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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks”

In this episode, Greta Griffon goes to the Cutie Mark Crusaders with the intent of getting a Cutie Mark; believing that it’s the key to being able to spread the magic of friendship to the rest of griffonkind. Unfortunately for her, griffons getting Cutie Marks is simply impossible–only ponies can get them, and no amount of trying, wishing, or wanting will change that for griffons. However, by the end of the episode, both Greta as well as the Cutie Mark Crusaders realize that even if she can’t get a Cutie Mark, she can still embody friendship and spread it to others. She can still have something that makes her happy even if it isn’t what she would prefer, and she shouldn’t let the fact she can’t have some things make her forget she can have others. In either situation, the idea is that even if there are some things that we as individuals have no control over, we can’t let those things stop us from working with the things we do have control over…and, most of all, we can’t let those things we can’t change keep us from being happy.

It’s actually a shocking idea to many people that all individuals can choose to be happy. The cynic would say that it’s easy for someone in a first-world country to say that, but what about people living abroad in situations of war, famine, poverty, or total lack of civil liberties? Can they “choose” to be happy then? Well…for me personally, although I won’t be conceited enough to say they have to be happy, they can still choose to be happy. That’s something I had to learn for myself.

The fact is no one can make us feel one way or another. There is no magic set of external circumstances that will force us to be happy or sad…or angry or enthusiastic or tranquil or depressed or any other emotion. Feelings are God-given and they arise naturally from things that happen to us, which leads some people to think we can’t “own” our feelings. To an extent that’s true, but nevertheless there is nothing that makes everyone happy or sad. Take a tearjerker movie, for example. Some people are emotionally impacted by it and break down in tears; others laugh at the whole thing and make fun of it. Some people would be overjoyed and believe their worries were over if they could be making the US median income, while some millionaires sit around depressed and suicidal. Why does that happen?

While we may not have control of our feelings, we have control of what we let “get to us”, so to speak. What we allow to impact us emotionally and what we don’t. That’s why people we love often can hurt us far more with minor infractions than strangers or acquaintances who initiate a major betrayal. We may be angry at the latter case, but devastated in the former. Some people let everything in, and those people are especially emotionally vulnerable because everyone can hurt them deeply. Others do what we call “building up walls”, which is where they never let anyone in for fear of being hurt, but end up miserable and alone because God designed us to be social creatures.

As individuals, we can choose to let things in to make us happy or sad, or we can choose to block out the same things. And this, I have found, is the key to being emotionally stable. Depending on what you do, you can be an optimist or a pessimist–able to keep a smile on your face when the world is ending, or sad and despairing even if you have financial success and are surrounded by loved ones.

I still remember when I read the Bible for the first time that I got caught on several passages, but one in particular that stuck out to me is Proverbs 17:22. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” For a long time, I thought this proverb as an empty platitude. “Well, duh. Obviously it’s good to have a cheerful heart and not to have a crushed spirit, but how is that advice? You either have it or you don’t. What kind of proverb is this?” It wasn’t until years later that I started to realize that this wasn’t just a statement but a directive, because at the time I thought that I was helpless to my own feelings and had no control over them. Either I’d be happy or sad, and I had no control over it. But the truth is quite the opposite.

Just this last weekend I went to an anime convention. It’s the only anime convention I go to all year and I spend a third of the year preparing for it. Yet when I went this year, I kept thinking…all weekend long…about how the laptop I use at work had crashed and how I needed to get it fixed early on Monday morning. I kept dreading the worst. I kept thinking it would ruin me getting my tasking done on time. I kept thinking that my supervisor would be upset. I kept thinking how much it would mess up my normal schema and flow of a work day. And the truth is I didn’t really need to worry about any of that. It took some time to fix but it was no big deal and no one else cared. But because I was worried about it,  and wouldn’t stop being worried about it, I didn’t enjoy myself the entire weekend. Always whenever I sat down to do anything or enjoy anything, that fact was in the back of my head. It didn’t give me a moment’s peace until the car ride back from work on Monday.

I let that get to me. I let it dominate my thinking, because I thought to ignore it was to diminish the problem all together. I refused to mentally “put it down” for even a second. And so, surrounded by a fun time, with events and attractions I waited a year to see, with nothing to worry about for three days…I had a miserable time. I let one thing beyond my control destroy any chance of happiness I had even when I had plenty of reasons to be happy.

This is a rather simplistic example, but I hope that all of you can see the meaning behind it and apply it to bigger things. We can choose to let things tear us apart or let them slide. Likewise, we can choose to let things fill us with joy or ignore them completely. We can let the bad in our life keep us in a low, dark place or we can choose to see the bright things in our life and focus on them.

The Bible has examples of people who could have let their circumstances and problems bring them to their knees, but always managed to look beyond them. When thinking about David in the Old Testament, most people only think of him killing Goliath and becoming a great king of Israel. The truth is much of his life was rather hard and something no one would wish on themselves; such as his years on the run from King Saul leading him to be an exile from his own country, the constant wars he had to fight for his own survival and that of his nation, and eventually even seeing his own household turn on itself and his own son try to kill him. There were many times David was miserable and scared, as attested to in his Psalms. But whenever despair threatened to choke him or beat him down where he couldn’t rise, he always looked to God and put his hope in him. He focused on the fact that he knew God would be with him and deliver him, and that enabled him to rejoice even in dire circumstances. Just look at Psalm 27:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour me,
“it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
“though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
“that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
“to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
“he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
“at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
“Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.”

 

Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul was definitely a man of affliction, and none of us would wish the same life he had to go through. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27) And yet he always was able to keep going and have peace and even contentment in the worst circumstances. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phillipians 4:12-13) Paul put his faith in Lord Jesus, and in spite of being in situations that would leave most people physically as well as emotionally and mentally crushed, he always persevered and kept going without lack of enthusiasm. He knew his salvation was assured and the work he was doing was making a difference, and that carried him beyond all of his trials and troubles.

In both cases, the person looked to God. They knew he was there for them and would sustain them no matter what happened, would grant them success in their undertaking so long as they clung to righteousness, and none of that would change due to their circumstances. They kept their eyes on what was above and not on the pain and suffering they had to deal with below. As a result, they were never overcome by their depression and sadness but conquered all and went on to become great men of not only the Bible but of history.

My take-home message from today’s devotional goes out to all those who feel helpless, hopeless, and in despair. Don’t give everything bad in your life so much power as to choke out what good there is still there. Instead, remind yourself of what you have, or possibly still have, and let that carry you through any times of darkness.

Choose to let something make you happy today.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you are always with me and that you give me blessings in my life when I trust in you, if only I will take the time to look for them. When darkness, dread, and fear come upon me, especially when faced with tragedy, sadness, or loss, help me to always remember what I have now and to look forward to, and let these joys that you have granted me not be snuffed out by the gloom of things beyond my control. Help me to remember, in the words of William Ernest Henley:

‘It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.’
“Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
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