Choose joy! We hear it all the time. In this way, we often think of joy as simply a choice we make. It’s where we are in control; we muster up the strength, gather all our internal resources and make a cognitive decision…and “will” our way to joy.
Choosing can only take us so far. I know. How many times have I resolved to try harder, depending on my ability to strong-arm my will to carry me through? How long did that last? An hour? Two Hours? Eight hours? That’s on a good day. I fail miserably trying to force my will to carry me through. Lasting joy has to be more than willing ourselves to try harder.
And what if our circumstances are so harsh, so deeply painful, we have no strength or “will” the will to choose? How do you maintain joy when the circumstances are long and hard and there is no end in sight? What do you do when the ways and purposes of God dismantles your carefully planned life?
Mary’s life certainly unfolded in ways she never dreamed. “Choose joy, Mary!” That would be tough, if not a bit heartless, to say to her. And much harder, I suspect, for her hear. Sentimental platitudes do not keep us when our hearts are breaking.
Yet, in ways I have yet to comprehend, Mary not only ungrudgingly relinquished the cherished vision of how her life should go, she actually rejoiced in God’s unexpected, wanton ways. Rejoiced! Not a white-knuckled, jaw-set, “I choose joy” but an extravagant, outrageous, over-flowing joy! What!!??
Luke 1:46, 47 – “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Mary received not what she expected; but welcomed God’s ways with abandon. What if joy comes when we give finally give up our illusion of control over our lives? Perhaps it comes when we give up our own ideas of how life should go; knowing there is a greater drama, a greater story being played out that we’ve been invited into.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Joy always involved delight in what God is doing.”
In this way, joy no longer requires we stay strong…but that we stay present. Staying present to all the ways God is revealing himself in the hard places (and the good!) To stay present we will have to keep our souls fertile for change, so things can keep getting born in us.
This kind of delight does not come easy. It is not the product of forced effort. It comes from a heart that has been trained, over and over again, to see and respond with abandon to the God who has come…to be with us.