The Circumstance Isn’t the Problem


To celebrate our friend Victoria’s pregnancy (it’s a girl!), we gathered last Wednesday afternoon at Manna House. We ate cake; she opened presents; we took photos.

Victoria hadn’t planned on this third child, but she is grateful for her, along with the two boys she already has.

Life hasn’t been easy the past few years for Victoria. She’s coped with losses and betrayals and misfortunes.

She could have turned bitter. But she hasn’t.


How We Respond

What makes some people resilient and others fall apart?

Hint: It’s not their circumstances.

Two people can have the same circumstances, yet have totally different responses.

When problems arise for us, how are we framing them?

  • That life is unfair?
  • That it’s all too much?
  • That we never have enough?

I turned on the TED Radio Hour podcast the morning of Victoria’s shower as I was making breakfast. I had begun a slow slide into self-pity at signs of a new infection when I had so much to do in my week.

NPR TED hour-Crisis-and-Response

As I listened to the episode of “Crisis and Response,” I heard voices . . .

  • of Ken Kamler trapped in a horrific snowstorm on Everest
  • of Matt Weinstein losing his life’s savings to Bernie Madoff
  • of Kitra Cahana sitting with her father after his massive stroke

They each had been in harder circumstances than I could even imagine. Their crises differed from each other, but their responses were the same:

Instead of drowning in circumstances, they carved a way through them.

It’s Not the Thing

“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”
– Epictetus

I watch Victoria doing it, finding joy at the new life kicking inside her, even as she faces hard challenges in her growing family.

I pray she’ll keep hearing a voice: that deeper Voice calling out to her, to us. He tells us we’re more than our circumstances. That if we’ll unclench our fists and engage our hearts, we’ll touch the peace of his presence.

After all, the battle isn’t our circumstances; it’s how we view our circumstances.

When we welcome God into the circumstance, even when the circumstance doesn’t change, we can.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.

I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow,

high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:37-39 (The Message)

* * *

Is there a situation you’ve been trying too hard to control? Is there another way to think about it? Please share in the comments.

38 thoughts on “The Circumstance Isn’t the Problem

  1. Linda Stoll

    Women like Victoria are role models for us, aren’t they.

    Disappointment and fear and self-pity seem to go hand in hand in hand. Her story is such an encouragement that we can choose joy.

    There are days I realize that I have far to go …

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Victoria has definitely taught me more than she realizes. Her life circumstances have definitely been hard beyond my imagination, yet she still has joy. I agree with you, Linda–there are days when I know I still have far to go too…

  2. Joe Pote

    Yes, it truly is all in the response.

    As Christians, we are not promised easier circmstances than others. In fact, we’re repeatedly told to expect more difficult circumstances. Yet we are also told to expect to live a victorious life of joy.

    The difference is not in the circumstances. The difference is in knowing God is with us through the circumstances, and in knowing we can trust Him to fold everything into His plans for our lives…plans to bless us and fulfill His pre-ordained destiny for us, in Christ.

    Great post, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right, Joe. We do a disservice to each other when we spread the lie that life’s circumstances are easier for Christians. While in some ways we do avoid a few troubles, we’re definitely not immune from the bumps and bruises and sometimes total knock-outs that hit everybody along the way. So grateful for grace to sustain us through them all!

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I had to really think about this one, Lisa…not because I don’t know how to deal with situations like that, but because my basic paradigm may cause folks to draw back in horror.

    So here goes.

    F*** it. Don’t mean nothin’.

    While it sounds nihilistic, it’s really not, but it took me awhile to learn this…it’s an expression of acknowledgement, that there are situations we can’t control, and that giving them too much meaning simply diverts us from that which still can be done.

    It’s a bit like this morning, for me, where I’ve hit a new nadir of scary pain…the kind that radiates into my jaw and left arm. The smart thing to do would be to get myself to a hospital, but that’s not a possibility; indeed, there is no help within reach.

    So I figure it’ll pass, or it won’t. Everyone dies. I am alive, and writing, now.

    The pain and the fear?

    F*** it. Don’t mean nothin’.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ain’t nothing but a thing…yep, I agree that having an attitude of acceptance is much healthier than either denying or trying to change every thing that battles against us. I know I’m nowhere close to being as accepting as you are with pain, but I do admire your ability to accept whatever comes, Andrew.

  4. Mari-Anna Stalnacke

    Great post, Lisa. We always have a choice how to respond to the circumstances. Nobody can take our choice of attitude away. It’s not always easy to choose to cling to hope. But it is worth it. Thanks for this inspiring post. God bless you!

  5. Michele Morin

    So sorry, Lisa, that you are still struggling with infections.
    Your words today brought to mind a quote from Elisabeth Elliot:
    The secret to contentment is Christ in me — not me in a different set of circumstances.

    I remind myself of this often!

  6. Barbara H.

    A good reminder, especially as I have been stewing over a couple of different sets of circumstances today. One I can do absolutely nothing to change, the other I am not sure how to or whether to proceed. I confess my desire is for God to just fix it all. But as is usually the case, He wants to do something in my heart through the circumstances.

    I hope your infection goes away soon!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, my desire is the same, preferably to have God just take it and be done with it. But I see that he rarely does that with me either. 🙂 There’s always lots of heart issues that he’s trying to change in me first. Hope your situations work out easier than expected!

