Sunday, July 29, 2007

Choosing Joy

Saturday I was in the car running errands, and I took advantage of the time alone to pray and sing aloud. My prayer life lately has been consumed with intercessions for the sale of our house, and it was good to just praise God unconditionally. Whether our house is sold or not, I can still praise God’s goodness and care! I sang, “Allelu-, alleluia, glory to the Lord…I will sing, I will sing a song unto the Lord…I will come, I will come with joy before the Lord….”

It was those words that did it. Choked me up with tears of something I couldn’t understand—never have been able to understand. It seems that often when I really let go of myself and focus on God—and especially on the joy that He gives—I cry. I know they are cleansing, healing tears; but still, I have prayed for more understanding.

And yesterday, He gave it. It wasn’t an audible word or a verse, but I suddenly realized that God’s joy is always there for the choosing. It’s me, and my self-preoccupation, that comes between me and joy so often. So when I do choose it, mixed with it in a bittersweet way is sadness, remorse and repentance that I don’t choose it more often. Hence, the tears.

So why do I so often choose worry, choose care, choose perfectionism (as Tonia named it in this post)? Why do I choose to take myself and life so seriously—instead of choosing joy? Do I think I’ll accomplish more by being all grim and serious about it?

I can’t honestly say, except that it’s a habit. I get up from bed or from a prayer time (on a good day) and I put on my game face and I start tackling the duties and problems of the day. Too often each day feels like that—just a series of duties or problems.

What if...I could develop the habit of choosing joy as my default? I’ve been thinking about this, trying it out, noticing. To me, choosing joy—when I’m not singing or praying, but just living life—feels like literally fixing my inner gaze on a higher spot than normal. It’s almost physically, in a mental kind of way, “Setting my mind on things above.”

This verse also comes to mind: “I set before you life and death—choose this day which you will choose.” Is it possible that my response to a spilled Frosty is a life or death choice? I’m beginning to think it is. Choosing the way that leads to life means that the spilled Frosty is just one more stain to soak, not an occasion for anger and sin. Choosing the way that leads to life means not letting small things rob me of joy.

Or big things, for that matter. It’s been a huge anxiety in my life that we haven’t sold our house yet, aren’t swamped in moving boxes, aren’t picking out a new house yet, and don’t know if we’ll be here or there for children’s fall activities. We've been called, commissioned and sent. We are so eager to get there and start building this new church; the team there can’t wait for us to come, either.

So it’s been easy to miss the beauty of the summer around me. I haven’t been very thankful for this unexpected chance to enjoy it and a suddenly slower pace. It's only just occurred to me what a gift it is to have time to spend with friends I will soon be missing. I fully intend, this week, to get a couple lunch or coffee meetings on my calendar!

We'll see how I do with keeping this mindset. I know that in my own strength, I can't do it. I know that without regular worship and praise, I can't do it, and I have not been successful at creating a way forward in that. I'd like to make it part of the worship time I do with my kids in the mornings (ahem, on the good days)--any suggestions?

Naturally, for a post on joy, I thought of the book Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis. Surprisingly, when I googled, I found few quotes from that book, but here are others from that great evangelical saint:

"It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men."--Reflections on the Psalms

"The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance."--Reflections on the Psalms

"From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as self, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the centre is opened to it."--The Problem of Pain

"We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument...Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege."--Letters to Malcolm

"'Something of God...flows into us from the blue of the sky, the taste of honey, the delicious embrace of water whether cold or hot, and even from sleep itself.'"--'Scraps', St. James' Magazine

"The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it."--Surprised by Joy

"Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?"--Christian Reflection

I don't know what the future holds, but I can choose joy in the present!


G's Cottage said...

I know what you mean. I am so happy to have time to be in my new studio and writing. But conditioning keeps pecking at me to be productive, look legit, and don't forget to clean up the house while I'm at it.

tonia said...

yes, yes, yes, Jeanne. I am learning this is such a discipline. I like what you said about the spilled Frosty being a matter of life and death - and I agree with you.

I'll be thinking on this more.

And Jeanne? I'll be praying for you especially tonight.

Bss said...

Thank you for this post. I need to work on 'setting my inner gaze on a higher spot than normal', too, and enjoy the moments. You have given me a lot to ponder.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I needed this. mrsb1980

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Beautiful thoughts and so perfectly expressed, Jeanne.

That quote about poisoning the wine is going to stick with me--I can tell.

Joyful Days said...

So very well said. I've spent a few days re-reading this and being blessed by it.


Wendy WaterBirde said...

Hi Jeanne,

I was very moved by this post and keep coming back to it. Ive qouted you (on the Table Tales blog), hope that's okay : )



Ann V.@HolyExperience said...

Stunning, Jeanne.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
(Reading in Ezra now, and some danced for joy over the temple...and some cried for joy... a mingling of the you.)

I send much love...