Saturday, December 16, 2017

Choose joy

"A Winter's Day"
- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -

At this time of year, green and red seasonal banners adorn our local “Town Square." One single word is boldly written on each banner: JOY! 

When I drive into town and see those banners, I am struck by the fact that “joy” is probably a good word to describe this festive season, I am also struck by the fact that plenty of people aren’t feeling all that “joyful” as Christmas comes around.

I am reminded of a line from one of Saint Paul’s epistles found in the Christian Scriptures

Rejoice in the Lord always!
I say it again, rejoice in all circumstances of life.

My guess is that many may read this passage (just as they look at those joy banners in town) without thinking much about it – after all, joy is sort of a nice “Christmasy” word to use. But, when it comes down to the living of real everyday life, the idea of being joyful in “all the circumstances of life" does seem as bit lofty and unrealistic.

What about the people who have just lost their homes to the wildfires that have recently devastated parts of California, should they rejoice?  How about someone who may have just received a diagnosis of cancer, or what about people who suffer from a debilitating disease or feel abandoned in old-age, should they rejoice? Or how about the guy who just lost his job or the couple getting a divorce, is “joy” a word on the lips of people in these circumstances of life?

As I think about it, the problem is that there is a big difference between having joy in life and feeling happy, and most of the time we don’t understand this distinction.  Of course it sounds like silly “pie in the sky” advice to suggest we should “whistle a happy tune” when our house burns down or the boss calls us in with the news that we no longer have a job; but I don't think that the admonition to "rejoice always" is the same thing as saying, "always be happy." 

The other day I happened to be in a local jewelry store and a man standing next to me was debating whether or not he should purchase an expensive bracelet as a Christmas present for his wife. Of course, the clerk encouraged him to go ahead and buy it, telling him that doing so “will make her so happy.” My guess is that the diamond bracelet might indeed cause the man’s wife to be happy but it certainly won’t guarantee that she will know joy in her life.

People feel happy when something happens that makes them feel good or when life is going according to what we plan or desire, but joy is an experience that always lies beneath the surface of life.

I believe that, come what may, Love "always" abides and that Love is stronger than hate. I believe that “God” doesn’t fix all the messes in life but I also believe that “God” is intimately present in it all; and so that‘s why I can "always" be joyful in all the circumstances of life.

As I see it, when we honestly believe that we are connected to the Universe and that we belong to one another, when we know that we are never abandoned as we walk together on our life’s journey, then we can indeed “always” be joyful. We may not always be happy, but we can always be joyful and therefore live confidently and courageously in all the circumstances of our life.

Henri Nouwen once said:
Joy does not simply happen to us,
We have to choose joy and choose it everyday.

I find great wisdom in this observation and this is especially true in the circumstances in life which are not always so upbeat and positive.

As Christmas approaches and I think about those ”joy” banners hanging in our local town square, I vow to "chose joy” in whatever comes my way. I vow to look beneath the surface and know that I am never alone. In sickness or in health, in good times and in bad times, I "choose joy.”

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