How do we become people who are full of joy?

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I am spending time in a little Alaska parish without wi-fi. In the morning and evening I pray before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I saw a moose feed on some willows outside yesterday, I enjoyed a great salad for lunch, and the snow is melting. I am joyful here.

Are you joyful? On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) what is your “joy factor” today? On the other hand, what is your irritability factor? If you don’t know maybe the person closest to you might know. How much fun did you have last week? How often did you laugh? Did you even smile? I ask because to be a Christian is to be a person full of joy, even when things aren’t going so well. How can this be true for you?

The prophet Nehemiah, living through some tough times, said the joy of the Lord is your strength. He doesn’t say exercise is your strength or work is your strength or grin-and-bear-it is your strength. He doesn’t even say joy is your strength, but “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

There is power in joy. When all else is gone we can thrive on the joy of the Lord.

“That’s easier said than done,” some say. “I am full of joy today but tomorrow it seems to go.” That kind of “joy” may not be authentic.

Sometimes we think we will be joyful if we meet the right person, or our work improves or something else changes for the better — then we will be joyful. It doesn’t work that way. Joy in not in the new job, a better salary or even in that “perfect” someone. Indestructible, deep-down joy is not in what happens but in who created the happenings.

Saint Paul says we need two things for real joy — trust in God and a lack of cynicism. Anxiety and joy can’t live together. It’s impossible to be happy when we’re anxious. They are terrible friends. The clerk at the grocery store says, “Thank you. Have a nice day.” You say, “Thank you but I have other plans.”

So how do we become people who rejoice? We live in an anxious time, filled with worrying news. Even when all seems to be going well, sometimes we are still unhappy. We should be joyful but we aren’t. The sun is out, we have a day off — why aren’t we more joyful?

The problem is that we delude joy when we water it with the ups and downs of daily life. Give a flower fresh water and it grows. Mix that water with soap or cleanser and it dies.

We need to link our joy to something other than life’s changing circumstances. We need the dependability of Jesus, whose joy is in each of us. Learning to do this is part of trusting God — it is a type of prayer. We must present our prayers and petitions to God.

I used to wake in the morning and begin worrying about how much there was to do. Now I rise and pray to God about the things I will do. I don’t have to wake up anxious. That is a choice. I can wake up and present my petitions to God. God can handle it. Do we trust him? If so, we can live in peace.

Of course there are times when trusting God is difficult, and it doesn’t guarantee that all our work will be a success. It does mean we can keep our heart full of God though. Each one of us has to decide whether to trust in God each day.

Saint Paul calls us to rejoice in the Lord “always.” Perhaps we think that if only he knew about my life, or my job, or my health or my wife or kids he would never have asked me to rejoice. He would never have been so insensitive. But perhaps that is precisely why Saint Paul calls us to rejoice — “in the Lord.” If we look at various circumstances of life, nine times out of 10 we become anxious. Saint Paul taught us to rejoice not in what we are experiencing but in the Lord. He will get us through. He is God.

Saint Paul also urges us to avoid cynicism. We experience hundreds of things that can be real downers. When this happens we could fall into self pity, check out of life or build a protective shell around us.

I noticed that in reading the news I can become more cynical so I stopped regularly reading news. You can make yourself a more negative person or choose to do life another way. You can choose to notice all the good things God is doing in your life and enjoy them. Look beyond the politics and see where God is healing and loving and working in others. Focus on these things and think on them. Saint Paul says, “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.”

Don’t kill your joy. Whatever is compassionate — do it. Whatever is funny enough to make you cry, whatever is giving you reasons to hope – do it. Whatever happens God will be nearby with the peace and joy that overpowers cynicism.

Let us take Saint Paul’s words to heart: “Rejoice in the Lord. Again I say rejoice.”

Ok, let’s begin!

The writer has served as pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia. He is currently stationed in Alaska.


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