How to find joy in the midst of trials
past weekend, I said the hardest goodbye of my life. My dad battled
stage 4 cancer so bravely and so gracefully for 9 months. On Sunday
morning, with a breathtaking view of the sunrise painting stripes of
gold across his hospital room, his strong and kind heart beat for the
last time at 8:17AM.
Unbeknownst to me, my dad kept a journal
of written prayers over the course of his journey through cancer. They
read like love letters – to God, to his family, to his church, and even
to the compassionate men and women who attended to him during his time
in the hospital.
I won’t lie to you and say that my dad
was unfazed by his fight with cancer. The truth is, there were days when
he was too exhausted to get out of bed, too weak to walk to the
mailbox, or too nauseous to eat his favorite foods. Any normal person
would naturally feel depressed by such a fate as that and we wouldn’t
blame him for it.
However, as evidenced in these written
prayers, my dad found a way to keep his head above the water when it
came to depression; he discovered the secret to instantly transforming a
heartache into rechargeable joy. And no matter what you’re going
through, I know that this one insight can help you maintain your own joy
even when the world around you is falling apart.
The formula is simple:
Selflessness will drown depression every time. Every time. This happens because:
- You allow focus to shift
from yourself to another’s need. This is like throwing up a detour sign
to the avalanche of exhausting thoughts pulling at the frayed ends of
your sanity and watching them speed right past you.
- You transform energy
that will otherwise drain you into energy that is constructive. Among
Freud’s many defense mechanisms is the idea of ‘sublimation’,
transforming emotions into positive actions.
- You embrace the beauty of at-one-ment.
Your world has gone from population: 1 (just you) to population:
infinity (there’s no limit to the number of people you can form a
connection with in this state of mind).
Selflessness is how to find joy
in the midst of trials because it combats depression and transforms
thoughts and energy into an unstoppable force that will enlarge your
heart and change the world around you.
I first learned of this
concept from New York Times Bestselling Author Gabrielle Bernstein.
When asked how she combated depression, her answer was simple. She said
that she simply picks up a phone, calls a friend, and asks how she can
help them. The depression dissolves immediately.
I didn’t buy it at first. After all, if I
was drowning in depression, how could I possibly find the energy to
help someone else? Or, more selfishly, what would I care about someone
else’s needs when I was nursing my own wounded heart?
It wasn’t until reading my dad’s letters
to God recently that I finally understood it. It finally became clear.
You see, when your night is darkest and the wind is howling and there’s
no escape route in sight…selflessness is actually the only thing that
can lead you out! You can choose to feed the harmful emotions that are
attacking you and focus all your energy to them–but this isn’t going to
reward you with the peace you deserve and want.
Understand: I’m not saying to not feel your emotions. It’s only in feeling our emotions that we can move through them. What I’m saying is to shift your thinking in the midst of your emotions.
As I said before, my dad’s 9 months
through cancer weren’t always brimming with sunshiny moments and he
could’ve easily fallen into an inescapable depression. However, my dad
made a choice to shift his thinking in spite of what he was going
through. In doing so, he was able to keep his spirits uplifted,
maintain his peace, and trust in his unshakeable faith. How did he do
Per the above formula…
1) Shift your focus. My
dad’s letters weren’t just prayers for healing. He also asked that God
would show him what he was supposed to learn during this experience and
how he could use his trial to help other people. More than this, he also
prayed that God would help his family, because he recognized we were
hurting too. Talk about selflessness!
When you find yourself giving too much
attention to your problems and how they are hurting you, turn the
microscope from inward to outward. Pray for other people. Write them
encouraging emails. Tell them you love them. Reach out to those who need
help. Ask yourself what lessons you’re learning that might benefit
someone who’s walking a similar road and then share them.
2) Transform your energy.
When you feel a wave of depression coming on, embrace it. Then redirect
the energy. Once my dad shifted his focus outward, he turned any
sadness he might have felt into action. He decided he wanted to help
children in need somehow and started to think of ways that he could
start a charity and have collection drives. While he didn’t get to
complete these efforts, he created an example that I could follow.
When a particular wave of depression
struck me just days ago and I was consumed with my sadness, I suddenly
found my focus shifting. How could I be a blessing to someone else in
this moment? I remembered my dad’s desire to help children, and that’s
when the idea blossomed in my mind to ask that in lieu of flowers,
people send us teddy bears that we would then go on to donate to
children in hospitals who are battling cancer. As my dad’s nickname is
‘Bear’, it was perfect synchronicity.
Suddenly, I was energized and felt more
alive than I had in a long time! I organized the drive and then sent
emails to friends and family about it. I had successfully transformed my
energy from something that was self-serving (focusing on my own
sadness) to one that was of service (making a difference in the lives of
3) Which leads me into the last step: embracing at-one-ment.
My dad asked God in his letters what lessons he could take away from
the experience, and he got his answer: to reach out, make new friends,
touch people’s lives, and effect them in a positive way.
My dad was always kind, warm, and
engaging with everyone who entered his room. He asked them about their
family, he thanked them for their service, and he treated everyone like a
brother or sister. Physicians and nurses who had only known him for
hours would make remarks about how he was such a great person with such a
Smile at strangers. Start conversations
with people and genuinely care about their responses. Be present in
every moment (silence the cell phone, ditch the laptop, power off the
TV). Give of yourself to others. Never let a day go by without telling
someone that you love them, appreciate them, and/or are glad to be
sharing this journey of life with them.
At the end of the day, we’re all apart
of the same big family. And the key to finding joy in the midst of our
most challenging and trying trials is to practice selflessness and
discover the peace, energy, and at-one-ment that comes with it.
What are some ways that you’re
embracing selflessness in your own life? Share your insights in the
comments below and share this article with a friend!
'May we live in peace without weeping. May our joy outline the lives we touch without ceasing. And may our love fill the world, angel wings tenderly beating.'