No one has a perfect life. Everyone hits hard places. Outward looking is the key to joy even when you find yourself growing among the rocks.
During my lifetime I’ve faced: childhood sexual abuse and forced abortions to cover it up; living under a bridge; 150 rejection slips for books before getting published; divorce; raising a hyperactive son as a single parent; losing the job I loved after seven years; having my house and property stolen from me; bereavement after losing first a husband, then a son, relocating to another country. Then there were the minor rocky places; being kicked in the face by my horse; getting bitten by a cottonmouth; getting attacked by an African lion (they don’t make good pets); having my truck catch on fire in downtown San Antonio; living in an open-ended garden center with no indoor plumbing and wooden planks with a lawn chair mattress for a bed; working two and three jobs for survival. Through all of these things, I have never lost my joy. The joy of the Lord is my strength.
Recently, I’ve found myself counseling people who suffer from depression. I’ve never told them what I’ve been through. I’m no hero for having survived. My secret is Jesus and believing God’s Word: “In everything give thanks,” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) Just as important, my outward-looking verse, Philippians 4:8: “Finally…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
When we look inward on our lives and relive the past with all its pains, illnesses, disappointments, disillusionments and loss, we are bound to be depressed. It’s like punishing ourselves repeatedly for the times in life we’ve been forced to grow in rocks. Inward looking is living a defeated, powerless life – and it’s selfish. When we think, “me, me, me,” all the time, “look what happened to poor me,” we are being shallow and self-centered. Everyone hits rocky ground. No person holds a monopoly on tribulation.
When we look outward and forget about ourselves and what we’ve been through, we are infused with new purpose, power, and joy. Because of what we’ve been through, we can help others. Because we’ve survived, we are stronger. Because we develop grateful hearts, we are joyful.
So if you find yourself in rocky ground, forget where your feet are planted and look outward. Who can you help? Where can you volunteer? What new hobby can you find? What educational benefit can you add to your life? Visit folks at a nursing home. You don’t have to be an expert. Give them a smile and hold their hands. Make cards to send military who are fighting for your freedom – better yet – send them care packages. Adopt a dog or a cat. Adopt a child. Take an elderly neighbor out to lunch. Look outward – not inward. You will find your roots going deep into the secret well of joy…even if there are still rocks around your feet.
Of course…you might be a writer. Don’t talk about it – do it. Write that book that you’ve always wanted to write because you’re the one who can tell your story best.
Outward looking is the key to joy.