by W. Dale Oldham
Since we are social creatures, all of us are affected to some degree every day by the conduct of those about us. The other fellow’s mood affects us; if he laughs and smiles, we laugh and smile. But if he is surly, angry, and hostile, that, too, will have its effect on us. Surrounded as we are by people, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to have our own way; and when we can’t have our own way, we often become frustrated. No one can do as he pleases in every situation. Who can have all he wants of everything? Who can long remain free of unpleasant responsibilities and duties? Is there anyone on earth who is not faced now and then with irksome frustrations?
As we grow older, most of us learn to handle such things. We catch the ball and throw it back; we don’t let it knock us down. We have learned how to accept the give-and-take of life. We keep up our courage, maintain a healthy sense of humor, and fight the good fight of faith. But not everyone has learned how to do this. There are those around us who suffer interminably tinder frustrations they have never learned how to handle. Often they feel they are facing a wall, which is thick, threatening, and impenetrable. They feel as if they were caught in a vise, which is slowly closing on them. The difficulty may be one of lingering illness, loneliness, or a family situation, which stubbornly refuses to come to adjustment. Perhaps a husband or wife has an unfaithful companion who refuses to settle down to a life of fidelity. What a trying situation that can be! Or the children as they grow up may be wandering away from the church that cradled them in the years of their childhood. Or it may be a matter of insufficient finances, a case where a fixed income is being bombarded month after month by a spiraling inflation. With one’s back everlastingly against the wall, and bills piling up, who can avoid a certain degree of frustration?
Of course, we cause a great many of our own frustrations by the way we live. Uncontrolled persons cause themselves, as well as others, many a headache. It ought to be possible for all of us to first analyze our problems and then do something constructive to heal the situation. A classic example of frustration is the New Testament account of Paul and Silas as they attempted to evangelize Asia Minor. They were all packed and ready to move into Bithynia, when the Spirit of the Lord said an emphatic “No!” The door they had planned to enter was slammed in their faces. That was frustrating! But what did they do about it? They simply accepted the closed door as being God’s will, then looked for another door that was open.
God never closes one door but what he opens another. Paul and Silas found that open door, entered, and what were the results? First, the church was established at Philippi and became Paul’s most beloved charge. Also, they found Lydia and won her to Christ. She probably was one of the most important and influential women of the early church. Third, they went through the painful, yet gloriously victorious experience in the Philippian jail, where, although they were fastened in stocks after being severely whipped, they sang songs in the night. As a result of this prayer meeting, the jail doors swung open and they could have escaped had they chosen to go. But they stayed, and as a result witnessed the conversion of their jailer and his entire family. You see, in forbidding Paul and Silas to enter Bithynia, God had a higher purpose in mind. Had they been disobedient, they would have missed the victories which later came to them, and probably would have failed miserably at Bithynia, God’s way is always the best way. Always! If you think his way is sometimes hard for you, remember that any other way is bound to be harder.
Sometimes when we are in difficulties with a person, or with our family, we need to sit down and take a good objective look at ourselves. It may be that our own poor attitudes are directly responsible for many of our troubles. Sometimes it is hard for us to realize how our personalities rub people the wrong way. We need to be absolutely honest in any such self-examination. So many times we are almost entirely responsible for our troubles.
Take the case of the big league baseball pitcher who went into a serious slump one season, losing several games in a row. Strange about a pitcher: some days he is just right and the ball goes sizzling across the plate under perfect control. But there are other days when he can’t control the ball for the life of him. While the slump was on, this pitcher couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. But next time he was really “in the groove” he had some slow-motion movies made as he pitched the game. Later, in another slump, he did the same thing. Afterward he set up two projectors side by side and showed both films at the same time. He found that when he was in a slump, he always pushed his left foot forward about three inches farther than when he was pitching well.
Of course, we who have never stood in his place would think that all he’d have to do to correct the defect would be to pull that left foot hack three inches. But this pitcher was smarter than that, so he asked himself why he was pushing that left foot forward. After considerable analysis, he came to the conclusion that it happened when he was “over-pressing”, and he was pressing because he was anxious and afraid, filled with apprehension. He happened to be a man of strong religious faith, so he began to pray earnestly about his problem and the cause of it. Before long he was his old self, his pitching once again under normal control.
This isn’t just a story. It is a good illustration of what happens to you and me once in awhile. God meant for us to live with faith in him; when fear replaces faith, we start pressing, just like this pitcher. We become tense, and our tension is quickly relayed to those about us. What we send out we get back. Poor attitudes result in poor living. Fear produces tenseness: then anxiety seizes us, and our whole personality changes. In such a state it is easy for us to become moody, blue, and irritable. It is easy also to blame all our trouble on someone else, making him the scapegoat for our own personality inadequacies. We need to learn that many frustrations, which cannot be handled in any other way can be taken care of with ease when we manifest a genuinely Christian spirit.
You can’t rid yourself of frustrations by fighting them. That is the wrong approach. Frustrations can be handled successfully only by a new inner Christian attitude. Remember, the very things, which are happening to you, have come to other people from time immemorial. These things are not unique to you. Paul told the Corinthians, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Then be added, “But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.” But this is a promise only for those who live and walk in the spirit of Christ. One of our difficulties lies in the fact that so often we want God to deal with our problem, when he wants to deal with us, to change us. How often the power of the problem evaporates when he gets us where we ought to be. And again, we often want the Lord to change the other fellow’s attitudes, when if our attitude changed, his would follow. As Art Linkletter says, “People are funny!”
Again, many of our frustrations come because of the difference between our avowed ideals and our conduct. The resulting inner civil war tears us to pieces. The answer to this problem is humble, loving obedience to God. You won’t solve your personality problems, then, by moving to another state or taking, another job. You will carry your problems with you wherever you go until they are cleared up by your own change of attitude. A few years ago a New York bus driver, frustrated and bored, decided to do something about it. So one day, instead of following his usual route, he swung west across the George Washington Bridge and drove clear down to Florida. Not that this solved his problems, for he carried them all right along with him in the bus. The trip back to New York with the police was not nearly so exhilarating as was the trip south. We can conquer inner problems only by receiving inner help. The hobos, bums, and drifters seek to solve their problems by “chucking it all,” but they only add to their problems by turning their backs upon reality.
It would not be difficult to give you several psychological panaceas for frustration out of the textbooks, but let’s take a short-cut and say that to belong wholly to Christ, to manifest his spirit, and to love people with genuine Christian love is probably the only enduring answer to a sense of frustration because it deals directly with motives and with personal relationships. Of course, everyone experiences frustration to a certain degree. Jesus did. Listen, “Jesus, full of the Spirit, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1–2a).* Forty days without food. Have you ever been desperately hungry? Those were forty days of frustration. Forty days tempted by the devil. But because the Master held steadfast and true we read, “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him” (Matt. 4:11).*
We conquer every foe by living close to God, by being filled to overflowing with his love and grace; but the power must come from inside our hearts, as we give God full control. When we live in Christ, angels come to minister to us in time of need, just as they ministered to him. But the battle is in the heart, and victory will be found not in the changing of circumstances, but in fortifying your soul with the love of the Christ who said, “My peace I give unto you.” So don’t cry next time the door to some Bithynia is slammed in your face. Cheer up. Look up in faith and trust, and say, “Well, Lord, what better thing do you have in mind?” And ask it with the assurance that a “better something” is really there.