(sign from Target)
Four years ago, I was still reeling from our miscarriage and coming up on a year of trying to conceive again. It was a weird time- I felt a bit aimless in lots of ways (at work, building our family, finding community around us, etc). I stumbled on this quote by Henri Nouwen:
"Still, nothing happens automatically in the spiritual life. Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us."
And for four years, this quote and the idea that joy is a choice has stuck with me. I'm prone to clinging to quotes or ideas or simply things that encourage when I find myself in harder seasons, but forgetting them later. That hasn't been the case with this. It is safe to say that choosing joy has become a habit for me.
And I really do mean a habit. Joy does not come easily (Nouwen acknowledges that!), but after time it is easy to see how essential it is to having a sweet life and relationship with Jesus. Also being ok with the tension of choosing joy and being sad. Choosing joy and being confused. Choosing joy and being angry. Some days it feels more natural than others- the sun is literally shining, my kids are being sweet, and I'm confident in all of my relationships. Either way, I've learned that joy is, in fact, a choice. Maybe even a spiritual discipline? I'm not theologian, but I would argue it is.
Here are some of the ways I literally practice the discipline of choosing joy:
thankful journal// hands down, this is the most effective way that I cultivate joy. Taking time every day to write down 3 things I am thankful for is a game changer. And in all honesty, I lost my prayer journal a few months ago and haven't replaced it yet. So before falling asleep every night, I simply take mental note of my thankfuls and give God thanks instead! Try this for one month straight and you'll be amazed how your heart/attitude/outlook changes.
creating an intentional home// Obviously we're all aware of the minimalist trend and the gagillion options for cute prints/signs to hang around your home. I'm a fan! Clutter is clutter. I purposefully have some plants around my house- they make me smile and truly make me happy to water, prune, and watch grow. I also hang our favorite photos (weddings, family vacations, snuggly newborns, dating days, etc) and words that remind me where my hope lies. What makes you smile or reminds you that joy is a choice? Put more of those things around your home! Tape reminders on your bathroom mirror or next to where you do dishes- whatever works.
using words// A couple years ago I saw a group of older ladies encouraging each other well. They had been friends for decades and each took time to affirm one another. They stopped what they were doing (whatever it was) and just said true things they noticed or appreciated about the other. How life giving! After that, I've worked to make sending notes of encouragement/thankfulness in the mail, texts, or engaging in conversations with friends/family a habit. Instead of just thinking to myself "So-and-so is great at such-and-such" or "Gosh, I'm glad so-and-so is one of my closest friends", I've started to actually tell them. For instance, my friend Kate has a knack for listening really well and making you feel heard and loved so I try to tell her how much I value that. My mom is forever doing really thoughtful things for myself and my kiddos (like watching our boys for a week while we went on a trip!) and I try to tell her that I really, truly appreciate it. My friend Meg has this great way of working Christ into all of our conversations in the sweetest ways, so I try to let her know how important that is to me.
physical touch// Hugs are my favorite and they make hard things slightly less hard/isolating/heavy and great things even better/more fun.
giving gifts// Paying for the person behind me at Starbucks (someone did this for me yesterday!), making cookies and leaving them in a friend's mailbox, or just buying something at Target because it reminded me of someone and gifting it to them- really simple things that probably bless another person, but also bring me joy and point me back to Jesus.
All that to say, I'm still working on this. I want to be 80 and still choosing joy. I also want to teach my kids about it- how it doesn't come easily but is so worth working on. Joy is one of God's sweetest, most generous gifts to us! How do you do it? What are some practical ways you work this out?