Family Works

Speaking on perspective

Rob Coombs ID. Min. Ph.D.
Posted 7/9/17

Life can be a wilderness or a paradise. It all depends on how you look at it and what you make of it. If it has seemed like a wilderness to you, that’s because you have seen it as a wilderness. …

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Family Works

Speaking on perspective


Life can be a wilderness or a paradise. It all depends on how you look at it and what you make of it. If it has seemed like a wilderness to you, that’s because you have seen it as a wilderness. Some people, given the same life and the same opportunities, see it differently. They see life as a paradise.

There’s a little verse I heard a number of years ago that expresses this: “Two men looked out from prison bars: One saw the mud, the other saw the stars.”

Even people who have borne great tragedy can continue to see the stars and view the world with courage and optimism. One of the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful girls I have ever known was a 14-year-old adolescent, whose optimism and joy for life seemed boundless. When told at 14 she had a cancer that appeared incurable, she smiled and said, “I’ll make the most of this.”

And then she continued to live life to its fullest, even though her body gradually deteriorated over the next 19 months. One of her dreams during this prolonged illness was to spend the ensuing summer doing what she liked best — traveling with a church youth group I led as part of my work in church ministry.

In the spring, apparently the cancer was in remission. She went to the beach with no hair and plenty of sun-block. Three weeks after the beach, she boarded a plane with our youth group and traveled to Alaska. Her hair was about a half-inch long. She looked like a French model, so the kids, in good humor, began calling her Sallee, rather than Sally.

She worked like a trojan in Alaska for 13 days. We flew back and she went to her regular appointment to see the doctor the same week. After the appointment, she stopped by my office. “Well, the doctor said it’s back.”

My heart sank. Tears welled up in my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I barely got out.

“Oh, it’s okay. At least I got to go to Alaska.” She died several months later, still maintaining her appreciation and thankfulness for life. What made the difference? Perspective. She never lost sight of the stars.

A man born without arms learned to dress and feed himself with his feet. His “handwriting” was beautiful, accomplished with a pencil held in his teeth. He earned a living and lived normally in almost every way. “Nothing is a handicap,” he said, “until you begin to think of it as a handicap.”

That is precisely the handicap most of us live with: we think we are handicapped. We see the world as a wilderness and not as a paradise. We see the mud and not the stars. The problem is with us.

How do we live as though the world were paradise and not wilderness? We must see the paradise around us. This does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the horribly muddy conditions of our world or naively pretend that such conditions do not exist. It does mean that when we look at the mud, we do so with optimism, finding the potential for something better even in the worst of situations.

Changing how we look at life, eventually will change the choices we make. By changing the choices we make, life changes.

Whether life is a wilderness or a paradise will depend on how we perceive life.

Pessimism affords us a view only of the mud. Optimism, affords us a view of the stars. I like the stars.

Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.


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