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When Negative equals Positive

November 06, 2016

The only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions. But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stung with grief and anger.

"God, how could you do this to me!"he cried.

Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers.

 "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.

I can only imagine what was going on in this man’s mind after he realized that what was supposedly “ill-lack” to him was actually what saved his life! If that fire had not happened, he would probably still be there on that island today…. well, hypothetically speaking.  Or maybe some wild fish would have killed him by now; who knows.

In life, there are many things that happen to us that look like ill lack. They make us feel like the universe is against us and like it has conspired with everything and everyone in it to make life tough for us. At those times, it is very easy for us not to see that in the midst of all those bad things that may have happened, there are also some really good things that have happened too.

Taking the survivor mentioned in the above story for instance, in his “misery” he seems to have forgotten some very key (positive) things that happened to him in the midst of his tragedy. For instance, he was the only survivor of the shipwreck that killed everyone else that was on the same ship as he was. In his misery, he seems to have forgotten that very important fact. He could have been dead like all the others.

Secondly, he was washed up to a small-uninhabited island, meaning he was rescued from the jaws of those terrifying sea-creatures that eat human beings such as sharks and crocodiles. Unfortunately though, his life was recued but he does not see that part. As if that was not enough, when you read the story carefully, you also realize that he also had some personal belongings with him! So not only was his life saved but some of his personal effects were saved too!

The third thing we see from this story is that when he first landed on the island, he did not have any place to stay but for several days and nights, he slept under the open sky. It could have been very possible for him to be attacked by wild animals at night (assuming they could swim since he was on an island), or by some creepy crawlies such as snakes and scorpions, or even suffered heat stroke during the day. However, none of these elements got to him and if they were there, he survived them all.

The fourth thing we see is that while he was in that situation, he got the idea to build a thatched hut, something to shield him from the different elements thrown his way by nature. How did he do this all by himself? Where did he get the cutting tools from, or the nails to attach the sticks together? Of course my assumption in this would be that he had none of these things and so he got a bright idea to use seaweed as the “substance” to join the sticks together.

The fifth thing we see is that even though the small hut he had built was razed to the ground by the fire and destroying his personal belongings in the process, what he forgets is the fact that he could have been in the hut himself and lost his life too! Fortunately he was not in the hut at that time when it happened. Once again, his life was saved.

The sixth thing we learn from the fire is that it happened when he was not there. If he had been there, I believe he would have done whatever possible to stop the fire from spreading and subsequently burning the hut. By doing this, he would have unknowingly obstructed his rescue mission because his rescuers would never have known there was anyone stranded on the island. They would never have seen the smoke from the fire, which they thought was a smoke signal. He could have interfered with God’s grand plan to save him.

Lastly, the fire happened right at the right time. The timing was right because it happened just when there was another ship not very far off. It was the right time because the ship was able to see the signal and come to his rescue. What if the hut had burned down at a time when there was no ship in sight? Or what if it had not burned at all while the ship was passing? The survivor never thought of any of that stuff I guess.

Friends, many of us are like this shipwreck survivor. As human beings, we lose sight of the positive things that happen to our lives as soon as negative things start happening to us. It is never hard to appreciate life when things are all rosy and good, but it is very easy to get discouraged when things are going bad. At such times we lose sight of the good things that happen to us, as we tend to focus on all the negative things happening to us at that time.  At such times, everything seems to be negative and very few people remember to be grateful even for life itself.

I don’t know what your situation is right now, I don’t know what shipwreck you have experienced or are experiencing in your life at this particular moment. One thing I would like to encourage you not to do is focusing on the negative things that are going on around you. Instead, look at the positive things that have happened while you were going through those negative things. Start with simple things such as being grateful for being alive. Yes, being alive is something to be grateful for because not everyone who was alive yesterday is alive today, but if you are reading this article, it means you are alive.

Truth be told, if we all took time to analyze our lives, we would find hundreds of things to be thankful for on a daily basis. And yes, I have personally discovered that one of the ways of the strategies you can use to stop focusing on your troubles is by being thankful for what you already have, for the troubles you don’t have in your life. Gratitude creates a foundation for you to appreciate even the minutest of positive things that happens to your life. If you have no heart of gratitude for the little you have now, you will definitely never be grateful for the much you expect to get later. Like Frank A. Clark said, "If a fellow isn't thankful for what he's got, he isn't likely to be thankful for what he's going to get." Learn to be grateful.   

I have read many books and follow biographies of many prominent people. One thing I noticed is that they all got bright ideas at a time when they had just gone through a shipwreck of one nature or another in their lives, just like the survivor in this story got an idea to make a hut, in the midst of all his troubles. Like one of my favorite quotes says, “A set-back is a step-back to a come-back”.

Are you going through a shipwreck or a setback right now? Could be a shipwreck of losing a job, or a business failure, or a broken relationship/marriage, or some kind of rejection. Whatever your shipwreck is, don’t dwell so much on that negative aspect of your life right now. Instead, look at the opportunities that shipwreck has presented to you because believe it or not, there is something positive that will come out of it, just like the stars shine brightest when it is the darkest.

Whatever it is you might be going through right now, do not lose heart because even in the midst of all your pain and suffering, God is at work in your life. When your little hut is burning, don’t be afraid or be angry. It simply means help is on the way. It is a smoke signal that will summon help (the grace of God) upon your life.

Remember, every setback you face in your life is potentially a set-up that will launch you to a major comeback.  Stop focusing on the negatives in your life and see the (potential) positives in those negatives.


PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 6th November, 2016, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".



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