The summer had been unusually cold and wet, and I was longing for the sun, which I hadn’t seen in months – or so it seemed. I excitedly headed off to visit friends in southern France for a few days, confident that sunny weather was waiting for me there. And I wasn’t disappointed. On my first day, elated at finally seeing clear blue skies, I headed out for a walk … and promptly twisted my ankle.
The injury was so bad that I could do nothing but sit with my leg elevated. Any pressure on my foot sent pain shooting throughout my body. As you can imagine, my attitude took a nosedive, and the Lord and I had a little talk. I didn’t travel all this way to sit around and do nothing.
It soon dawned on me that, although I couldn’t change my plight, I could certainly influence how I would experience it. Before me, the choice was clear: be miserable or make the most of the situation. After I got over my little temper tantrum, I decided that nothing would keep me from enjoying my visit. After all, didn’t I want the sun? Well, I could spend all day in the garden, soaking in the rays while reading a book. And you know what? I did have a good time after all.
I realize this event is relatively minor on the scale of incidents that can steal our joy. But the principle is the same regardless of the severity of our circumstances: our attitude influences how we experience life. When the Apostle Paul wrote the encouragement to “rejoice at all times,” (1) he was in prison – not exactly a cheerful environment.
So what was his secret? By adding the words “in the Lord,” he gives us the answer. God is the source of our joy, and the closer we are to him, the more we can rejoice regardless of our situation.
Paul isn’t telling us to rejoice at everything. There’s no evidence he was ever happy about being a prisoner, and I certainly wasn’t thrilled about my sprained ankle. Many incidents bring us nothing but sadness, and we shouldn’t minimize them. Instead, Paul shows us by word and deed that we can always find reasons to rejoice despite our circumstances. The mystery is that we can have both sadness and joy at the same time.
We have no control over many things, but our attitude is not one of them. What we focus on determines how we experience the events that fill our lives. I learned that lesson back in southern France and have tried to apply it ever since – with varying degrees of success. May we be like the Apostle Paul, who could find joy in even the darkest of circumstances.
(1) Philippians 4:4