Our ChristCare group just finished Mel Lawrenz’s insightful and thought-provoking book, Patterns. It is a small book and easy to read; but it is full of wisdom, challenges and reminders of ways to develop the patterns, habits and attitudes that will bring you closer to God and help you to demonstrate his love and grace to those around you.

Our crazy, busy, stress-filled days are fraught with experiences that put all our well-meaning intentions to love and serve God, to one test after another. That backstabbing coworker, the insufferable attitude and long lines at the post office, the selfish, rude drivers on our freeways, and the often demanding and insensitive behavior of our own families; all have the potential to draw us further from God. Many days prove almost impossible to live by the edict, “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

But isn’t that the point of it all? We don’t live in a protected little bubble where we can blissfully glide through our days, happily praying and praising our Lord, without interruption or diversion. (I think they call that “heaven”)! We live in this world with all its distractions and various requirements of our time, energy and talents.

We have all heard the phrase, “Be in the world, but not of the world”, which was derived from Romans 12:2. And I found it interesting that the New International Version (NIV) reads:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

There’s that word again, PATTERN. And unfortunately, our daily patterns are more often “of the world” than of God. Our reactions to everyday frustrations tell others much about us. And if we would take time to analyze our own behavior, we could learn a lot about ourselves.

What is the first thing you do when your eyes open each morning? What are your first thoughts? How is your attitude? Are you dragging yourself out of bed, disappointed that it is a workday instead of the weekend?

Try this experiment: Before you get out of bed every day, take a moment to thank God for your restful night sleep, for your comfortable bed, for the safe, dry roof over your head, and for the fact that you woke up to live another day.

Consider this; various sources estimate that 150,000 or more people die every day. So if you slept for just 8 hours, then approximately 50,000 people died while you were sleeping. Since you weren’t one of them, I think you can safely say a hearty “thank you” to God for even opening your eyes each day!

And when you open those eyes, chances are that the first thing you will see is either the roof or the walls of your home. Yet, the United Nations estimates that 100 million people are homeless worldwide, and around one billion have inadequate housing.

What do think these millions upon millions of your fellow human beings see when they first open their eyes each morning? If they were able to sleep at all, that is. Between adverse weather conditions, fear for their safety, and their attempts to find a place comfortable enough to allow them to even fall asleep, many spent their night achy, sore and stiff, just trying to survive the horrors of living without safe, restful shelter. So again, I think we can all take a moment to gratefully appreciate the fact that we woke up in beds with actual mattresses, with pillows and soft sheets, under a roof that protected us from the weather, and surrounded by walls that kept us safe from intruders and wild animals.

And are you frustrated that you have to go to work today? I don’t have to tell you that the world is experiencing record levels of unemployment. In the U.S. alone, the unemployment rate has risen to 9.5%, which according to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in June 2009; this translated to 14.7 million people, just in the United States, that have NO INCOME to provide food, clothing or shelter for their families—basic needs for mere existence. I think that warrants a cheerful, “Amen, thank you God; I have a job”!

Adopting an “attitude of gratitude” first thing in the morning will start your day off on a positive note. Let this become one of your new “patterns”. Walk through your day saying, “Thank You” for all the blessings in your life. It sets the proper tone for handling the everyday stresses and frustrations that inevitably arise as you interact with others.

The next important “pattern” that will help you to better reflect God is to start seeing the people around you as God sees them. Yes, even the backstabbing co-worker, the “I wish I were anywhere but here” waiter, clerk or postal employee, the driver who cuts you off in traffic, and your (seemingly) ungrateful and demanding family. Look beyond their behavior to what might be happening under the surface. Think back to times when you yourself have behaved selfishly, rudely, or impatiently. What caused you to snap at people, drive too fast, refuse to help, or ignore someone?

Instead of reacting to their undesirable behavior, try responding with compassion, understanding and love. The Native American saying about not judging someone until you have “walked a mile in their moccasins” gave rise to this quote by Robert Byrne, “Until you have walked a mile in another man’s moccasins, you can’t imagine the smell.” If we could all keep that in mind, I think it would be easier to “love our neighbors”!

If someone is rude or insensitive, you have three choices. You can ignore them, you can treat them rudely in return, or you can deliberately respond to them with concern and sensitivity.

Ignore them, and you might miss a chance to bless them. Treat them rudely and you have allowed them to change you into them! But by choosing to reach out in kindness, you just might make a difference in their day, or even their life.

Perhaps you might say something like, “You seem to be having a tough day. Is everything alright?” or “Dealing with the public makes it difficult to smile sometimes, doesn’t it?” The simple act of responding with warmth and care has the potential to turn an entire situation around. And you will have developed a pattern of demonstrating God’s love and mercy to those you encounter, rather than allowing yourself to get frustrated and upset by your circumstances.

So if your “patterns” of living and behavior need a little tweaking, try these “attitude adjustments”. Adopt a mindset of gratitude, looking for and acknowledging the blessings that are all around you every day. Practice forgiveness and compassion towards others, even when you don’t think they deserve it. And make the decision when faced with less than appealing circumstances or people, to choose to consciously and deliberately respond rather than impulsively react.

Instead of conforming to the patterns of this world, choose new behaviors that will “transform and renew your mind.”  And the next time you open your eyes, it will be easier to see God around you, identify and appreciate your many blessings, and recognize the various opportunities presented to you to share God’s love in the world.

“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example.” Philippians 3:17


Bonus Question:
What does the photo atop this article display?

If you guessed “pine bark”, you are right! This photo was taken of a pine tree at a park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida in December, 2008! It reminded me of a puzzle and was reminiscent of how the various pieces of our lives all fit together to make wonderfully diverse compositions and tapestries. Nature never
fails to renew my wonder, awe and reverence for God’s artistic abilities! The world is filled with immeasurable combinations of patterns and textures--there is exquisite beauty all around us if we just take the time to see it.
 
Deborah J. Thompson is a writer, artist and Stephen Minister. Please visit her website http://www.inspiredreflections.info/ for additional “Reflections” on Life and Marriage. She has just finished the first draft of her first book, Your Life, Your Choice, which gives 5 simple steps to harness the power of your choices and bring more Love, Joy and Peace into your life. She can be reached at reflecting@me.com.

Original publication date: August 10, 2009