It’s a phrase you probably hear often. You may even see it on a wall in your parents’ house or on an inspirational Instagram post. But what does it mean? Why should we choose joy? And why is it so hard to do sometimes?
I won’t bore you with all the details, but to say the last four months have tried to steal my joy would be an understatement. Doctor’s appointment after doctor’s appointment and still no answers. Thing after thing going wrong — some big and some small.
And I’ll admit it — they have succeeded in stealing a lot of my joy. Some days I have my biggest smile plastered across my face, but inside anxiety reigns. You could say I haven’t been my best self.
I’ve coped by distracting myself and pushing my concerns and frustrations down deep, but I haven’t really dealt with them. I haven’t faced them head-on. Because of this, when my emotions get the best of me or when the distractions run out, the heavy weight falls back onto my shoulders.
I want to choose joy. I desperately want to choose joy. But most times I feel like I’m paralyzed.
A few months back, I read Lisa Harper’s book, “The Sacrament of Happy: What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World.” I read it because a friend of mine recommended it. Back then, I wasn’t drowning — I was floating down a cool river on a hot day in a pink inner tube with a cold Dr. Pepper in my hand and my friends all around me (metaphorically speaking, of course — it was November). But isn’t it funny how God works?
He was preparing me for the season of life when I would feel anything but happy; when the “joy that comes with the morning” was long gone by lunchtime.
I’ve had moments of happiness: laughing over a s’mores calzone the actual size of my head, shopping with my mom for mother-of-the-groom dresses for my brother’s wedding, watching my team win back-to-back baseball games in walk-off fashion (Hail State!).
When those moments of happiness begin to fade, I often remember Lisa’s book. In it she discusses how, as Christians, we are allowed to be happy — God actually calls us to happiness.
What does she mean by happiness? Not a prosperity gospel happiness of “nothing hard will ever come my way,” but, as she puts it, such a “deep conviction in the unmitigated goodness of our Creator-Redeemer that we are free to feel and express genuine joy, fulfillment and contentment, regardless of personal and global tumult.”
When faced with hardships, we don’t have to try to cover up our sadness or will away our anxiety — it won’t work. But we can lay them bare before God, knowing He is working in a mighty way and basking in how wonderful it is that we get to be a part of His plan. Because our God is good — He “is what is best and gives what is best. He is incapable of doing harm.”*
You know the relief you feel when a friend, family member or coworker takes a task or project that was weighing you down off your plate? Christ has done the same thing with our burdens and hardships and sadness. He isn’t about to take them off of you — He already took them off of you 2,000 years ago when He defeated death.
So choose joy and happiness because our God is King. He is loving and kind. He’s omniscient and sovereign. We are in good hands.
I am writing this as much for myself as for anyone else. I haven’t done a great job of being happy and choosing joy in the midst of trials. I won’t be perfect — no one will. But I’m pledging here, to all of you, that starting today I will try to choose joy every day, even when it feels like the world is beating me down. Because my God cares for me and He is victorious always.
“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You— I whom You have delivered” (Ps. 71:23)
*Quoted from “Proverbs: The Way of Wisdom” by Jen Wilkin, page 130