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Key 2: Be sincere and blameless, approving all that is excellent.

Love, knowledge and discernment—the first key to reclaiming joy—are not an end in themselves. They are attributes that we need in order to make the best, wisest choices.

As a new widow, operating in a fog, overwhelmed by all there was to do, I had to discern what required my best. How did I establish priorities? What demanded my immediate attention? What could I postpone or delegate to someone else? Whom could I trust? Knowing the difference between right and wrong was not enough. I needed to distinguish between good, better, and best.[1]

I recalled a lesson that I had learned in the 1970s. At a time when I was devoting most of my waking hours to a significant community project, I justified it to my minster by explaining that I had been reared to do my best always. He asked me one simple question: “Ella, is it worthy of your best?” Now I asked myself the same question as I tried to focus on the things that really mattered.

I had to face the fact that, perhaps for the first time, my best was not good enough. I could never understand finance and investments as well as my financial advisor did, taxes as well as my accountant or wills and contracts as well as my attorney. Having to depend on my advisors and children, giving up control, allowing other people to know all my business—which Lev never did—was hardest of all.

My accountant advised me, “Trust but verify. Learn enough to ask good questions. Keep honest people honest by paying attention.” At the same time, he encouraged me to be transparent with my children, because secrets and surprises create distrust and suspicion and often lead to family fights and lawsuits.

Perhaps it was the terrible timing of Lev’s death. The stock market was sinking, and those complex, exotic investments he had been talked into buying without fully understanding them turned to dust. Perhaps it was the quick discovery that Lev’s will and trust did not mean exactly what I thought they did.

Keys to Joy thumbnailIf it took those two nightmarish situations to get my attention, lift me out of the fog and clear my head, then I am thankful. I resolved that I would read and understand every document that I was asked to sign. The drudgery of that first summer and fall, adjusting to the new reality of life without Lev, constantly exercised my gray matter and demanded every bit of left-brain analysis that I could muster. My right brain was numb. Faced with a critical decision, I had a moment of great clarity and certainty where I was sure that God had heard my prayers. I was overcome by a peace and assurance about my next step.

From that moment on, I began to acquire confidence. As my confidence grew, so did my willingness to let go of trying to manage everything myself. I learned to trust my instincts. The degree of peace I felt proved to be a good indicator of whether I was proceeding in the right direction. Eventually, I was ready to retire from active management.

I am glad that I learned Lev’s business and spent four years managing his affairs. I still pay attention, and I still have to spend several hours each week on business, but my life no longer revolves around all the recordkeeping that management represented.

Without the need to talk business so often, the children and I enjoy our time together more. I have more time for friends, travel, entertaining and pursuing new interests. I am finally settling into happiness.

Adapted from my book-in-progress, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS.

[1] Garland, David E. “Philippians.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. ed. Ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 12. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2006. 195, 196