CORSICANA - Life is like cleaning the house—no matter how hard you work to clean up the mess, tomorrow the clutter and disorder will reappear, and it will just need cleaning again. In Making Sense When Life Doesn’t: The Secrets of Thriving in Tough Times (Summerside Press) best-selling author Cecil Murphey writes that while life’s messiness is unavoidable, it’s how a person chooses to respond to the mess that matters.
Murphey explains that while you don’t get to choose your crisis, the crises will happen. Companies downsize, relationships end, trauma hits, and illness comes, but there are three ways in which we can respond: decide to live with the mess and comfort yourself with the memories of the past, move on with life and resent the change, or tell yourself that this can be the best time of life and try something new.
Q: You open Making Sense When Life Doesn't with the concept that life is like cleaning the house. Explain what you mean by that.
We get the house cleaned and it looks quite nice. It doesn't stay that way. The tendency is to go back to our careless or hurried lifestyle and the same habits. Before long, the house is messy again.
That's how life works. We fret and struggle to clean up our current mess, assuming that once we accomplish that feat, it won't happen again. But it will. Unless we make changes, we'll go back to the same lifestyle.
Q: What are the three or four ways we can respond to crisis?
We always have choices even if we think we don't.
- We can do the throwing-our-hands-in-the air bit that says we give up.
- We can complain about the way things used to be. Like the children of Israel in the wilderness, we tend to forget the negatives of the past and our world seemed much better than it is in the present. We cry out, "This is the worst time of my life." That attitude makes us immobile and often a little bitter. "It's not supposed to be this way," is the way we start our conversations.
- We can move forward—grudgingly. We change because we've been forced to do so, but we resent the situation and often the people involved.
- We can see this as an adventure, a new way of life. We can tell ourselves, “This can be the best time of my life. I can try things I wanted to do but never did. I can learn new things and enjoy life even more.”
Q: Is it really okay for people to get angry or feel sorry for themselves when something bad happens? Is there a time limit for that kind of negative emotion?
Is it okay? It had better be because that's a natural reaction when life falls apart. That means we're aware of the seriousness of our situation. Not only is it all right, but it's important. Those feelings help us assess where we are. After that, we can begin to solve our issues.
Is there a time limit? We're all different. Some of us can hit the bottom and bounce up quickly. Others move slowly.
After the death of our son-in-law, it took our daughter three years before I felt she had decided to live again. (They had known each other since they were fourteen years old.)
Q: In one chapter, you say that only the strong can forgive. Isn’t that contrary to what society leads us to believe?
It's not natural or easy for most of us to admit our mistakes. But once we face our own shortcomings, we can accept others when they fail or don't live up to their highest standards.
We need a certain level of self-acceptance before we can forgive others. We don't have to wait for others to change, we can change and that means we can forgive.
Once I realized that God loves me, forgives me, and accepts me as I am—that took years for me to grasp inwardly—I understood the concept of grace. I know how it feels to be forgiven. I realized that Jesus Christ saw my motives and not just my actions. He knew my weaknesses and my blind spots. Because I know those things about myself and the overwhelming love of God, I can pass that grace or forgiveness on to others.
Too often I hear people say things like, "I don't forgive. I get even." Such an attitude weighs on our souls, and prevents our living in contentment.
Q: We often hear about the importance of having accountability partners, how does accountability fit in with the overall theme of this book?
We are on our own in life, even though God is with us. We pray. We make choices and feel we're doing the right thing. We all have blind spots and we need the insight of individuals we can trust.
True accountability partners push us to face reality, admit our imperfections, and to reframe or rethink our decisions.
Accountability is a vital part of making sense out of life. We need the perspectives and objectivity of those who care about us. An accountability partner enables me to open myself to my inner thoughts and express them—without fear of censure.
The Bible speaks of the sinfulness of every human, and we often need others to help us see that what we want to do may be self-centered and destructive.
For more information about Cecil Murphey and his books, visit www.cecilmurphey.com.