Contrary to the flavor of my last post (or perhaps precisely because that’s been the flavor of my life lately), God has been bringing up the subject of joy in my life. About 5 years ago, God showed me that my lack of joy was literally sinking me, and if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to drown. I learned a lot at that time that God conveniently brings back to memory when I start to need it again. So in no particular order, here are some lessons I am still on the journey of learning:
1. Joy is an essential commandment, not an optional extra. It’s easy for me to subconsciously think of joy as an “add-on”, something that’s just nice to have around, but is not a crucial component to my life. That is dead wrong. Joy is just as much a part of who God is as love, kindness, patience, and self-control. If I’m missing joy, I’m missing part of God’s character and my life is not a complete picture of who I was created to be.
Joy is an essential commandment, not an optional extra.
In scripture, Nehemiah tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength. If our joy is taken, we are backed into a corner. If we don’t have it, we’re already losing the fight. I’m great at losing sight of joy in favor of other things, especially when life gets busy, stressful, or I’m being hen-pecked to death by small, whining beings. But the second I lose sight of the necessity of joy, I start to flounder.
2. Joy, like love, is a choice. “But I’m just not feeling joyful today!” My first mistake in that statement (which, would be helpful to note, is usually made before coffee) is categorizing joy as a feeling that I have no control over. That’s just not true.
First of all, joy is not the same as happiness, which is fleeting, and is not dictated by situation, which is ever-changing. Joy is the outcome of abiding in the knowledge that God–the God who created the heavens and the earth, who parted the Red Sea, who breathed life into my lungs, and who revealed himself through his son Jesus–loves me, is fighting for me, and has ultimately won the victory. Love really does win in the end, and so if my eyes are fixed on Jesus and the hope I have through him, joy will flow out of that. That’s why Paul & Silas were able to sing praises from a jail cell, and it’s why persecuted Christians all over the world today can testify to joy.
**I’m going to make a disclaimer here: When I say it’s a choice, I don’t mean that we can just turn it on like a switch, put on rose-colored glasses and experience sunshine and cheeriness. When I was battling depression, if someone had told me to just “choose joy” I would’ve sunk even deeper, because that would’ve been completely unattainable and unhelpful. When I read the Psalms, it’s clear that there are times in life where we experience anguish, pain, fear, a broken heart, etc, but David always came back to trust in God. Even when his feelings were extreme darkness, he preached to himself and made the choice to praise God. We have the same choice.
3. Choosing joy often expresses itself in tiny, seemingly insignificant, and exceedingly practical ways. Usually, when I feel myself being dragged under the rip current of stress, I realize there has been a distinct lack of laughter in my life. Things can be falling down all around me, but if I’m laughing on a regular basis, I’ll be fine. I’ve been accused a time or two (or twenty-thousand) of taking things too seriously. And that, my friends, is a joy-sucker in the third degree. So here are some ways I’ve learned over the years to lighten up, have a little fun, and bring back the joy:
1. Watch something funny. Whether it’s a movie, a stand-up comedian, or a sitcom on Netflix, we need the relief of mindless comedic entertainment. It’s ok. Go ahead and enjoy it. It’s gonna get us through another day, and it’s not gonna wreck our livers, so I say it’s pretty much a win-win.
2. Have a dance party. Grab your spouse, your kids, your roommate, your uncle, your co-worker, or your cat and get your boogie on. Turn it up loud and JUST MOVE. You’d be surprised how much this will change you. I see you there, reading and this and scoffing, and being way too cool for something so juvenile. //giphy.com/embed/CIYsQ5hZlYT2o
And then this starts playing…
And now you’re smiling and dancing like a fool. Caught ya. Success!
3. Go OUTSIDE. Take a walk. Go to a playground and act like you’re 5 again. If reading a book is good, reading it outside is better. Lay out in your backyard or run through the sprinkler. It’s cool, you don’t need your neighbors to think you’re sane. That’s way overrated. Do it in the name of joy.
I’m sure you could add to this list even better ideas so I won’t belabor this. The point is, just lighten up and laugh a little. Do something completely unrelated to any problems, frustrations, or worries. Escape it for a hot second, and when you come back to it, it won’t seem near as big and looming.
4. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (attributed to Theodore Roosevelt & Dwight Edwards) This quote has been plastered all over the internet and Hobby Lobby canvases for a long time now, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Facebook is a BIG FAT LIAR. Everyone is not out there doing exciting things, planning perfect parties, raising perfect children, eating at 5 star restaurants, climbing mountains and eating perfectly organic food without you. We should never be comparing everyone else’s highlight reel to our real life. We should actually never be comparing anyone else’s real life to our real life. Nobody wins in that scenario. Either I’m better (for 5 seconds until someone else comes along who puts us to shame) and wallowing in arrogant self-righteousness, or I’m worse and wallowing in shame. Either way, we’re self-centered and we’re not happy. Everyone is fighting this battle called life, and everyone is enjoying the magic called life, and we can never compare ours with someone else’s because someone comes up short, and joy is lost.
5. Thankfulness is the road to joy. Now I’m not advocating for Pollyanna here (if the reference is lost on you, google it), but there is something to be said for focusing on the massive amounts of good in our lives.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
When I’m looking for problems, I will find them. When I’m looking for blessings, I will find them. When I’m looking for stress, I will find it. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I don’t have to look very hard to see the trouble. But when I start looking for God at work, it turns out I don’t have to look very far to see that either. It’s all in what you’re looking for.
So the other day I was looking back at old pictures on my phone, and I marveled at the goodness of God. Just this summer, we have experienced so much joy, and I’ve been precariously in danger of missing it. If you need a boost today, look back at your pictures and see all the wonder and beauty that the story tells. Here’s the story of our summer in pictures (I apologize to you talented artists out there. My photography is atrocious. Forgive me and look past it to the life in the photos.):