The Last Human Freedom

The Last Human Freedom

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“The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude.”

So wrote Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust, living through the deprivation and horrors of both Auschwitz and Dachau.

Pprisoner of the Nazi concentration campConsider the background for his writing about freedom.

His wife, parents, and brother were killed by the Nazis. His captors imprisoned him with barbed wire. They assigned him his lice-infected bed. They gave him one set of striped prison clothes. They allowed him no menu options, just a crust of bread and watered-down soup.

They told him when to wake up, when to work, and when to sleep. They controlled all his relationships and restricted his speech, severely punishing the slightest disrespect or opposition.

They took away every freedom a person can have … except for one. They could not force their way into his mind and take away his freedom to choose his attitude toward his circumstances and his life. That was his and his alone to control.

The same is true for you and me, especially with the much smaller struggles we face.

Your difficult spouse cannot control your attitude. But you can.

Your rebellious teen cannot control your attitude. But you can.

Your ungrateful supervisor cannot control your attitude. But you can.

You and you alone will choose whether you will be hopeful or despairing today. Thankful or grumbling. Cheerful or miserable. Patient or irritable. Encouraging or critical. Kind or harsh. The list of choices goes on and on.

Yes, it’s hard to choose a positive attitude in the face of difficult circumstances or hurtful relationships. But with God’s help, you can choose an attitude that reveals his presence and power in your life.

That’s what Paul and Silas did in Philippi. After offending some merchants, they were severely flogged and thrown into prison, with their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:23-24). Every freedom taken away … except the freedom to choose their attitude in the face of brutal persecution. What did they choose?

They chose to pray for God’s grace, which he poured out so lavishly that they overflowed with singing and praise, and a gospel sermon resulting in salvation for their jailer and his family (Acts 16:25-34).

You can draw on the same grace and choose a similar attitude today. If you dwell much on Jesus and his gospel, as Paul did, you can choose to be hopeful, thankful, cheerful, patient, encouraging, and kind, no matter what your circumstances may be.

Doing so will impact every relationship in your life. It will impact how you view and engage God, how you view and engage yourself, how you view and engage the people around you (also known as “the SOG Plan).

Most importantly, choosing to remember your identity in Christ, even in the midst of challenging circumstances, will give rise to an attitude of faith and hope, which will in turn reveal the life-giving and life-changing presence of Jesus Christ in your life.

– Ken Sande

Reflection questions:

  • What enabled the apostle Paul to be content in every circumstance of life? (Phil. 4:11-13)
  • What attitude does God call us to choose when we are experiencing hardship or injustice? (Psalm 37)
  • How can an increased awareness of Jesus’ attitude impact our relationship with the people around us? (Phil. 2:1-11)
  • Both the Psalms and personal experience show that life sometimes involves real pain, grieving, and sorrow. What do the Psalms teach us about honestly experiencing and expressing that suffering, while still maintaining an attitude of faith and hope? (Psalm 73; Psalm 102)

For more guidance on how to improve your relational wisdom, see Discover RW.

Permission to distribute: Please feel free to download, print, or electronically share this message in its entirety for non-commercial purposes with as many people as you like.

© 2013 Ken Sande

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One Response to "The Last Human Freedom"
  1. I wish I could remember when I first discovered Victor Frankl’s book, A Man’s Search for Meaning. It was one of those books that interrupted my life in a profound way; it was a window into suffering and the resilience of what one can endure. I thought of the early Christian martyrs and the joy they felt for the privilege of suffering for Christ. These ideas were so new to me. They were stories of victims who understand a great refuge. I started thinking about my own suffering, so slight in comparison, but still needy of a refuge. Then there was this disturbing complication: perhaps I was partly to blame in a conflict. One is rarely completely innocent. Perhaps not culpable, but relationally unwise…..sitting in my heart refuge trying to figure out just how a conflict went down and replaying it ad infinitum. And those awkward moments when we’re in conflict with another believer who is spiritually in the same refuge? Regardless of the circumstance, the glory of God as our refuge is the overflowing presence of His nature: his goodness and his strength. No sin that drives us into that holy place can abide there. I love the way His refuge gives me far more than endurance, but the Embrace I long for.

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