Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cultivating Joy

Almost a year ago, my sweet roommate and dear friend started what she has coined her “pony journal.” I for the life of me cannot remember how it got that name, but I do remember the content: it’s a journal where she specifically focuses on thanking the Lord. I remember being encouraged when she shared with our community group that she was starting this, thinking how great it was that the Lord had stirred her heart in this way. But for me, it sort of ended there. Not because I thought her idea was bad, but I didn’t really think it was something I needed to consider. Ha.

The bible talks a lot about joy, particularly in the New Testament. Being a words person, I’ll be honest that it’s a tricky one for me. I think to some degree, it’s because it’s lost its luster and power through over or misuse. It’s so often tied to happiness and, while I know in my head they’re not the same thing, I’ve never been able to work out fully in my mind how they differ. I know I want joy more than happiness, as it’s deep seeding, but how does one get that?

Fast forward to this month. A month of hard things and loss in my family, on top of a few years of hard things. I’ll be honest that there have been many times where I’ve literally yelled (okay, maybe just yelled in my head), “Lord, what the world are you doing?” At times the junk feels so heavy, I feel I may be crushed. Last week as I pondered my extreme desire for comfort and ease, I realized that’s a clue to my heart yearning for heaven. A soft reminder that this world is not intended to be home, and it’s good if I feel a little uncomfortable here. And we’ll never be without pain, for sin roams the earth and Satan seeks someone to destroy.

As I thought about this, I realized the best way to defeat this push-pull feeling was to press harder into God’s word, the Spirit’s leading, pray big prayers, and seek eternal change. No, it doesn’t mean I need to quit life and hunker down in a room with my bible alone and be monk-like, but instead to see each moment and each relationship as an opportunity to share love, truth, and serve someone. Engaging intentionally with everyone from the girl standing next to me at zumba to the check-out person at the store to my friends and family; and praying to have the strength and boldness to do so, as it sort of exhausts me to do that on my own (which is good because I couldn’t anyway).

I thought about all of this, and still wondered, though, about that joy thing. Where does that come in? Does joy stem from service? Maybe. Does it stem from sharing the gospel? Sure. But how do you really cultivate a joy that moves mountains and gives peace to your heart in the midst of whatever?

And then I sort of got it.

I’ve been reading a book off-and-on and, in reading on Sunday night realized through the help of the author that joy stems from a thankful heart in all circumstances. I’ve let that idea mull in my mind a bit, and then this morning was reminded of the directive in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks.

Joy exists above happiness. It’s above circumstances and apart from feelings. And I think that author may be onto something…joy is cultivated when we, regardless of what is going on, take time to acknowledge that God is sovereign and holy and good. And we do that by thanking him. And thanking him, earnestly not giving lip service, submits our hearts his will and reminds us of the Cross, his healing power, and his promise to make ALL things work for the good of those who love him. The world may fall apart, we may be wrecked like Job, but none of those things can steal joy that comes from our bowing down before Christ.

I think this will be a slow learning process for me as it’s most definitely a hard lesson to break-down pride. But I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn, and thankful that the Lord continues to peel back layers and change more and more of my heart.

And, while I know there’s a purpose behind the “pony journal” even though I can’t remember it, I think I’ll opt for a more Sarah-ish name for my intentional practice of cultivating joy: le journal joyeux de coeur. :)