Yesterday our water heater broke.
Wes tried to fix it before he had to go to work, but it looked like it was just dead. After a frigid shower, he left. We were both feeling discouraged. This was just the latest in a string of challenges that life had thrown our way.
It left me pondering everything I’ve been learning about true happiness and joy recently.
As a Christian, I’m told I’m supposed to have joy despite my circumstances, as if it’s as easy as just making a decision to be happy. But it’s not that simple. Or is it?
If we allow every good or bad thing that happens in our lives to send us on a rollercoaster of ecstasy and despair, we are completely governed by our circumstances. Sure, it may feel good to ride the emotional rollercoaster on that exhilarating skyward climb, but every uphill has a downhill. And for me, that ride is way too much to deal with day after day. If only there was a way to tame that rollercoaster beast and turn it into a bunny hill.
The more I’ve read and contemplated these things, the more it has been reinforced to me that the secret to true, lasting happiness and contentedness lies not in what happens to us, but in how we respond to it. We can, indeed, choose joy despite our circumstances, but this requires constant, vigilant effort, and many conscious choices that add up to happiness in our lives on the larger scale.
It’s not easy. And I’ve by no means mastered it. But I’m trying, and by the grace of God, I’m not failing as much as I used to. I’d like to be able to someday say that I succeed more than I fail. But for now, it is enough that slowly I am making progress towards finding contentment in this crazy, finite thing called life.
I believe that God is in control of every detail of our lives—not only that, but he cares about every detail of our lives! This is a monumental revelation. But it doesn’t give us license to just sit back and ask God to shower blessings and happiness down on us. Yes, He delights in giving His children good gifts, but He also is wise enough to know that even though we don’t like it, the hardships in our lives truly are His “blessings in disguise.” They are what teach us strength, and that life is precious, and that the most important things in life are intangible.
So what are we to do with the good and bad in our lives? Rejoice! Yep. It’s that simple. And that hard.
I was a fencer in high school, and my coach had a saying about the weapon I fenced: “Saber is simple, but it’s not easy.” And I think that’s true of all the most worthwhile things in life. We look around for some secret, or some magic formula, or for divine revelation to rain down on us, but deep inside, we really know the answers. We’ve known them all along. The problem isn’t knowing what to do, it’s applying what we know to do, day after day, moment by moment.
For instance, I know that even though I view doing the dishes as a mundane, rather unpleasant duty, that God wants me to choose to have joy in doing the task. I can elevate it by doing it for Him. It suddenly becomes, not a Sisyphean drudgery, but something transcendent—something holy.
Maybe that sounds a little over the top, but think about it: how would your attitude be effected if you took that dreaded task and decided, not only to tackle it, but to find some small speck of joy in it?
Hey, I have nice dishes to eat off of. Not everyone has those. Some people in the world don’t have to wash dishes. You know why? Cause they don’t own any! I bet they’d love to have a kitchen as nice as mine with running water to wash dishes so they could eat wholesome food off of clean plates.
See? A little gratitude and perspective can go a long way towards developing a sense of joy, even in the mundane.
I guess joy is sort of like a muscle. You have to exercise it regularly to make it stronger. And if you neglect it, it atrophies and withers away to nothing.
So for me right now, my “workout” is finding joy in having a broken water heater.
What about you? What circumstances in your life today are giving you the chance to exercise your joy muscle?