Summary: This message focuses on the truth that the choice is ours as it relates to how we think about our situations. And how we think about our situations will determines our responses to them.
The Choice Is Ours
The title of my message this morning is “the Choice Is Ours.” Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right.” I personally believe he came to this conclusion after reading the first part of verse seven from Proverbs chapter twenty-three. It says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…..” (Proverbs 23:7a) In this message I want us to understand that the choice is ours as it relates to how we think about our situations which determines our responses to them.
There was an Austrian Holocaust survivor named Dr. Viktor Frankl. He was a neurologist, psychiatrist and author of the book titled “Man's Search for Meaning.” This book was based on his experiences in various Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Dr. Frankl described his psychotherapeutic method, which involved “identifying a purpose in life to feel positive about and then immersively imagining that outcome.” He said the way a prisoner imagined the future affected his longevity. He also identified three psychological reactions that all of the inmates experienced to one degree or another: (1) shock during the initial admission phase to the camp, (2) apathy after becoming accustomed to camp existence, in which the inmate values only that which helps himself and his friends survive, and (3) reactions of depersonalization, moral deformity, bitterness, and disillusionment if he survives and is liberated.
He concluded that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death. He also concluded from his experience that a prisoner's psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a hope in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that hope, he is doomed. One of his most famous saying was “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” I am not sure if all of his conclusions are accurate as it relates to all Holocaust victims and survivors and likewise I am not advocating his teachings. But I wanted to introduce this message to you this morning with what he said because I do believe it is applicable to what we will witness in 2021.
As we enter a new year, we have the opportunity to reflect on 2020. There were a lot of things that went wrong in 2020 but there were also some things that went right. In our personal life we made some good choices and we might have made some poor choices. For what it’s worth, we can now look back on our choices and hope 2021 will be better. As we reflect on 2020, we cannot look back and not think about how our lives changed due to Covid-19 and the long term impact of that pandemic. People lost their lives in 2020. As a matter of record, more people died in the U.S. in 2020 than in any other single year in our history and it was due partly to the pandemic. All of those deaths affected un-told families and friends. People are entering 2021 wondering what normal will look like for them.
As I thought about this first message for 2021, I thought about what Dr. Frankl said that all of the prisoners experienced in the camps to some degree or another. First they experience shock during the initial admission phase to the camp. I want you to think back to last March when our country went on into lockdown. People were shocked, angry and afraid. This was a first in our lifetime and no one knew what to expect. You could not purchase personal protective equipment such as face masks as all the stores were sold out and the national stockpile was insufficient for the country’s needs. There was shock and dismay. Then as we got through the first few months, people began to demonstrate apathy after becoming accustomed to existing in a pandemic. People began to focus on what was in their best interest in order for them to survive. Some exhibited continued fear and loneliness and after being afraid and alone for an extended period of time the fear turned into anger and frustration. Jobs were lost and some believed their personal freedoms were under attack. Now we are approaching the third phase that Dr. Frankl described as reactions of “depersonalization, moral deformity, bitterness, and disillusionment for the person who survives and is liberated.” He described how the camps changed a prisoner’s mental health as seen by the bitterness and disillusionment that they faced when they were liberated. He described the feelings people had when they returned home and there was no one to greet them. The hope of returning home to their families, which sustained them in the camp, was now lost because everyone was gone. I want you to see this because while the pandemic might not have taken your loved one, there are many household where this is not true.