Shake It Off and Step Up

Years ago someone passed this story on to me via e-mail:

A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule “praying” (or whatever mules do when they fall into wells).  After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together, told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially, the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he should shake it off and step up! This he did, blow after blow: “Shake it off and step up – shake it off and step up – shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows, or how distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up!  It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, actually helped him – all because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

I’ve thought a lot about the premise here. We all deal with pressures that life throws at us. The problem is that many times we don’t deal with those pressures very effectively. Life is better when we face a pressure-filled circumstance, deal with it and move on, leaving it behind. Life is tough when the same pressures hound us week after week, month after month and year after year.

So, what are some of the ineffective ways that people deal with pressure? By observation (sometimes self observation) I’ve seen these: some people “zone out”. The dictionary defines this as “becoming inattentive or dazed”. How do they zone out? Sometimes through alcohol or drugs. Sometimes parked in front of the TV. Sometimes even in activities or their chosen occupation. The problem is that none of these things by themselves will help a person deal and move on.

Others go the denial route. Yes, the dictionary has a definition for this also: “the reduction of anxiety by the unconscious exclusion from the mind of intolerable thoughts, feelings or facts.” The “denial-ist” says things like, “What pressure?!” “Everything’s fine.” “If I refuse to admit I have a problem, maybe it will go away.” The problem here is that most problems and pressures don’t go away on their own. They tend to get worse.

Another group facing life’s pressures just quits! They stop showing up, stop trying and just throw in the towel. I’m convinced that everyone feels like quitting at one point or another, but again this doesn’t solve the basic problem. They may feel a temporary lapse in pressure, but the problem is still right there waiting to raise up its ugly head.

I’ve observed still another group that takes on a martyr complex. By this I mean that they’ll tell you that they’re not going to quit, but they’ll also let you know – on a regular basis – how deep their suffering is. “Poor old me! Have I told you how bad I have it?” It’s like they think that drawing sympathy from people around them will somehow solve their problems. Well, it just isn’t so.

“Have you found any principles that do work?” you might ask. Well, yes. Allow me to list a few.

(1)   Daily devotions. That’s right, I mean spending some time in prayer and Bible reading every day.

(2)   Treat your body right. Exercise, eat right, get good rest, drink plenty of water – all these help keep your body strong and healthy. You’ll have a much more difficult time with life’s pressures with a worn out body.

(3)   Make use of the ministry of the Body of Christ. For the Christian, every other true Christian is our brother or sister and part of the same “body”. We have differing gifts and abilities that are God-given for us to use to help each other out. Don’t abuse the privilege but take advantage of the prayer, encouragement and partnership your brothers and sisters provide. Attend church regularly and become part of a small group. There’s strength in numbers!

(4)   Take control of your life. It is your life. Don’t be a doormat to those around you. Stand up and face life head-on with purpose and determination.

(5)   Develop patience. The Bible says that patience develops and grows in us when we choose an attitude of joy, even when the pressure’s on. [James 1:2-4] Don’t allow a “poor old me” attitude. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. If you fall down, get back up. Persevere…endure. You’ll reap benefits from it.

(6)   Choose a positive attitude. Your attitude is…your attitude. Don’t allow people or circumstances around you to dictate what your attitude will be. Choose for yourself. Choose to be positive, not negative.

(7)   Take control of your tongue. If you talk about life’s problems, life’s problems get bigger. Talk about God, how good He is and how much bigger He is than all the problems and pressures of life put together. Here’s a little secret I’ve learned: only talk about your problems with someone who can actually help you out. If your purpose in discussing your problems is fishing for sympathy then, well, shut up!

It’s our choice. We’ll either reign in life or get rained on. Choose well grasshopper!