Misplaced Joy

MISPLACED JOY

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months or even years when you feel like you’ve misplaced joy? No matter how hard you try to find it, to conjure up a smile and ‘fake it ‘till you make it’, happy moments pop up now and again but joy never appears to transpire. Circumstances don’t always dictate this joy dilemma, people can face the worst of seasons and still manage to retain an inner peace and positive outlook. Others whose life bears the appearance of outward success find that contentment remains elusive. Even I, as a Christian who believes with every fibre of my being in the goodness and power of God, have had seasons of scrambling around in the dark wondering where I’ve mislaid it. Such times can leave us dumbfounded, confused and weak as our downward spiralling feelings begin to inform our decisions rather than our beliefs.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an enemy whose sole purpose it is to kill, steal and destroy (John 10 v 10). Nehemiah 8 v 10 informs us that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” so it makes strategic sense that he would target our joy as part of his battle plan. So how do we counter his attack and take care not to leave ourselves vulnerable? How can we hold onto joy when dark clouds hover over the horizon. “In order to have joy, you have to sow joy” is a statement I heard recently during a preach. Easy right? Of course, we reap what we sow, it’s a foundational law of nature, I can’t plant an apple seed and expect to grow an oak tree. Yet despite this simple anecdote I couldn’t help but wonder why if it’s really that obvious, do so many of us regularly find ourselves lacking in real joy? Why is joy something we experience sporadically rather than consistently? More importantly, how do we actually sow joy? How is it that Paul states in his letter to the Philippians that he’s found the secret to being content in all circumstances? (Philippians 4 v 12) Paul could easily be forgiven for misplacing his joy given the many life-threatening experiences, beatings and imprisonments he encountered during his life. Yet despite all of these he closes his revelation in verse 13 with, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” So God is the source of Paul’s joy and strength, but what does enabling this fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5 v 22 – 23) to manifest in our lives actually look like practically on a day to day basis?

Interestingly I have been reading Dare To Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book which is a compilation of her findings from over 20 years of leadership research. Whilst detailing the differences between what she describes as armoured leadership and daring leadership, joy is listed as a key attribute of the latter. Here’s what she discovered,

“What is the one thing that people who can fully lean into joy have in common? Gratitude. They practice gratitude. It’s not an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – it’s an actual practice. They keep a journal, or make a note of what they’re grateful for on their phones, or share it with family members.” 

Dare To Lead, Brené Brown

According to Brené’s research, joy is manifested by gratefulness. As this truth leapt off the page and induced a ‘light-bulb’ moment, I was eager to look up all the verses I could pertaining to joy. As I circled back to Paul’s words in Philippians 4 and read the verses preceding his statement of contentment, I came face to face with one of the most well-known scriptures that I’ve no doubt read and indeed journaled many times over the years,

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 8 (NIV, emphasis added by me)

Right there in the midst of Paul’s ancient encouragement to the Philippian church, he instructs them to always present all requests in every situation to God with thanksgiving. In other words to practise gratitude in our daily encounter and conversation with God.

Here are three quick practical tools we can take from Philippians 4 to help restore and maintain our joy:

  • Rejoice in the Lord – Or delight in the Lord. Whatever life throws at us we can always find something to be truly grateful for in Christ.
  • Give Thanks In Every Situation – Why? Because when we pray, speak, think, write and act from a place of thanksgiving our requests, thoughts, petitions, prayers and actions become focused on His goodness rather than our lack.
  • Think on Good Things – “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” Proverbs 23 v 7 (NKJV) As we train our thoughts to think on good things, they become our beliefs which in turn dictate our actions. 

Joy doesn’t negate difficult circumstances and it doesn’t require us to pretend that everything is ok when it’s not. Rather it forces our eyes heavenwards and makes way for the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds in Christ.

Each morning Rich and I have started to text each other at least 3 things that we are thankful for. Taking the time to stop and think about what we are grateful for each morning determines our position and perspective for the rest of the day. What will you do to practise joy today?

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (NIV)

One Of ‘Those’ Days

ONE OF 'THOSE' DAYS! (1) copy

Do you ever have one of ‘those’ days? Or even one of ‘those’ weeks where everything all seems just a little too much? Often, it’s not major life-changing events that cause the frustration and anxiety that go along with such times. Instead, it’s a culmination of lots of small annoying occurrences that gradually pile up and cause niggling unwelcome emotions. These then snowball into an avalanche of feeling somewhat out of control.

