Charles Swindoll says, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important: than facts, than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do, than appearances, than giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company. . . a church. . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one thing we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. . . We are in charge of our attitudes.”
Swindoll is right. It is not what happens to us that is important, it is how we respond to what happens to us. It is not what life brings, but what we bring to life that matters. I have known many people who have come from good homes, and had many advantages in life, who never rose above mediocrity. On the other hand, I have known many people who have come from poverty and abuse who accomplished great things. I have known people who were exceedingly intelligent and gifted, who rarely contributed anything to the world. And I have known people who were very average in intelligence and ability who were great successes. Some were willing to believe and work hard in spite of great disadvantages, while others gave up before they started. They never really tried. Some rested on their laurels, while others had a dream. Some complained about what was wrong, and others put forth the effort to make things right. Some had faith in God, and others had faith in nothing. Some lived in cynicism and despair, while others in lesser circumstances lived in faith and hope.
I think there are some key areas of our attitude in life that are important. The first is this: Be authentic. In other words, be real. Be yourself. Authenticity is an attitude of honesty and humility. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Don’t wear a mask around others. Be the same person in public and private. One of the disappointing things about some of our national religious leaders this past year was that they were living two different lives. They were not authentic. Their public persona was vastly different from their personal life. It would have been far better for them to talk openly about their struggles, and admit their weaknesses, rather than to pretend everything was great. Far better for us to know of their struggles, so they could get help and we could pray for them, than have them pretend they had it all together, when they were actually falling apart. We would have had much more respect for them. It is so hard to hide secret parts of your life, and the bigger the secret is the harder it is to hide. The harder it is to hide, the more dysfunctional your life becomes.
It takes courage to be authentic. It doesn’t take any courage to wear a mask. One of the scriptures I love is about what it will be like when the kingdom of heaven arrives in its fullness. Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I love that. It gives us such great freedom to be ourselves. And Paul writes that in his wonderful discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13. So what we see is that in God’s kingdom we are fully known by God and others, and fully loved by God and others. This is the model for what it means to live in Christian community — to be the church. When someone opens up to us about a struggle in their lives, we don’t react with shock and shame. We are honored that someone has trusted us at a very deep level, and we seek to be an encourager and a listener. As we begin to know them at a deeper level, we grow to love them at a deeper level. A kind of relationship develops that was not possible before.