A One-String Melody

May 22nd, 2014

Have you ever seen a one-stringed guitar player? I am not sure why a guitarist would choose to play with just one string. Perhaps it is because of financial limitations. Perhaps it is an effort to create a more unique performance. Regardless of the reason why, I have seen the video footage, and one-stringed guitar players actually make beautiful music.

It reminds me of a choice we have every day—the choice in how we respond to the circumstances of our everyday lives. It's called attitude.

Motivational speakers often remind us of the importance of maintaining a positive attitude even in the midst of difficult circumstances, and we've probably all heard the old adage, “Attitude determines altitude.” My husband used to tell our children, “Today can be a good day or a bad day. It's your choice.” Still as caregivers and teachers of children, most of us have encountered “bad” attitudes in the children we love.

But let's face it. Sometimes having a good attitude is just hard—even for adults. Bad attitudes are not limited to a certain time of life. There are times for all of us when we don't feel like being positive. We don't feel like being strong. We don't feel like being patient or kind or any of the other attributes we associate with being Christ-like. So, why should we think it will be any easier for children and youth?

We shouldn't. In fact, it is important that we learn how to manage our own attitudes in order to set a positive example for our kids. And while it may not be easy, it is definitely “doable.” How do I know? Because I have seen it firsthand, and I'm sure you have too.

I have a friend who is such a blessing to me. She is always smiling. It isn't a phony kind of “put-on” smile. It is a genuine love for life that seems to exude from her. Any time I am around her, she makes me smile too. And while I know that she has many things for which she is happy, I also know that she has had her share of “earthly” troubles. Her son has several serious medical conditions, and he is often ill. If she hadn't told me, I would never know. She never complains. Once she came to my house to help with a camp-out for our sons. She helped in every respect and stayed for hours—even though she was suffering through a severe bout of kidney stones. She didn't gripe. She didn't whine. She didn't complain. She smiled. She laughed. She helped. She served. She is the epitome of “good attitude.”

Maybe it comes naturally for her. I don't know. What I do know is that it doesn't come naturally for me. I have to work on my attitude, and I know my children have to work on theirs as well. I often tell my friend that I want to be like her when I “grow up.” How can I do that? How can any of us improve our attitudes and help our children to do so as well? Here are a few things I am learning, many of which come from Colossians 3:12-17, followed by a way in which I can help teach my child that lesson.

Attitude is a choice.

Sometimes I think that my biggest mistake is equating attitude and emotion. While the definitions of the word “attitude” vary, one of my favorites is from the World English Dictionary, “the way a person views something or tends to behave towards it, often in an evaluative way.” Attitude is something that we choose—no matter how we feel. It's more than thinking positive thoughts or quoting pithy inspirational quotes. It involves making a conscious choice to act in a specific way even if I don't feel like it.

Problem: My child is upset with something that happened at school. He makes inappropriate and disrespectful comments about his teacher.

Solution: I remind him that attitude is a choice. I ask him to think about how he can express his emotions in a different way, with more respectful words.

Forgiveness is essential.

Often our attitudes are a direct result of our interactions with other people, and the natural tendency is to blame others for how we act. Even though most of us would agree that we are responsible for our own actions, we often (at least inwardly) excuse our bad attitudes by pointing the finger at someone else. Paul reminds us in Colossians that we should be “tolerant with each other” even when we have a reason to complain. Forgiveness then is essential to having a good attitude. But of course, forgiveness is one of those things that is easier said than done. That's why we need Christ to help us. Sometimes our attitudes will improve only when we consciously choose to love those who are unloveable and to pray for peace that comes when we ask Christ to control our hearts.

Problem: Julie's friend Anna broke Julie's toy. Julie is very angry. She is stomping her feet, yelling and rolling her eyes.

Solution: Ask Julie to tell you what happened in a calm manner and normal voice. Sit down with her and discuss forgiveness and how Christ forgives us when we make mistakes. Invite Julie to verbally forgive Anna. Remember, this is no easier for a child than it would be for an adult. Sometimes it takes time and maturity to learn how to forgive.

Gratitude is great.

A change of attitude can often be initiated by simply remembering those things for which we can be thankful. Regardless of our circumstances, we can almost always find something for which to thank God. As the old song goes, “Count your blessings. Name them one by one. Count your blessings. See what God has done.” When we really think about things for which we are thankful, we often realize that the good in our lives far outweighs the bad.

Problem: My children are whining that there is nothing to do. They are fighting and complaining about everything.

Solution: Ask them to write a list or draw a picture of five things for which they are thankful. Have them share the list with you, and then ask them to spend time in prayer thanking God for their many blessings.

Good attitudes take practice.

Like many things in life, if a good attitude is worth having then it's worth working for. Try imagining various situations that might cause you to develop a bad attitude. Then imagine how you can respond in a Godly manner. What could you say the next time that your co-worker smarts off to you in the morning meeting? How could you better handle a disciplinary problem with your son? Role play various scenarios in your head so that when they occur you are better prepared. Remember that as a Christian whatever you do should be done in a way that honors God.

Problem: Bad attitudes seem rampant at our house. Everyone seems to be in a “mood” about something.

Solution: Ask older children to memorize Philippians 4:8-9,

“From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you.”

Read the verse to younger children and discuss ways that they and you can “think” about and “practice” the actions listed here.

Remember, none of this is easy. The Bible helps us learn how we should act and ways in which we can work to develop better attitudes, but change does not occur overnight. There really is no “5-steps to having a better attitude in two days.” In our house, this is a constant battle.

Charles Swindoll, in Living Beyond the Daily Grind, writes

“We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you.”

We choose how we respond to the circumstances of our lives, and we must teach our children and youth to choose as well. We don't hide our emotions. We learn to deal with them. We don't ignore the problems in our life. We learn to face them with hope. We can't avoid all the difficult people around us. We learn to love and forgive.

We've each been given one string. What kind of melody will we create?

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