A couple of days ago, I started down the slippery slope of discouragement. You know how it works – you entertain a negative thought for a moment, and gloom descends. You entertain it for more than a moment, and it calls its friends and sets up a full-blown pity party in your head. I gave it free rein for a bit; after all, there was some truth to it all. It has been a challenging year for everyone and, in many ways, a downright ugly year. And no, we don’t know what 2021 will look like or how soon life will get back to normal, if ever. For many of the people listed on my kitchen chalkboard, the new normal is a painful reality, no matter what happens next. I think of their circumstances, and the gloom thickens.
When the accusations turn personal and nasty, and I start to weigh whether I actually am an impostor whose entire existence has been a waste of oxygen, I come to my senses and make two deliberate choices. First, I choose gratitude; I start to thank God for every little thing that comes into my mind. Then, I choose joy.
Henri Nouwen writes this about joy:
Joy is not the same as happiness. We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us. . . . Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.
We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
Choosing joy is an act of faith and an exercise in hope; it’s an intentional letting go of things we can’t control and a leaning into the truth that the One who holds everything in his hands loves us. He loves us! And when the unexpected happens, we are the only ones who are surprised. Our God sees everything, knows every thought in our head, every word before it’s spoken, every circumstance before it happens – and he is continuously at work in our lives, no matter what, and always for our good.
Because of this truth, we can choose joy in the midst of sadness, joy in the midst of hardship, joy in the midst of loss, joy in the midst of loneliness and stress, joy when the news is bad, as well as when the news is good.
In this world, we will have trouble, but God is with us. In this world, we wrestle with fear and anxiety and accusation and doubt – we’re only human. But God is with us, and nothing can take him away from us!
Here’s the song I have on repeat today: Aretha Franklin singing Joy to the World.
Enjoy, and rejoice in the wonders of his love!!
And Mary sang this song: “My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God!
My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God! – Luke 1:46-47