartaches.
Stoicism is the philosophy we generally associate with dealing with adversity without complaining. Such behavior is admired for the most part but exactly how one achieves the ability to act stoically remains hidden. Some folks just appear to be less emotional and vulnerable than the rest of us.
Of course, a stoic outward appearance is often projected when inner turmoil is the reality, just because society does admire a brave unflinching response to pain. Some societies have so admired the ability to endure that they deliberately inflict pain as a test of worthiness. In these environments even the painful circumstances are actually chosen and not just the reaction to them. Certain acts of courage would be another example of actually choosing to experience pain. In these instances pain is rendered secondary to a higher purpose.
When the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11 said “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” we may conclude that he was dismissing any pain he experienced because it served the cause of Christ. That is undoubtedly a part of his message, but I suspect that Paul also knew that pain management is mainly a mental exercise and that the unself-centered mind of Christ was the perfect mind for that.