I am desperate for joy. Far too often, I feel like I’m pitifully fumbling in the dark reaching out for something I rarely grasp. I want it. I want my life to be filled and overflowing with joy, yet too often I settle for something far less rewarding. Some cheap imitation. Instead of something true and lasting, I settle for some temporary and powerless thing.
Can I choose joy?
I’ve asked myself that question a number of times over the years. I am not sure I have a good answer. Or, better said, I’m not sure I can be dogmatic about the answer on which I’ve landed.
I try to choose joy. Most days, at least. Now, before anyone starts yelling or pointing fingers at me, choosing joy doesn’t necessarily mean I’m always happy. I am not. No big surprise to those who know me best. At my happiest, I’m not exactly a “happy-go-lucky” sort. Yet, I strive to find joy in my life.
Therein lies the struggle and the mystery. Is joy there for the taking? Do I simply need to desire it and then be ready to receive it when it’s within my reach? Too often, it feels ephemeral. Like smoke drifting through my hands. How do I cling to joy when life seems determined to pound me into a permanent state of dissatisfaction and frustration?
How about you?
Maybe you can relate? When I look around, even in church, joy is not always the first thing that stands out. People are tired. People are frustrated. Life is hard for everyone. If it’s not hard for you, be thankful. Even those of us who have it pretty easy, and I firmly count myself in this favored group, have challenges and problems and daily stresses. We all have our personal battles to fight and often lose.
We are not promised as easy road to walk. Anyone who tells you different is lying or deluded. No matter how strong our faith, our lives are going to be filled with pain and heartbreak. Adam’s sin made that part of the deal for all of us. Our own sin and failure prevent us from blaming anyone else, Adam included, for our problems. But even the most devout, holy, and God-fearing believers are faced with sadness and bouts of discouragement. So, be encouraged! You are not alone in your struggle.
A year-long struggle.
I began working on this article nearly a year ago. Much like I often do, I had an idea I felt was worth pursuing so I started writing. Then I hit a wall. What started out so promising died on my keyboard. My mind was blank. I had nothing of consequence to write. In all honestly, I had hoped to write an encouraging word to anyone who regards the holiday season as an unwelcome guest, but I realized very quickly that I have very little to offer in this area. That’s not false modesty or self-deprecation. I feel entirely unqualified to be giving anyone advice on how to be more joyful.
Even so, we are all given opportunities to pour into the lives of others, and I don’t take mine lightly. So, I’ve settled on one simple idea: at its core, true joy is simply thankfulness. Biblical scholars might say that I am oversimplifying things here but when I read through the Word, it strikes me how often joy and thankfulness are found living in harmony. I do not believe it is possible to have joy without a thankful heart. I think true, lasting joy comes from our recognition of all that God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives. If we get the thankfulness piece right, the joy of the Lord will be new every morning.
And I think that is where I fail most often. I tend to dwell on the negative too often. I call myself a realist but more often than not, that actually means pessimist. I murmur and complain when I feel God has let me down. And then I complain when I do not feel the joy that has been promised to me as a child of the King. It is only when I enter into God’s presence with thankfulness that I find joy. It’s been there all along, but my ungrateful spirit has been obscuring it.
I can choose thankfulness and joy.
Let that be our goal this holiday season. As we head into Thanksgiving, let us give thanks in all we do. God has blessed each of us in more ways than we could ever truly understand. Thank Him for that. Choose to live with thanksgiving in your heart and I am convinced the joy of the Lord will be your strength throughout this holiday season.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.Psalm 5:11