I’m a recovering control freak. I’d like to keep the upper hand, but someone always has a little more umph. You know what I’m talking about?
My circumstances rarely submit to my commands. Funny how life doesn’t have to listen to you. But, I’m starting to get used to it. And I’m ever-so-slowly learning that my happiness and success in life isn’t contingent on how much power I wield.
This is one of my favorite quotes, and although I’ve shared it before, I’ll do it again. Because we all need to be reminded of our human weakness–our dependence, our need for perspective.
The only thing I can truly control is my attitude.
How does a person move from focusing on circumstances, no matter how dire or depressing, to recapturing joy?
First off, that person has to want to live a life of joy. Scoff if you will, but not everyone truly wants to be happy. They may claim that they do, but some so identify with their misery or victim mentality that they wouldn’t know how rest in contentment regardless of the situation they find themselves in (Phil. 4:11). To them, happiness will only come if X,Y, Z line up perfectly (ahem, so it never comes).
Here are some practices I’m trying to implement in my own life, generating a life of greater perspective and joy.
1. Create a Complain-Free Zone: Several years ago Will Bowen challenged people to go 21 days without complaining. His premise, “You can’t complain your way to health, happiness, or success.” Our culture tempts us to whine and throw elaborate parties of misery. “Join me, we’ll all complain together.” To choose to focus on the half full vs. the half empty may raise some puzzled eyebrows, but we do so not only for our joy but for our health. A spirit of “woe is me” negativity may propel us to change things, but it never produces rest, hope, peace, or joy in our lives. We are always looking for something better on the horizon to do that.
“Habitual complaining creates a negative environment in which it is difficult to experience God’s peace. Embracing a call to give thanks is not a call to hypocrisy, nor is it an invitation to paper over life’s difficulties. Real gratitude is something far stronger. It’s a call to proclaim the great truths of our faith whether times are good or bad” (Ann Spangler, The Peace God Promises).
2. Regularly read a biography of a Christian martyr. Walking in another person’s shoes will zoom the scope and give you new perspective on your light and momentary struggles (2 Cor. 4:17). If Corrie Ten Boom can forgive her oppressors at Ravensbruck… If Betsie Ten Boom can thank God for fleas and cramped quarters… If Perpetua could joyfully endure the horrors of the arena… If John Bunyan can write from prison…. If Joni Eareckson Tadi can paint and preach… If Bonhoeffer… If Luther… On the list goes. Read them. Appreciate the contrast.
3. Choose Forgiveness. Wess Stafford, CEO of Compassion Int., was the son of missionaries to Africa. Like many children of that era, he was sent to a missionary boarding school at the young age of six. “Unbeknownst to his parents, he and the other children were subjected to unspeakable acts of cruelty for infractions as minor as opening their eyes when they were supposed to be napping or leaving a wrinkle in a bedspread. Their persecutors threatened them, saying that their parents’ ministry to the Africans would be destroyed if they ever disclosed what was happening at the school.” He eventually told his parents what he was experiencing, but was also forced to endure the pain and humiliation of holding a burning candle up against his tender flesh. “Asked how he moved from pain to deliverance, he answers: ‘At age 17, I realized that those who hurt me would never apologize. They weren’t even sorry. But I could no longer bear carrying the pain of my past, so I chose to forgive them anyway. Get out of my heart. Get out of my mind. Get out of my life! I remember saying, ‘What you did to me will not define me. You stole my childhood, but you cannot have the rest of my life. Get out–I forgive you!’ Wess’s remarkable story set the trajectory of a life that has been spent championing vulnerable children throughout the world.” (Spangler, 72).
4. Focus on eternity. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). We are headed for a forever perfect, a forever peace, a forever gleeful abundance. This life may feel long, tiresome, or even harsh, but we are here only briefly. Forever awaits us.
“Not only will an eternal perspective change our actions, it will also change our attitudes. Living with eternity in mind will infuse us with a joy and purpose that can sustain us in daily life, even as we face hard things.” Randy Alcorn