Sometimes, things just don’t go according to plan and we feel like we’ve got out of bed on the wrong side. We wish we could hit replay, start the day all over again and give it another shot. We then get stuck in a deep well of self-pity and struggle to see an easy way out. Have you noticed how negative emotions and feeling sorry for oneself are strange social companions that love to hang around together? Not content with just each others company, they also invite memories of failure and sad stories along to the gathering. Then before we know it, we’re moping around, dragging our feet and ready to snap at anyone who dares smile at us. Like the last guest to leave a party who misses the ‘*yawn, oh is that the time?’ hint, these emotions linger beyond their welcome.

Well, I’ve had one of those weeks recently. Nothing terrible happened. In fact, many good things occurred, but I realised that it was the perceived lack of progress on my self-imposed to-do list that was the cause of my irritation and stress. Basically, I was increasingly frustrated that things didn’t seem to be going the way I had anticipated or envisioned. So, after engaging in some internal ‘woe is me’ dialogue, and whilst my fifteen-month-old daughter clung to my arm and nestled her snot covered face into my nice clean clothes for the umpteenth time, I finally prayed, ‘God help me at this moment!’ Suddenly, before my eyes, a huge bright vision appeared before me, a host of majestic angels with fiery red eyes, strong glimmering wings and sparkling silver Doc Martens descended through the ceiling. They were carrying a pile of completed laundry, some delicious galaxy caramel and a beautifully written blog post – jokes! Not really! Hey, I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, God is the God of the impossible after all! But, what actually happened was that I decided to stop moping around, realised that I couldn’t just snap out it, pushed aside my sense of entitlement and employed some practices that positioned me to engage with His peace.

In keeping with the current trend of list writing in some of my blog posts, here are some things I do/have done when things don’t seem to go my way in my every day, and it all becomes a little overwhelming:

  • Take Time Out – Whether that’s a literal removal of oneself from a situation, or just a deep breath and a moment in a different room, I take at least a second to close my eyes and be still. I say a prayer, inhale and try and zoom out of the downward spiral of pity to re-align my focus.
  • Accept It! – Most of the time, continued frustration occurs due to the fact that I keep dwelling on the to-do list rather than just accept that the goal posts have changed and so, therefore, I must adjust accordingly.
  • Choose Joy – It’s been said many times that we can’t choose our circumstances but we can choose how we respond. I can’t always control what’s happening but I can choose what I think about.
  • Encourage Myself – Proverbs 18 v 21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death”. I speak life into my present and future using the truth of God’s word which exists beyond the boundaries of my physical reality. A truth that is living and active (Hebrews 4 v 12) and refreshes my soul like the dawn of spring.
  • Talk To Someone Who Loves Me – Fortunately for me, this time around, my husband was around to notice my grumpy mood and help lift me out of it. Talking to someone who loves me enough to allow me a ‘moment’ but also pushes me out of it, is a perfect tonic for a stinky attitude.
  • Change My Perspective – Perspective changes everything! Looking at something from a different angle can completely change how you view it. My wise, (don’t tell him) and lovely husband, loves a bit of Mathematics, and once shared a perfectly simple example of this – a cone from directly underneath can look like just a flat circle, it’s only when you change your perspective that you see it’s actually a three-dimensional shape.
  • Do Something That Inspires Me  – This isn’t always easy to do in the moment, but at the first available opportunity, I find something that ‘fills up my bucket’ (as my friend Rach would say). Something that draws me forwards and brightens my eyes. It could be as simple as reading a book, listening to some music, having a conversation, watching a video or strolling in nature.
  • Live In The Moment – It is what it is, and what it is, is what it is. When things don’t go according to my plan, I just have to decide to be flexible and present rather than dwell on the past or lament a future that’s not yet happened. Why is it, that when we’re in a bad mood, we start to make believe fake conversations and events that all seem to go from bad to worse?! What a waste of good imagination and energy. Living in the moment helps me to think clearly, see it for what it is, accept it, problem solve and maybe even enjoy something in it!
  • Practice Patience And Perseverance – We all want more patience, but the tricky thing about that, is that it’s developed in situations that require it! The same is true of perseverance. Both require practice and both again require a choice to participate in them. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, so I pray and allow Him to take centre stage. Perseverance requires a courage and strength that His grace always bestows.

So there you have it. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, I mean, chocolate sometimes helps too! I’ll leave you with a beautiful scripture that has a far better list than mine and kind of sums it all up plus some. More importantly, it provides a perfect pathway to peace.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Philippians 4 v 4 – 9