3 thoughts on outward focus

My husband, Gary, and I were anticipating hiking a new trail with friends. Four-in-One Cone in the Sisters (Oregon) Wilderness with views of seven distinct, massive, rock-solid peaks. As we began our climb, we found ourselves in the clouds. Dense. Gray. No mountain views in sight. Worse, I couldn’t seem to get warm; I was focused too much on the damp coldness.

A week later, Gary and I hiked the same trail and climbed the same cinder cone. This time, the views were stunning. And although it was cold, my focus was on the splendid 360-degree canvas in shades of blues and whites.



North and Middle Sister, left to right (Photo credit: Gary Johnson)


Two similar experiences with completely different focuses (foci?). Although the landscape had not changed, what we saw and experienced this time was completely different from our first trek to this exact same place.

Life is a bit that way, isn’t it? Two people can face identical situations with uncommon outcomes, depending on the focus.

I recently came across this wisdom from Beth Moore:

Nothing about outward focus during inward pain is natural but it could well be our survival.

It’s normal to focus inwardly. On us. On our setbacks in health and the complications from having cancer that affect our families and finances and future.

Sometimes, though, surviving the frustration, loss, pain, sorrow, anger, discouragement, self-pity—Hubby and I know all of these guys intimately—can be as simple as looking outwardly and then doing something about what we see.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on outward focus:

Seeing others changes the view. 

When we truly notice other people who have been abandoned, broken, diagnosed; who are incurable, hungry, hopeless, heart-broken — this takes the focus off, and can consequently lessen, our own sorrows.

How do we train ourselves to see others? Through opportunities to give. Volunteer activities. Random acts of kindness. Gary once saw a young man trudging down our street under the burden of a Christmas tree. At a time when cancer was lifting its ugly head, my husband gave this young man and his tree a ride home, which turned out to be some distance to walk with a tree on your back. But no trouble in a pick-up truck. Took twenty minutes. Cost maybe all of twenty cents in gas.

Noticing people staggering beneath the weight of Christmas trees, figuratively speaking, takes a concerted effort to see beyond our own staggering weight.

With outward focus, we live more fully.

By fully, I mean gratefully hopefully generously heart-wide-open purposefully. I’ve written before about one of the ways in which Hubby and I chose to give back within the cancer community by establishing a non-profit and sharing our living-well-with-terminal-cancer story across the country, speaking vulnerably, spreading hope, sharing practical take-away tips. We benefitted more than any of our audiences, believe me.

In full living, we can better shape our destinies.

What I choose to focus on determines how I live today. And how I choose to live today greatly impacts my tomorrows.

My husband and I had some rather large goals. We were operating in some of them — i.e., the non-profit-sharing-our-story thing — and we were working toward others. We were just foolish enough to believe that these large and impossible (to us) dreams could come to fruition with God’s interference, despite the terminal-cancerness.

And then Gary died. Being on my own is different. But whether I’m part of a couple or living singly, I get to help shape my destiny. And so I have chosen to continue an outward focus on my way to the rest of my days on earth.

More wisdom from Beth Moore:

If you and I want to lie down and die long before we’re dead, being self-consumed in our season of suffering should do the trick.

Pretty blunt stuff right there. Your thoughts?

P.S. If you know someone with inward pain who might be encouraged by this blog, please share, tweet or pin!


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Because I can


  1. Julie Koon

    And thankfully, with that outward focus choice thing, creativity doesn’t die. And hope lives on…
    God is good.

  2. Jennifer Killam

    Marlys— Your best article yet. I am happy to have found it, or have it found me! Thank you!

  3. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    I jokingly have said in the past that when we are born, God gives us a ‘community service order’, we were born to serve God. Then, in time if and when we realise what ‘service’ we give/share without thinking, perhaps in our teenage years, we realise too how we are rewarded for the service we have given. Joining the Police Service at 16 (as a cadet) my life of ‘service’ to society with God’s help was already set in place and I/we were there to carry out His ‘service’ and in doing so I/we have always been thankful for the rewards received in ‘being there’ for folks.
    I recall when I was 16, a Lt. Col’ in the British Army who gave me a reference to become a Police Officer saying, “Remember Peter, a stranger is the friend you’ve yet to meet”. So, to meet and greet people you may daily meet, is the first contact you may have with someone who may need your help and as a Police Officer, that’s what I/we were there for. Love the way this blog reminds us what we are here on Earth for, thanks to all who contribute.
    Our love, Barbara & Peter.

  4. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    Marlys, On that ‘venture across USA (4,381.69 miles), 38 families took us 2 strangers in as ‘good Samaritans’ and I know only too well who my friends are. They had no idea who we were other than I put my Police background on the line and ‘strangers have become such good friends’ Amen to that. And, I hope and pray that we remain friends, for what ever reason or purpose and caring. Our love, God Bless, Barbara & Peter.
    PS I will sing ‘You’ve got a friend’ at the week end and I will remember you and all those folks who were once strangers, who are now so important in my/our lives.

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