As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, I am reminded of the inspirational story of Patrick, who endured and overcame great hardship. Born in 385 AD, Patrick was captured and sold into slavery at the young age of 16. For six years, he suffered isolation and the cruelty of his captures, and eventually he escaped and was reunited with his family. Years later, Patrick returned to Ireland, the very place he was subjected to so much pain, and he spent the rest of his days preaching about God’s love. His influence on the people of Ireland and Europe was so great that even to this day we honor his story by celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
One of the most impactful books I have ever read is “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl. Frankl was a successful psychiatrist who held two doctorates, one in medicine and one in philosophy. He was well respected and had a thriving career in his native country of Austria, but in 1944 he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. In the three years he spent in Auschwitz and Dachau, not only was Frankl forced to watch the torture and death of countless numbers of friends, he also mourned the loss of his dear wife and child. As Frankl endured captivity, what he began to wonder was why some people seemed to give up in the midst of pain and stress, while others were able to persevere through the unimaginable. After he was freed, Frankl went on to live to the age of 92 and he dedicated the rest of his life to bringing hope and healing to suffering people.
While you and I may not be able to relate to being sold into slavery, or being held in captivity in a concentration camp, what most of us can relate to are the feelings of frustration, pain, and discouragement that come when the world around us seems unfair and out of control. When things at work or at school aren’t going as we’d hoped. When relationships fall apart and we experience the deep pain of loss. When everything we see and hear on the news and on the internet is filled with turmoil and injustice. How do we persevere when life is just not fair?
One thing that St. Patrick and Viktor Frankl had in common was their determination to focus on the truth that they were created for a reason and that their circumstances did not have to dictate how they would live their lives. They didn’t use their circumstances as a reason to treat others unkindly, to give up on people and life, or to deter them from living out their purpose. As a result, they overcame great obstacles and their stories have blessed the lives of thousands and thousands of people.
Just like Frankl and St. Patrick, YOU, my friend, were uniquely created with a purpose! There is nothing – no mistake, no mean person, no unfair circumstance – that can change that. There is nothing random or meaningless about your life, and every decision you make (behind closed doors and in front of others) impacts the world around you, for the better or the worse. Wars, disease, political unrest, and social injustices have always existed. Death, pain, heartache, and trials enter every person’s life at some point. The question should not be how can we avoid the inevitability of trials and frustrations, but instead, how will we respond to the circumstances we will face? Frankl once wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We can choose to be tossed about by the winds and waves of adversity, or we can choose to stay focused on our own personal mission to be the person we were created to be regardless of the circumstances around us.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl
(If you’d like to learn more about St. Patrick’s story, click here to watch this 10 minute video: St. Patrick – The Real Story )