In June, I went to Zimbabwe with Body & Soul Fitness, earning service hours for Liberty University. It was amazing and powerful. And God used the time to open my eyes to recognize how worldly happiness is different from joy. True joy comes from a life focused on the Lord.
I think a lot about focus because of my interest in photography. Photography is a gift from God allowing us to capture precious moments and it can be beautiful, but it is up to the photographer to focus on a certain image and capture its beauty. These four pictures, that I took in Zimbabwe, show two distinct stories about the same moment.
By looking at only the first two pictures, you see one elephant’s tusk and trunk. But you get a new perspective when you look at the second set of pictures. You are suddenly able to see that there are two more elephants on the scene. In fact, there were three elephants in total in that place, however, as the photographer, I chose to focus on only one. My focus on that one individual elephant demonstrates how easy it is to miss all that is happening around you.
The way I see it, with anything but God as the center of your life, your focus will always be off, never able to capture the fullness of joy. It’s like waking up each day and trying to manage life without the Bible or without God’s help—our life will become unfocused, kind of blurry, in a sense, and we may later realize we missed out on true joy.
As a photographer, I have had to learn to put down my camera from time to time, removing it as a blinder, and refocusing on what is all around me to be able to place my camera back to my eye and shoot a better, refocused image. When I am focused on a specific shot, I sometimes miss what is happening to my left and my right. This is true in my life even when a camera is not in my hands. If I am not careful I miss out on the opportunity to experience joys because I am focused on one thing, often the wrong thing.
I learned this lesson this past year as I finished my first year of college. For the first time in life, I had the complete freedom to do anything I liked. At first, my focus was on doing well in my classes but that quickly shifted to focusing on making friends. As I found my group, I began spending less and less time studying, doing my homework and ultimately skipping classes when my friends had something better planned. I was happy. Or so I thought. When my first semester ended and I received my final grades, I realized that I was anything but happy. Even without distractions, school is hard for me. I have to study more and work harder than my classmates, only to receive average grades. After Christmas break, I returned to school with a new focus. And that focus was God. I know for a fact that without God and without hard work, I won’t be able to complete my degree on time. I finally learned to say no when my friends wanted to ditch class to go to Cracker Barrel. It may seem small, but saying no like that was incredibly hard for me to do. Perhaps this is true in your life whether it’s saying no to your work so that you can put your family first or saying no to something that’s good, but isn’t the best.
In my own life, right now, I am choosing to focus on God by doing my very best. Not studying and ditching class was never my best. Ever since I’ve made this conscious change, my life is full of joy. True joy. Throughout day to day struggles, I am still able to experience the joy that can only be found in Christ.
Even a year later, I am still learning that God is like my high school photography professor. Someone looking over my shoulder, able to see all what is around me when I am focused on something else. Someone who is able to tap my shoulder and help me re-focus when I am distracted by worldly things. Someone who is teaching me to capture the true joy that can only come from Him. Just as I had the choice whether to take the advice of my professor, I also have the choice whether or not to re-focus on God and take what He is teaching me and apply it to my life. We all face this choice, don’t we? So, what about you? What are you focusing on? And how do you re-focus?
Jordan Stafford is a student at Liberty University, majoring in zoology. She is the daughter of the President of Body & Soul Fitness, Amy Stafford.