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Pastor Glenn McDonald: 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 30.”


Say what?


Twain was born on November 30, 1835, at 11:10 pm.  Hurtling across the night sky was Halley’s Comet. 


The comet, which is fixed in a long orbit around the sun, becomes visible every 75-76 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.”


Excuse me?


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 21, when the comet was at its nearest. 


The ultimate showman (who was also an incurable show-off) managed to pull off something certifiably beyond his control.


Most of us presume we’re in control of a great many things.  But it’s easy to demonstrate that’s largely an illusion.


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 I apparently did something right to help my Boilermakers yesterday, I should try to figure out what it was. 


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.  Or your cat.  Or whether it will be cloudy during next Monday’s total solar eclipse.  Or the fact that you’ll be a day older at this time tomorrow. 


Then again, there are a few things that are very much in our control. 


We can control what we’re learning.  And what we’re paying attention to.  And what we’re trusting for 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.  He was compelled to stand completely naked before his inquisitors.  They even took his wedding ring.  The Nazis tried to rob Frankl of everything associated with his identity. 


But as he recounts in book Man’s Search for Meaning, it gradually dawned on him that 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.  Nor can anyone ever take that precious freedom away from you.


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. 


It’s not what happens to you today, but how you respond to what happens to you today. 


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, 21).


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.    

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