Excuse or Gift?

I have a friend who says he is going to change his telephone voice message greeting. He wants to say, “Thank you for calling. I’ve been making some changes in my life. Please leave a message. If I don’t call you back soon, you’re one of the changes.”

I don’t know if he ever got around to it. But I do know that making personal changes is often what life is all about. We’d better learn how to welcome change if we want to live fully.

Do you remember this story? Two men came from similar backgrounds. They both grew up in “dysfunctional” homes. An alcohol-addicted parent raised them both. They both endured numerous hardships as a result of the many problems brought about by their unstable home lives.

As adults, however, their lives looked quite different. One of the men couldn’t seem to keep a job for long. He was frequently let go for alcohol-related problems. He was married for a while, but his wife could not live with him any longer and eventually left. He felt hopeless and believed himself to be a failure.

A reporter interviewed him as part of an article she was writing on the effects of alcoholism in the home. She asked him, “To what do you attribute your present circumstances?”

“Given my background,” he replied, “what do you expect?”

The other man held a steady job. He enjoyed a stable marriage and home life. He was involved in his children’s lives. Overall, he felt productive and useful.

“To what do you attribute your present circumstances?” the reporter asked him, referring to his obvious success.

“Given my background,” he replied, “what do you expect?”

Naturally, our past will shape our present. Our backgrounds are crucial in determining the kinds of decisions we will make as adults.

But in this case, both men were shaped in different ways by their past. One slipped into those old, familiar patterns and recreated them as an adult. The other was determined never to repeat what he had experienced as a child. The first man felt helpless to change. The other used his background as motivation to make needed changes.

It’s true that we are products of our past. We are shaped by our parents, by our backgrounds and by pivotal people in our lives. We are products of our past. But we CAN make changes.

Like someone said:

“You may not go back and make a brand new start, my friend –

But you can start right now to make a brand new end.”

Psychologists now tell us that our difficult backgrounds can actually make us more resilient. Hardships can make us strong and give us needed motivation to be different in the future. A difficult background can actually be no less than a marvelous gift.

It comes down to one question: do I use the hard times in my past as an excuse or as a gift?

And so, we pray: Father, Most of us are thankful for the life we were given – how we were raised and the character of those who raised us. Many things go into the mix of influences that help to shape our worldview and mindset. We can look at our life now and make excuses or see it as a gift. However we see it, help us to start a brand new end. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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