It Can Always Be Worse

I have used the line, “it can always be worse,” many times in my life. I use it to gain perspective on my current reality. To me, it helps recalibrate what is truly happening around me and allows me to make the intentional choice to accept my situation.

Currently, I am in a tough place with nerve pain in my hip. There are many things that I want to do and that I have done in the past, which are now a struggle. However, I really can’t complain. I may only walk pain free for about just a mile, however I can still walk. I no longer walk the dog every morning, but I do have a fenced yard that she can run around in for exercise and to do her business. Although I can’t hike the woods listening to the sounds of nature during a beautiful sunrise, I can sit on my back porch listening to the birds and seeing the sunrise. I know people who have lost the ability to walk, and they would likely welcome the ability to do what I can.

My Dad passed away too early, I lost him when I was just 36 years old. However, for the time we were together, I had an incredible role model and still find inspiration in his words. It could have been worse if I had an absent or unengaged dad still around all these years later. I have learned to look at my blessings, as opposed to comparing myself to others based on what they have that I don’t (the ‘er’ complex).

There is a Yiddish folk tale of a farmer who at the start of the story is overwhelmed with frustration at his inability to get a decent night’s sleep. However, by the end, he is sleeping soundly. Nothing changed but his perspective on things. His home was exactly as it was at the beginning, nothing in the external world to of the man’s life had changed. The farmer should have been just as miserable at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. But he was not. He went to his rabbi seeking advice on how to change his external surroundings so that he can be at peace. Instead, his rabbi gets him to change something inside himself by showing him how much worse it could be. He changed his perspective.

A different perspective can dramatically change how we feel about our situation. When we cannot change our situation, we can change our perspective, which in turn shapes our experience. We are not passive recipients of the world we encounter, even when we have little control over that external world. Our perspectives add as much to our experiences, as outside forces do. When things seem bad, we just need to reflect and change our perspective, which will change our experience. A kick in the pants is just a few vertebrae away from a pat on the back.

Once I had a boss who read an insightful management article on making sure the sales team was engaged at the right level of the buyer’s organization. Therefore, in his mind, every obstacle we encountered, was due to that issue. I had a proposal that wasn’t closing fast enough, so in his eyes I wasn’t engaged at the right level – despite every order we received from this company having come from my contact. The saying is, “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Leave it to our children to put things in perspective. Once when my oldest was about 6 years old, I had her in the car when we were cut off by an aggressive driver and I expressed my frustration to which she replied, “Dad, maybe they have a sick pet they are rushing to the vet.” Then there was the time I was traveling back from a business trip and after three hours of driving was within 15 minutes of home. I came up on a car in the passing lane that, in my opinion, was taking way too long to merge back into the righthand lane. As I was finally passing that car, I shot a frustrated and bewildered look at the young lady driving only to realize that it was my kids’ nanny with my three daughters in her car and she was driving very carefully. My perspective on her driving skills changed immediately. Everything is relative.

As a nation we need to change our perspective, all of us! We are still the greatest nation on earth regardless of what political party is in control of the White House or Congress. Yes, both sides can be better, and we should hold them – and us – accountable and strive to be better. Our approach must be on equal footing, neither “what we are” and “what we can be” should be the dominate thought nor an afterthought. We must realize it can be worse, way worse. China is plowing over churches, silencing the media, imprisoning dissidents, detaining a million members of an ethnic minority for forced indoctrination while subjecting others to forced labor. Even closer, just 90 miles from Florida, is Cuba where citizens struggle to find the basic needs for life under an oppressive Government rule. I am thankful for what we have in this country and acknowledge we can – and must – be better, not “do” better but “be” better. The fact that it can always be worse doesn’t make the situation we are going through not bad. Its intent is only to keep things in perspective.

Collin Raye has the song, “I Get What I Need.” The lyrics outline that if we pray for strength, God gives us pain to make us strong; if we pray for courage, God give us fear to overcome; and if we pray for faith, our empty heart will bring us to our knees. In life, we often want God to give us what we ask for. Thankfully, that’s not the way He works. He loves us too much to give us everything we want when we want it. Instead of fixing our circumstances, He can put us on a journey to change, not just resolve our circumstances. God cares deeply about the character and love being produced in and through us. God’s answer to our pain, is not to take it away, but instead to experience it alongside us.

There are several Psalms that proclaim this message. Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” sings of the security of God’s presence even in utter chaos. Psalm 124 is a celebratory Psalm sung by the people of Israel as they journeyed to Jerusalem. The heading describes it as “A Song of Ascents.” When David wrote the Psalm, it was celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from their enemies. David acknowledges that, although things had recently been rough for Israel, they could have been a lot worse. A thanksgiving which teaches that Israel’s very existence is owed to God who rescues them.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, while he is delivering the good message from God to the early Christians, he acknowledges their burdens but notes that it can be worse. In Romans 12:15 he writes, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,” In the beginning of Romans 15, “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up.”

When we remember that others have situations, different and more challenging than ours, it can lead to a grateful heart and perspective.  When we remember that God will see us through whatever “it” is, we remember how blessed we are. It can be worse, and it will always be worse without the grace of God with us.

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