Chaplain’s Corner: CLXXIII

“What We Can Actually Control”

From time to time Author and Humorist Mark Twain was asked, “Of all your accomplishments, which one makes you the most proud?” He always gave the same answer: “I’m most proud that I was born on November 30th.”

Say What?

Twain was born on November 30, 1835 at 11:10 pm. Hurtling across the sky that night was Halley’s Comet. The comet which is fixed in a long orbit around the sun, becomes visible every 75 to 76 years. Twain thought it noteworthy he was born during such an appearance. Furthermore: “I came into the world with Halley’s Comet, I’m going out of the world with Halley’s Comet.” Twain was predicting that he would die within a two week period in the Spring of 1910. He actually succeeded. The most famous American writer of his generation didn’t take his own life, but died of natural causes on April 21st, when the comet was at its nearest.

Most of us presume we’re in control of a great many things. But it’s easy to demonstrate that’s largely an illusion despite Twain’s experience. We can’t control the circumstances of our birth. Or who brought us into the world. Or our nationality, ethnicity, or generation. You can’t control the weather. Or the stock market. Or how your favorite team performs. Despite all appearances to the contrary, it doesn’t really matter whether you turn off your TV, leave the room, or wear the same socks during every game. Since nothing I did seemed to help my BSU Cardinals this past basketball season.

We can’t control what others say or do or what they feel. Nor can we control what others think about us. You can’t control the traffic or gas prices. You can’t control whether it will be cloudy during next Monday’s solar eclipse.

Then again, here are a few things that are very much in our control. We can control what we are learning. And what we are paying attention to. And what we are trusting for our ultimate security.

Victor Frankl, a Jewish Psychiatrist, was forcibly taken from his home in Vienna to a Nazi detention camp. His captors took everything from him: his freedom, his job, his possessions, the manuscript that he thought would make him famous, and his family. The Nazis tried to rob him of everything associated with his identity. But as he recounts in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, it gradually dawned on him there was one thing no one could ever take from him–not even torturers who held the power of life and death.

No one could ever rob Victor Frankl of his freedom to respond to whatever was happening to him.

A great many things will happen today that are totally out of your control. But you can choose to respond with humility, gratitude, perseverance and hope. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18,221).

Comets will come and go, but our character–as it is formed by how we choose to respond hour by hour and day by day is what really matters on planet earth.

Ron Naylor, Chaplain