Find Your Joy

As we approach the holiday season, people start talking about “joy.” It made me start thinking: “What is the definition of joy?” It’s not a word we use in our daily conversation, or at least not the people I hang around with. People don’t generally say “I am so joyful,” or “I really experienced joy today.” And, yet, joy is something we think we should have and we feel bad if we don’t have it.

Webster’s Dictionary #1 definition is: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. The #2 definition is: “a state of happiness or felicity.” I am sorry, Webster’s, but I think it is a very sad state of affairs if our happiness or felicity is dependent upon external circumstances, such as what we have or how successful we are. If it is, we are all bound to be frequently un-joyful. I prefer the second definition.

True joy, and consistent, non-mercurial joy has to come from within and can not be a mere reflection of our circumstances. In reality, we, as humans, are very limited in how much we can control our circumstances, try as we might. However, we can seek to find our own joy. Particularly when things are chaotic, or hectic, or stressful, I find joy in the small things, like a cozy fire, a cup of herbal tea, a good book, relaxing music, puppies. Where you find joy will be personal and specific to you. But in order to find this type of joy, we have to slow down, take a beat, and be very observant.

If, like me, you are a follower of Christ, you know that true joy comes from God dwelling within us. If we love God and love each other and keep His commands, God’s joy will be in us and and that joy will be complete. John 15.

Go find your joy and be complete.

Before the Phoenix can Rise

We have all heard about the phoenix rising from the ashes. Of course, it’s a metaphor for coming back to life after apparent total destruction. Too many times we burn down our own lives through our bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes others burn our lives down through their bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. And, occasionally, circumstances such as health problems, job loss, or natural events burn our lives down. When we face such catastrophic times, we are, understandably, devastated. We feel overwhelmed. We mourn the things we have lost. Sometimes we feel like giving up.

But, maybe, we can look at these seasons in our life in a different way. In order to have the opportunity to be a phoenix, by definition, we need to first face total destruction. We can’t rise again as new creatures unless and until the old version of us is destroyed. It’s kind of like trying to restore an old house — you can add on, expand, renovate and redecorate to try to make that old house better. But sometimes you get to the point where it just becomes apparent that it is easier, and probably more cost efficient, to tear the old house down to the foundation and start again. In that way, we don’t have to work around the old plumbing, electrical, shifting foundation, or persistent mold. We get to start anew and re-design and re-build the house that we really want.

So it is, also, with people. Sometimes in order to rebuild ourselves into the person we want to become, we have to do a complete tear down. Maybe we have to walk away from a career, or from some relationships. Maybe we need to root out unhealthy bad habits. Maybe we need to take a break from the rat race of life and take time to reflect and reevaluate. And sometimes the bad things that cause disruption and “burn down” our lives force us to do just that. If that happens, we have the opportunity to rise again from the ashes and re-create ourselves as the person we wish to be. Not that it is easy. Not that we won’t be tempted to give up. But if we focus our thoughts on the goal — of the phoenix we want to become — we may receive the strength to rise.

You are NOT Worthless!

I have spoken with so many different individuals lately who have expressed feelings of worthlessness. Maybe it’s just my perspective, but it seems to be an epidemic. Life is full of difficulties; we all face challenges and times when we struggle. We can’t control many of our circumstances and we are bound to have times when we feel discouraged, beat up by life, stressed, or even powerless. I have faced my challenges and know there will be more to come. However, it breaks my heart to hear more and more people say they feel “worthless.” They say things like, “I am a waste of air,”,”No one cares if I live or die,” or “I wish I was never born.”

I imagine the source of this level of hopelessness may be varied. Perhaps it comes from abandonment, traumatic life events, failed relationships, or other types of loss. In today’s global environment, it is easy to feel small and insignificant. But I also suspect our current culture of social media greatly contributes to this problem of feeling worthless. On the internet, we see surface-level images of people designed to make others admire them. Judgements and criticisms are made in a snap second, without any real knowledge of a person. We have no idea if that person’s accomplishments are real, or what struggles they may have behind that glossy image they show the world. If we do not have sufficient “likes” or “followers” in this internet world, or if people say unkind or even cruel things about us, we can feel as if we are not valuable, that we don’t matter.

Every single human being on this planet has worth. Our Creator does not make errors; he does not have “seconds” in the production line that should be cast in the trash. How financially successful, or politically powerful, or even popular we are should not be the measure of our worth. Likewise, the fact that some ignorant, callous individual may tell us we are worthless does not, by any means, make it so. It must be tremendously painful and disheartening to feel as if one has no value.

How can we discover that inherent value in ourselves? First of all, maybe we can make a list of all our strengths and abilities. Then, we can think of people in our lives that actually care for us. Finally, and I think this is very important — if we want to feel worthwhile, and of value, we should seek out ways to make ourselves needed or useful. Look for others who need assistance in areas which we can provide it. These “others” can be family, friends, neighbors, or total strangers. There are many volunteer organizations that can use an extra set of hands. When we take a break from examining our own pitiful situation and look outside to others’ pain, we gain a certain perspective. Even more beautifully, if we can be part of the solution (in whatever small way) to someone else’s difficult circumstance, we immediately receive a feeling of being needed, useful and…. worthy.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

Walking on Water

The Bible, in more than one Gospel, gives an account where Jesus’s followers were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. One of his disciples, Peter, said to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Jesus summoned Peter to come to him. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29) Jesus reached out his hand to Peter and pulled him back up. “You of little faith”, he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

How many times am I like Peter in this story? I think my faith is strong. I am sure I can walk on water and bravely step out of the boat. And, at first, I am succeeding. Look at me! I’m a spiritual rock star! And, then, the wind kicks up. The storm rolls in. I notice the waves all around me and I freak out. When I take my eyes off Jesus, and focus on the danger around me, I begin to sink. But, fortunately, and reliably, He is always there to reach out his hand and snatch me from the raging sea. It is my lack of faith that causes me to despair. May I remember that my faith will allow me to do what is seemingly impossible, and that my lack of faith will allow me to falter. When you face the storms of life, keep your eyes above the waves and summon your faith. Hopefully, you, too will be able to do the impossible.

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