The Practice of Joy

“Joy is the serious business of heaven.”

-CS Lewis

I’m just going to say it. You may agree or disagree, but Joy should be a spiritual practice. It may not come naturally, but if you seek it you will find it. If you choose it, you can walk in it. If you practice it, it will change your life.

This year, we’ve seen a lot of memes. We’ve heard all the jokes. We’ve talked about surviving, giving ourselves grace, and the importance of kindness. It’s been a rough one, 2020. But, one thing I’m realizing is that I am not a victim. My actions do not hinge on my outward circumstances. My behavior isn’t good or bad depending on the news, or how someone treats me, or the latest blow up on social media. In this polarizing political climate, in the age of social media knock down drag outs, in a time when our collective stress and anxiety is through the roof, we are not to fall victim. I cannot and will not change who I am because of stress or anxiety or bullies or conspiracy theories or political ideology.

Who am I? I am a believer who follows the way of Jesus. I am someone who wants the very best for my friends and neighbors. I don’t want to just like my neighbor, I want to “love my neighbor as myself.” It’s my job, my calling, if you will. And I can’t do those things without joy. And, honestly, neither can you. Joy gives us peace and brings us hope. It calms us in moments of doubt and despair, and it gives us a reason to be the good.

We’ve probably all heard the saying, “Satan can’t steal my joy,” but when I look around at my fellow believers, sometimes I wonder if we even have any joy to steal! We fall prey to the machine of social media and distrust. We act out in stress and blame the other guy. We say things we don’t mean and do things we shouldn’t and then blame 2020, or our politicians. We blame the system, the schools, the governor, the rules, but we often forget to look in the mirror. Only I am in charge of my behavior. Only I can choose to do good.

So what in the world are we to do? When we find ourselves really, truly losing it, where do we go? We go back to joy.

How in the world do we “practice” joy, you might ask? Where do I look? What do I do? How can I work toward this?

I would say that one of the most important parts of being joyful is being grateful. You may think that joy makes us grateful, but studies have shown that being grateful brings us joy. That’s right. The more we show gratitude, the more that joy enters our lives. David Steindl-Rast said, “The root of joy is gratefulness…It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” This, to me, means that to practice joy I must practice gratitude. So how? What are some every day ways that we can show our gratitude? The following are places to start:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Each day write down a couple of things that you are thankful for. Some days it’s truly the little things like no traffic on the way to work, and some days it’s the heavier things like our sick friend has made it through one more day. But every day it should be something.

2. Talk about it. Whether over dinner with your family, or over coffee with a good friend, tell something that you are grateful for. Some families start their meals by going around the table and having each person say what they are thankful for. When we voice our gratitude it becomes real.

3. If it’s a person that you are grateful for, make sure that they know it. This full circle type of compliment makes everyone joyful. The recipient is delighted to know how you feel, and in turn you are happy because you truly made someone’s day. When I remember to thank the important people in my life, joy comes much easier.

4. Remember that the world is good. Listen, if you were to turn off the news or stop mindlessly scrolling Facebook you would be better attuned to the good in the world. You would see people smiling at each other, holding doors, saying kind things. You would know that there are people out every day feeding the homeless and dropping off supplies for the needy. You would see people taking care of their elderly neighbors and watching out for the kids that live on their block. Instead of the negative, focus on the positive. Notice the good all around you and don’t let yourself be constantly bombarded by the crazy negative things streaming through the internet.

There are many more gratitude practices that we can talk about but for now let’s head back to joy. Remember, joy doesn’t come easy. It’s much easier to grumble and complain that to be joyful. But each day I’m going to choose joy. I choose to be joyful when circumstances are tough. I choose joy when people are mean. I choose joy when my heart is breaking. I choose joy.

Like I said earlier, I am not going to be a victim of 2020 or the economy or political debates or anything else. I am the only one that can control my responses. I am the only one that can choose to post inciting comments on my social media accounts. I am the only one responsible for using my tongue and my sharp words to hurt others.

So as we continue in 2020 don’t forget to bring the joy. Don’t forget the confetti poppers and disco balls and smiles. Don’t forget that feeling that comes when you know you just did the right thing. Bring it, because you can’t steal my joy.

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