What I Learned About Joy (& An Update on My Goals in March)

Did you stick with your goals throughout the month of March? Here’s how I did:

My Focus for March was JOY

My goal for March was to become a more joyful person [exhibiting delight and satisfaction; choosing to rejoice] by singing, smiling, praising and enjoying God every day throughout the month. I will used a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

1. Faith- (I) Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses per week, (II) pray every day that God would help me choose joy, (III) spend at least 30 minutes in prayer daily, (IV) intentionally notice the beauty of creation and thank God for it, (V) sing to God daily, and (VI) reflect on the gift of salvation daily.

(I) I was able to memorize three verses per week again this month, though I didn’t go over my verses consistently every single day. There was one week in particular that I fell behind, but I ended up reviewing those verses in addition to the following week’s new verses.

(II)(III) I did pray daily that God would fill me with His joy and help me choose to be joyful. I did not consistently spend a half hour in prayer daily, though. This is something I really want to make a habit of, but it’s a great struggle for me.

(IV) I was far more intentional about noticing the beauty of creation this month, but admittedly, I did not do it every single day.

(V) Again, I was more intentional this month to sing to God than any other, but did not do it every single day.

(VI) Though I spent a great deal of time reflecting on salvation in March, I did not do it daily like I wanted to.

2. Marriage– (I) Do at least one thing per week with John that is especially fun or that makes us laugh, (II) go on a “comedy date”, and (III) play worship music together at least once.

(I) I think in general John and I have fun together often. The first week of March we had friends over, played games, and laughed quite a lot. The second week of the month we went on a date which ended with the purchase of a second used vehicle. One night we switched things up a bit and played a game while sitting in our bedroom on our bed which was fun. We spent a whole weekend this past month watching basketball and following our NCAA brackets which was both different and fun for us. And last week we babysat our three nephews (ages 4, 2, and 3 months) and had a blast taking them on a walk and playing with them.

pic

(II) We stayed home for our “comedy date.” It pretty much consisted of filling out AdLibs, watching a stand-up comedian on youtube, and then ending the night with a comedy (though we both decided they made the movie WAY too long). It wasn’t our standard date, but we laughed together and enjoyed one another’s company.

(III) We were able to practice one hymn together briefly after prayer meeting this past month. As I get more and more experienced on the piano, we’ve enjoyed “jamming” together on occasion. It’s fun!

3. Health- (I) Force myself to smile daily (even when I don’t feel like it) and (II) get fresh air daily.

(I) I think I did a pretty good job with this goal. I had already been in the habit of smiling even at strangers, so it wasn’t too big of a stretch. I’m amazed at how this one simple act can affect your mood.

(II) I did this on most days this past month, minus really cold or rainy ones. I even convinced John to go on several walks with me this past month (one of my favorite activities).

4. Homemaking- (I) Praise God for every chore as I do it and (II) listen to Christian music as I do housework.

(I) I didn’t do this every single time I did a chore, but it certainly kept me from complaining about doing chores. When I did remember to praise God for laundry because it signified God’s abundant provision of clothing or thank Him for having to do dishes because it meant we were well fed, it altered my attitude radically.

dishes

(II) I did this at least once a week this past month and it always made chores more enjoyable. I’m grateful for Christian songwriters, singers, and musicians.

5. Interactions– (I) Put a smile in my voice when I speak and (II) at least one person per week who is struggling. 

(I) I noticed I did this really easily when talking to infants, but it was more of a challenge when interacting with adults. I think I do it unconsciously when I’m not feeling well but want to respond to somebody’s, “How are you doing?” with a convincing response of, “Good.” Otherwise, this is something that takes a lot of conscious effort.

(II) I didn’t do this every single week, but I was able to encourage a fellow chronically ill individual, support a friend who lost a close family member, and send a neighbor a get-well card.

WHAT I LEARNED THIS MONTH

Choosing joy…

When people describe me, “joyful” is not usually on their list of adjectives. I tend to be a pessimist. I am also an introvert. Am I making excuses? Not at all. Joy, like love and kindness, is a fruit of the Spirit. It cannot be conjured up by sheer will power. But at the same time, it is a choice we make daily. Many times over the past month I was faced with a decision: am I going to allow my circumstances to make me irritated, bitter, and discontent? Or am I going to choose to be joyful despite what I’m facing at this moment? I wish I could say I made the right choice every single day throughout the month of March, but that would be far from honest.

