When a tragic accident left Will Mitchell with disfiguring burns, he focused on his possibilities instead of his problems. Although he’d lost his fingers he learned to fly an airplane solo. Then one day while flying from Colorado to California, ice caused his plane to crash. Paralyzed from the waist down (and you think you’ve got problems), Mitchell was understandably depressed about being confined to a wheelchair for life. Then a friend gave him the same advice he’d earlier given her: “It doesn’t matter what happens to you. What matters is what you decide to do about it.”
The way we respond to the storms of life is critical. It is everything. As the highly influential Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier put it:
“Only rarely are we the masters of events,” he [Tournier] says, “but (along with those who help us) we are responsible for our reactions.” In other words, we are accountable for the way we respond to the struggles we encounter. Tournier believed that a positive, active, creative response to one of life’s challenges will develop us while a negative, angry one will only debilitate us and stunt our growth.
In fact, Tournier believed that the right response at the right moment might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life. He found that quite often humans are presented with rare opportunities to develop and grow only through hardship and trial.
So Will Mitchell decided to adopt what is called the Triple-A Formula: Accept what happens. Appreciate what you can learn from it. Adapt to the new opportunities it presents. Since then he’s held public office, found love, and given hundreds of motivational talks. Mitchell says, “Before I was paralyzed there were ten thousand things I could do, now there are nine thousand. Should I focus on the one thousand I can’t do? No, I’d rather concentrate on the nine thousand ways in which life’s still good.”
I find this to be very powerful. However, I believe the most critical part of the Triple-A Formula is the initial acceptance; accepting that this storm is a reality in your life.
Forty years ago, I read a book with a story in it I’ve never forgotten. The book, A Man Called Peter, was a bestselling biography back in the early 1960s, sharing the life of Peter Marshall and written by his wife Catherine. Peter was a highly regarded pastor in Washington D.C. as well as the chaplain of the United States Senate for many years.
During Peter and Catherine’s marriage, Catherine contracted tuberculosis, eventually becoming an invalid. Praying to God, she believed He would heal her. Many days of prayer passed with no change in her condition.
Catherine became angry and discouraged. Yet, after reading a story of the life of a missionary, she realized how poorly she was responding to her circumstances:
“I had been demanding of God. I had claimed health as my right. Furthermore, I had never, for one moment, stopped rebelling against tuberculosis or against the invalidism it had induced. I had not faced reality. The right way, then, must be the only way left—that of submission and surrender to the situation as it was. (This was acceptance.)
“Privately, with tears eloquent of the reality of what I was doing, I lay in bed and prayed, ‘Lord, I’ve done everything I’ve known how to do, and it hasn’t been good enough. I’m desperately weary of the struggle of trying to persuade You to give me what I want. I’m beaten, whipped, through. If You want me to be an invalid for the rest of my life, all right. Here I am. Do anything You like with me and my life.’”
When Catherine said this prayer to God, she was at her parents’ home without Peter. She was preparing to go to bed, and as she was dozing off, she thought to herself, “There was no trace of graciousness about the gift of my life and will, nothing victorious, nothing expectant. I had no faith left, as I understood faith. Nevertheless, a strange deep peace settled into my heart.”
At 3 a.m., she was awakened from her sleep, experiencing a real and powerful presence of Jesus. She referred to it as “an intensity of power.”
From that day forward, she began to slowly heal, never with any retrogression. Several months later, the doctor pronounced she was completely healed.
What an exemplary example of what it looks like to surrender your desire and accept what God has for you.
We experience God’s peace and His power when we accept what He is doing in our lives. It is truly a powerful way to respond to the storms of life because this is an act of faith, and God always responds to faith.
Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.