Handling Obstacles

Obstacles come to instruct, not destruct. That phrase is one of my most precious quotations. It captures the essence of being able to react to negative events in a manner that is productive. It challenges us to confront obstacles with an attitude of what we can learn instead of becoming discouraged and quitting. Or, worse yet, becoming so defeated that we flee to the swamp of bitterness.

I was reminded of the power of approaching obstacles with an eye for the positive by two events in the past week.

The first event was the shooting at the church in Charleston. A disturbed young man, after sitting through a Bible study at a primarily black Baptist church, killed nine people. In the days that followed, repeated examples of amazing behavior by the members of the church were reported. Survivors said they had forgiven the shooter. Church members both forgave the gunman and prayed for him. Many family members of the victims also publically forgave the killer. And the congregation actively prayed that the young man would find salvation.

Instead of being discouraged, angry, and bitter as a result of the horrible actions of the shooter, the church and its members decided to use the incident to live out their faith. Their behavior in the days since the shooting has shown that the faith they talk about is not just words but an active part of their lives. In a situation where they have had every human right to react emotionally with a hateful and unforgiving response, they have, instead, chosen to use this terrible incident as an opportunity to live out their faith and respond in a manner consistent with their biblical beliefs.

The second incident comes from golfer Jason Day and his challenges at the US Open Golf Tournament. At the end of his round on Friday, Day collapsed as a result of an incident of vertigo. After collapsing, he got up, gathered himself, and finished the last shots on the final hole of his round.

After spending much of the next twenty hours under medical supervision, he went out and played the third round of the tournament. It was evident from the start of his round that he was not feeling well. Due to the balance issues caused by his vertigo, the simple act of reaching down to tee up his ball or picking the ball up out of the hole after a successful putt became a difficult challenge.

Mr. Day held his own through most of the round, although his caddy would later share that Day almost quit three times during the round. Day was later quoted as saying that he was sluggish for the first half of his round but felt better in the early part of the back nine. However, by the time he got to the last four holes, he was dizzy and nauseous.

Determined to finish the round, Jason Day said he had to focus extremely hard just to hit each shot, as he persisted through the last several holes. Amazingly, he birdied three of the last four holes and ended the third round tied for the lead in the tournament.

Obstacles come to instruct, not destruct.

We make the decision – either as a group or as an individual – whether to react to negative situations constructively or destructively. And it’s always our choice. We can choose to use challenges, disappointments, and tragedies to motivate us to act in a positive way. Or we can choose to succumb to disappointment and defeat. If we do that, then we give in to the situation and, ultimately, to failure.

Each of us encounter obstacles and frustrations every day of our lives. Seldom are they anywhere near as significant as what the church in Charleston faced this week. But the attitude and habit of overcoming challenges that we develop when reacting to small setbacks will prepare us to deal with bigger challenges. We can decide to face challenges and learn from them.

When bad things happen to you this week, no matter how trivial, make the decision now to react to them in a positive manner. Decide that you will face them with a positive attitude. Choose to address the situation by using it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you can develop the habit of responding to difficult situations in a positive way when small bad things happen, you will equip yourself to deal effectively when faced with a significant and extremely difficult challenge.

The point is that the tremendous response of the Charleston church was not by chance. Rather their response was cultivated in the faith and community that they had developed over time. It prepared them to face the horrible events of last week based on the love and forgiveness described in the Bible. Instead of the anger and vengeance that is so often seen in our culture, they were able to respond out of genuine love and forgiveness.

Our ability to successfully deal with major challenges will be born in our response to the small obstacles we deal with every day. Learn from obstacles and you will be prepared when the inevitable crisis comes.