Rejoice with those who rejoice…

One morning I logged into my facebook account and the first thing that popped up in my newsfeed was a pregnancy announcement. Despite one of my memory verses I’d been working on that week: “Rejoice with those who rejoice…” (Romans 12:15), I immediately broke down in sorrowful tears.

announcement

For those of you who don’t know me, I have been married nearly 5 years and have had to postpone starting a family due to my ongoing Chronic Lyme Disease treatment. My heart’s desire is to have a home filled with children, but am still waiting for complete healing. So though I love this couple and am genuinely happy for them, knowing they’d only been married a few months and were already expecting their first child felt unfair in that moment. As the tears flowed freely I asked God silently, “How long, Lord? When will it be my turn?” Again He brought Romans 12:15 to my mind and I prayed it back to Him, “Lord, I want to rejoice with this couple… help me to.”

Later that day God spoke to me through one of Chip Ingram’s books. I felt like God was telling me three things in particular: 1) I needed to be grateful for all He has given me rather than focusing on the children I don’t yet have; 2) whether He ever heals me completely or ever gives me children, or not, He is still good; and 3) He is not withholding anything from me- He has a perfect, sovereign plan for my life. He was essentially asking, “Do you trust me, Clare?” 

The definition of joy…

John and I have been reading through the Left Behind book series and at one point in the plot, a Jewish leader named Tsion Ben-Judah becomes a Christian and infuriates many devout Jews. This leads to the loss of his entire family to a horrible massacre. Another character reflects about the joy Ben-Judah has despite his circumstances:

Certainly joy took on a different meaning than ever before in Buck’s life. He used to equate joy with happiness. Clearly Tsion Ben-Judah was not implying that he was happy. He might never be happy again. This joy was a deep abiding peace, an assurance that God was sovereign. They didn’t have to like what was happening. They merely had to trust that God knew what He was doing.

bookseries

I love that. I realized this past month that just as “love” is not a feeling, neither is joy. Sure, positive feelings may accompany these fruits of the Spirit, but our emotions don’t define these products of abiding with the Lord. The Apostle Paul could rejoice while he was in prison because of what he knew Christ to be like: faithful, and good, and Holy. I doubt Paul felt like rejoicing. Certainly he didn’t believe we always feel like rejoicing and thus should “rejoice in the Lord always.” No, He commanded us to rejoice in the Lord always because in the Lord  there is always something to rejoice about, despite what we’re facing in our present circumstances. 

Likewise, James 1:2 says to “consider it all joy when you face various trials…” Why? “…because you know…” There it is again. He doesn’t say, “because you feel“, but “because you know“. Christians can rejoice when faced with trials because we know that the testing of our faith produces endurance and if we let endurance have its perfect result, we will look more and more like Christ and lack nothing. The key is keeping our thoughts fixed on what we know the end result will be rather than being fixated on the difficulty we’re in the middle of. Keeping our eyes on Jesus and believing He is Who He says He is in His Word is what leads to genuine joy.

When circumstances don’t satisfy…

Sometimes we think that if one single circumstance in our lives changed, THEN we’d be happy. “Once I’m married, then I’ll be happy.” “When I finally get pregnant, then I’ll be content.” “Once we get out of debt, then I’ll be happy.” “If I lose 15 pounds, then I’ll be satisfied.” “When I finally accomplish _________, then I’ll be happy.” But we’re only deceiving ourselves when we think this way.

This past month God allowed me to experience “the perfect day” and yet still feel dissatisfied. I felt well (no Lyme symptoms), I had no housework to do, and I had the whole day to relax and spend time with my best friend. Yet, I felt restless and bored. I believe God was showing me that even the best of circumstances cannot bring joy. We can be well fed, perfectly healthy, well off financially, and have supportive relationships and still lack joy if we don’t allow Christ to be enough- our All-in-All. As Chip Ingram says,

The secret to a life of unending joy and peace involves finding something or someone who will “come through” for you 100 percent of the time in any and every situation forever.

allinall

Obviously, only Christ meets that standard. No thing or person meets this standard the way Christ does; only Jesus satisfies and brings lasting joy.

What are your thoughts on joy?

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