(I write my daughters aka "kittens" a short letter each week under the pseudonym "TOC"="The Old Cat". We've always had cats so this rubric works for us. My daughters are both in high school. I try to distill the wisdom gained from my 48 years that I wish I'd have learned when I was a teen.)
One of the keys to experiencing joy is to learn to understand the difference between the things that we can control and the things that we can’t control. In Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics), Epictetus taught, “It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.” In other words, how we feel or think about an event in our lives depends less on the event itself and more on the meaning that we give to it. Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles(TM) - 10th Anniversary Edition: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be offers a formula to help us understand the way of thinking advocated by Epictetus. Canfield suggests that we view life this way: Event (whatever happens) + Our Response = Outcome. If we reflect on this principle, we can recognize the part of each outcome that we can control. Of course, this means our response to the events that happen to us rather than the events themselves.
Once we gain this wisdom we can experience a deep joy that does not depend on our circumstances. We can find joy in the good times and the challenging ones. The apostle Paul adds a critical teaching that reminds us of God’s role in our response to events.
One of my favorite passages from Paul is Philippians 4:4–7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In these verses, Paul teaches us how to respond to events in a way that leads to joy and peace. Paul begins with joy and ends with peace. These are related. We can find joy in all circumstances by experiencing the inner peace and calmness that God can give to us. Paul wrote these words while awaiting trial under house arrest in Rome. His life was on the line and he faced possible execution. Yet, he can write about joy and peace in all circumstances. Kittens, I hope that your ears just perked up.
Here is what Paul says about how to respond to any event. I’ve put Paul’s teaching from Philippians 4:4–7 into a formula: Remember God’s provisions (“the Lord is near”) + release of anxiety in prayer + practicing gratitude in all circumstances = peace that passes all understanding. When faced with wonderful events or challenging events, we must remember that Jesus who experienced both death on a cross and Resurrection is present with us. Moreover Jesus has all futures under his control. Once we recognize this when we face an event that triggers our anxiety we must release our anxiety and fears to God in prayer. If you struggle releasing anxiety and find your mind racing, add a list of things for which you are grateful into the prayer. Gratitude is critical for grounding us in the present and pushing aside our anxiety about what an event means for our future. When we take these steps, we can experience God’s peace.
Then our gentleness can be evident to all. Paul is not advocating wimpiness or weakness. Gentleness is patient resilience. It is a cool confidence in the abundance of the future regardless of what happens. A response from a God-shaped gentleness rooted in joy and peace creates a much better outcome for us.
Kittens, life has highs and lows in it. This is unavoidable. The good news is that God provides a way to experience joy and peace for our journey. Jesus once said this to a raging storm: “Peace, be still.”
This is a calmness we can experience too.
With much love,
TOC aka "The Old Cat"
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