Dear Mr. Callaway,
I enjoy your books and your sense of humour. In my early teens laughter was easy. I'm 17 now and the joy is gone from my life. How do you live a life of joy?
PS Here's a cheesy joke for you. There were two peanuts walking down the street. One was a-salted.
Thanks for your honesty. The first thing you need to do is find a new joke. I've been peppered many times with the one about the peanut being a-salted. Replace it with this one: Did you hear about the fire at the circus? It was intense.
OK, maybe the peanut joke isn't so bad.
First let me say, I've been 17. It's not easy. I was skinny, pimply, had girl trouble, and my car sounded like a cat with hiccups. Seventeen is hard. Fifty-one is better, but you don't have to wait that long to bring the joy back. Here are some steps.
First, realize that joy is a bit like those missing socks from the dryer: it's something you may not find by looking for it. Joy comes from walking in obedience to God, making small decisions to choose the best when the worst shows up, and knowing that He is accomplishing amazing things behind the scenes even when life seems messy.
So, wake up right each day. If you have to crawl back into bed and start over, that's OK. Go ahead. Take a deep breath. Remember to let it out. Grin. Say a quick prayer of thanks. You woke up in a bed. Breakfast is 20 steps away. Too many people don't have either. Next have a wake-up song ready. One that'll focus your mind on things that last forever. Sing it or play it. Back in the 1400s when I was 17, I listened almost every morning to a guy named Chuck Girard singing, “I love the feeling when I get up in the morning and my heart is beating fast with gladness. Oh what a feeling when I rise and think about You, You wash away all morning sadness.” When we fix our eyes on Jesus we find there's nothing—not even girl trouble—that the two of us can't handle together that day.
Next, say something nice to the first person you see. Maybe it's Mom or Dad or a sibling. Try a compliment about food or clothes or hair. Go slowly at first. The shock may be too much for them. When you leave the house, remember to go M-A-D. Go Make A Difference. Like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker you'll have opportunity all day to choose the dark or the light. Brighten the world for others and the sun will shine on you.
People will try to drive you crazy; you won't let them. Remember everyone on earth is at least just a little bit lonely, so befriend a lonely, uncool person. Make friends who love the right things, who have great attitudes. If you hang out with guys who suck lemons, you'll look really ugly and wrinkly by the time you're my age. Don't blame others. And don't be afraid to get a job flipping burgers. Use half the money to support a needy child. It'll change your life. Remember your teachers aren't so bad. You'll appreciate them once you get a boss.
Don't listen to lies grown-ups tell. Here's one: “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Sorry. You can't. Have you watched American Idol? But you can do anything God wants you to. His script for your life is better than anything you will ever write. So talk to Him about it. Trust Him. And find that one thing you love to do.
Here's another lie: “You'll never amount to anything.” You already have. You're a much-loved child of the living God. I was not a model in high school. One teacher had had enough of me and said, “Callaway, you'll never amount to anything.” The second said, “You have a gift. I want you in my Communication Arts class tomorrow morning.” Guess which teacher literally transformed my life? The other one? Well, I send him my books whenever they're translated into Chinese. (Just kidding.)
Read the book of Proverbs. It gives guidance on relationships, money, and the future. It teaches discernment, confidence, work ethics, and sexual purity. This book will shape your life. And a God-shaped life is a joy-filled life even when tough times show up.
PS Don't stop telling jokes. Here's another one for you: What do you call an alligator wearing a vest? An investigator. Actually, your peanut joke is sounding better all the time.