I was prompted to consider, “Who is the most joyful person I know?”* The answer alluded me for some time. I know friendly people, pleasant people, humorous people, seemingly happy people. But can I confidently label them as joyful?
I know a gal who has had a lot to be sad about over this past year but it hasn’t put her out of the running for most joyful. She’s honest with her sadness and she also manages to be uplifting and hopeful. She has chosen to continue to engage with love and empathy for others, in the midst of her sad circumstances. She so easily could have chosen to withdrawal. But she exudes a gentle, soft, merciful, joy. Her presence inspires me to choose joy.
There is a fellow I volunteer with early every Wednesday morning at a breakfast for our community. We get there at 5:30am to set up and prepare. Some of us are, not surprisingly, dragging and bleary-eyed at that hour of the day. But not my friend. It could be the decent hour of 8:00am if you were to guesstimate the time by his demeanor. The rote question of “How are you today?” is answered with a hardy “Great!” or “It’s another beautiful day!” or an equally enthusiastic declaration of goodness.
He’s never told me, but I can easily deduce that joy is a (habitual) choice for him. He hasn’t miraculously avoided sorrows, suffering and challenges. He walks with the assistance of a cane and a limp that speaks for the pain he does not give voice to. He’s a widower. He’s a survivor of heart surgery. His parents are in their 90’s and have been in failing health for some time. He’s my brother through our faith in Jesus but he is not a close friend, so I’m unaware of the other burdens he has had and those he continues to bear. I am acutely aware that my Wednesday morning buddy is joyful.
And what a gift that is to me. His consistently thankful attitude reminds me to be thankful. His enthusiasm and casual contentment is contagious. Sometimes it is convicting! His joy is so matter-of-fact that I don’t resent the conviction; I’m grateful for it.
He’s a present, physical, reminder of the hope I have in Jesus.
He’s a testament that joy is available in the thick of suffering.
His tenacious joy spurs me on to remember how Jesus has come through for me in the past and is continually coming through for me.
My early morning buddy inspires me to take my eyes off my fears, what worries me, and my sorrows, and to instead look for signs of the resurrection.
Christ’s resurrection is our source of joy. Jesus willingly suffered out of his love for us. In his suffering he empathizes with our suffering. Our own suffering deepens our awareness of the presence of God in our life. (Not because He is the cause, but because He is The Comforter). Jesus’ resurrection was the culmination of His sacrificial rescue mission. Wonder of wonders: rescuing us was the joy set before Him! Freedom to live an abundant life now is the outcome of His resurrection. The promise of Heaven and a New Earth are also the promises of His resurrection.
I have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.**
That strength and hope give me the ability to choose the joy offered by Christ; to follow in the footsteps of those who habitually choose, and receive, joy.
* Book: Defiant Joy, by Stasi Eldredge
**Hymn: “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, lyrics by Thomas Chisholm