“Everyone carries an atmosphere about him. It may be healthful and invigorating, or it may be unwholesome and depressing. It may make a little spot of the world a sweeter, better, safer place to live in; or it may make it harder for those to live worthily and beautifully who dwell within its circle.”
I can't remember the first time I read this quote... I think I was laid up on a sofa somewhere, kindle in hand, and smothering it generously in yellow highlighter. It struck me instantly and it stuck. It resonated. And it challenged.
What was "my atmosphere"?
There are so many factors that impact my attitude everyday... how much sleep I've had, whether things are going "according to plan", whether my children are behaving themselves, whether my to-do list is being ticked off at what I see as an acceptable level... whether I'm seeing much of my husband, whether my house is tidy, whether I've spent time with the Lord, whether, whether, whether.... and at any one time, its all to easy to point the accusing finger at any one of these factors when my "atmosphere" is a little more unwholesome than I would like to admit...
But the fact is, as long as my "atmosphere" is dictated to by the variable factors of my life, I will never succeed at being that "sweeter, better, safer place"... instead I will only succeed at being a tumultous storm of emotions that is unreliable, unwelcoming and certainly not a haven of rest for those who find themselves in my presence!
So how do we create a healthful and invigorating atmosphere? Is it to be found in a simplified, decluttered home which welcomes people with the scent of candles and fresh coffee? Is it to be found in a fun-filled, creative family life? Is it to be found in the exploration of the great outdoors? In deep and meaningfuls over hot cups of tea? In quiet conversation over a freshly baked scone?
In my head, those things make for a healthful and invigorating atmosphere, but those things are so far from the reality of my day to day life - knee-deep in washing piles, surrounded by energetic children and with a diary that seems endlessly full - that I end up feeling overwhelmed and disappointed... I strive for the "healthful and invigorating", but it always just seems very slightly out of my reach... something so close, and yet just slightly out of my grasp. And before I have noticed it, I'm robbed of my contentment and feel resentful of anyone or anything I see as a barrier to those goals (disruptive children, a rainy day which prevents outdoor washing drying, another request on my diary... etc etc). And then my atmosphere does become unwholesome and depressing...
What hope is there for us, when in the very act of trying to create a positive atmosphere, our failure only leads us straight down the path of a negative one?!
Experience is teaching me that really there is only one way I can fix my "atmosphere" in the realm of that sweeter, safer place. And that is by rooting it firmly in Jesus. He is the only one able to secure me firm in the face of changing circumstances, challenges and joys. When my attitude is guided by him, rather than what is going on around me, it truly is my only hope of being a sweet, safe place! That's because his attitude... compassion, mercy, grace, patience, gentleness, kindness... And ultimately sacrificial love, are the very essence of who he is... And the very essence of what I want to, but can't, be...
So when I read that quote, I don't need to feel despair, or failure... Or even frustration. Instead, I can seek to live worthily and beautifully in Christ. The one who sacrificed his sweet, safe place for me.