  7. Kathy

    I love the idea of carving a new way through our’s so true, when we focus on Christ, we have no choice but to choose the high road through our really makes a difference where we focus, how we process the troubles we go through. Carving new roads through our issues means being faithful! Great message today Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Kathy. Those new paths are rarely my first thought, but I’m grateful for the grace that God gives as he patiently waits on us to come around. 🙂

  8. June

    So much truth here, Lisa. When I think back over the difficulties (and worse) of my life, I can clearly see God telling me that He is enough. Through the years I’ve learned to put Him first. Pray first. Pray and wait, etc. Allow Him to work. He always does. Even in the times when I (still) fail to put Him first. I think the biggest reason (believers) fail to do this is fear. Meditating on scriptures that focus on God/Jesus as our Shepherd, Jehovah-Raah, have helped me tremendously when it comes to overcoming fear and learning to trust Him more. He cares for us so intimately and tenderly. I pray you’ll feel His healing touch this week, my friend.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “…telling me that He is enough.” That’s a lesson all in itself, June. It’s part of my focus this month so I appreciate you pulling out that part of the story here. Trusting that he IS working is not always easy when we can’t see it, but that’s what makes it trust, right? Thanks for your encouragement and prayers, friend. I’m doing well.

  9. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! Well, of course I think of my ear/sinus issues. They certainly pale in comparison to your friends dilemma, or the TED talks.
    I don’t think I want to over-manage, I just want it all gone. But, as you point out, nothing should faze me if Jesus is with me. And he certainly is. So, time for an attitude adjustment (as usual), and let God take care of something I certainly have no control over anyway.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, typically when I start comparing, I’m like you, Ceil: my issues become very minor indeed. I’m grateful for that. Those attitude adjustments are sometimes hard-fought, but always worth it in the end.

  10. Katie

    Sometimes life isn’t fair and it is often hard. God brings us through the hard dark parts walking us through. It doesn’t mean I don’t fall apart. I do. I just keep taking the next step.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re keeping it real, Katie. We do all fall apart at times. It’s part of being human. But yes, keep taking the next step after we get back up is what is more important. Praying for you and Matt in this season of doctors and uncertainty and struggles. May God give you extra measures of endurance.

  11. Kelly S

    You are so right. It’s not so much what happens to us, but what our response is to our circumstances. Leaning into God, seeking His face in the midst of chaos–that is the place of peace and faith. Visiting from #RaRaLinkup.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Seeking his face…yes, that’s it, Kelly. It’s all about turning over and over again to him, trusting him with the circumstances and with us in the circumstances. Thanks for sharing here.

  12. betty

    Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

    I have to admit sometimes in the past circumstances would get to me and I wouldn’t handle them the best way; I’m learning as I age that nothing catches God by surprise, so this particular one didn’t either, and as he walked alongside me through so many other things, he’ll be faithful through the ones again as they come up.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good point, Betty…realizing that NOTHING catching God by surprise is a faith-building attitude. One beautiful thing about getting older is we do have more experiences to look back at the faithfulness of God to us through the years. Even when we failed him, he never failed us. And if he didn’t then, he won’t in the future either. Thanks for dropping in and sharing.

  13. Christine Duncan

    This truly seems to be the running theme for my week, Lisa, how did you know? I loved this put so clearly, “After all, the battle isn’t our circumstances; it’s how we view our circumstances.” Yes, yes, and amen.
    So glad I stopped by from the #RaRaLinkup today 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Our themes are definitely in sync, Christine. 🙂 It’s a theme I need to keep on repeat. I never tire of hearing that God is greater than our circumstances.

  14. Anita Ojeda

    Oh, I definintely get in my own little pity party at times :/. But through all of the crazy situations that God has brought me THROUGH, I know that whatever crops up he’ll be able to handle 🙂 (of course, this doesn’t mean that I “LIKE” the things that crop up, but I’m learning to turn to him first and think of how it can be used for HIS glory and not my own).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That one little pronoun makes all the difference: “whatever crops up HE will be able to handle.” You speak truth, my friend! We don’t have to handle anything all by ourselves. So grateful that we have a God who not actually *can* take care of us, but who delights in it and asks us to turn it over to him.

  15. Jean Wise

    Wow lots of wisdom in your words tonight. I love Ted Radio Hour and listen all the time to their podcasts. Doesn’t surprise me though we both like that type of mental stimulation. I have been pondering the word – mindset – lots lately. At first I thought I was hearing too much but then started to realize how much influence our mindset really does have on our live. Maybe it is the word – I kind of like “stinking-thinking: better. LOL

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No surprise to me either that we both love TED Radio Hour. 🙂 I love when a new episode pops up on my list of podcasts. I’m afraid my podcast list is growing too quickly like my book list though; so many podcasts, so little time to listen to them all. As it is, I often set the speed to 2x if it’s a slow speaker so that I can hear it all in half the time. ha.

      I’m not crazy about “mindset” either, even though I use it a lot. I always think of Joyce Meyer when I hear “stinking-thinking.” That’s definitely something that I have quite frequently. I read somewhere recently that “mindfulness” has become such a popular word the past couple of years that it’s losing its meaning. Maybe we need to come up with something altogether different.

      1. Jean Wise

        I listen to podcast when I walk and laughed I listen at 1.5 speed. we both are impatient. LOL. Great idea – lets come up with our own word. I think about it. Sure glad we have connected and would be so much fun to meet in person some day.

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Can we rename our “impatience” too while we’re at it? ha. I prefer “efficient”. 🙂 Yes, I would love to meet you in person one day. If not on this side of life, definitely on the other!

  16. floyd

    Good one, Lisa. I know I sound like a broken record, but the gift from God of free will is one of the most powerful of all of His gifts. It is as amazing as the senses we possess.

    We get to choose how respond. It’s always a choice. We’re not victims of our circumstances, we’re riders on the storm… and it’s all in God’s hands.

    I so enjoy pondering this subject. Thanks, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “We’re not victims of our circumstances, we’re riders on the storm.” Sounds like the lyrics to a great song, Floyd. 🙂 Or words from a writer’s mouth. I love the imagery. Thanks, friend.

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