Choosing Joy in the New Year
I'm not a huge fan of “inspirational” novelty items, but we do have one in our house. My wife has a yellow coffee mug that says “choose joy” on it and I think that we both appreciate the gentle reminder that it gives us on weary pandemic mornings when our kids have been in the same small house with us for approximately eight thousand days.
Joy is part of Paul's description of the what the fruit of the spirt looks like in his letter to his friends in Galatia. I’d like to wager that it is probably one of the most misunderstood and most difficult words to define on the list. In our culture, it can be easy to think that joy is connected to happiness. Indeed, it is often used in our common language as a word that basically conveys an emotion similar to happiness but “bigger”. I’m not here to tell you what words do or don’t mean, but I believe that joy is something that is much deeper and much more powerful than happiness.
I have come to believe that joy is deeply connected to hope. It is a state of being that is not connected too or dependent upon our current circumstances. It is a way of living that transcends the ups and downs of day-to-day life. This is especially true when joy is rooted in the hope of Christ and the power of God’s spirit within us.
I discover new depths of hope when I meditate on the truth that God is bringing unity together for all things in heaven and on earth in Christ (Eph.1:10) and that God is saying “look! I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). More personally, I find hope in knowing that even if my worst fears were to come to pass, God can and will bring goodness out of those situations. I find hope in knowing that even in my most unhealthy moments, God’s grace is abundant and overflowing in my life. I live in hope when I reflect on the ways that I am experiencing growth, renewal, and healing in Christ.
These are the things I find joy in if I choose to acknowledge them. Even when life is challenging, maybe especially then, joy can be like a deep underground river that never runs dry. It is a rushing river that we can drink deeply from when we are both living on the mountaintops of life or journeying through the deepest and darkest valleys. I have found though, that I have to choose to drink from it.
When joy is connected with the hope that we have, we don’t have to hide from the things that we are experiencing and feeling in in life. We can fully mourn our losses, we can grieve pain and brokenness, we can be honest about the injustice and inconsistencies in our lives and in our world around us, we can drink in the astounding beauty of creation, we can revel in the sounds of children playing, we can belly laugh at a funny video on the internet. I think this is why the Hebrew Scriptures say “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh 8:10), because joy that is rooted in God’s hope gives us the strength to embrace life in all of its fullness and know that God is with us through it all.
So whether or not 2021 turns out to be the dramatic turn of events towards good things happening in the world we all wish it would be, I hope that we can all choose joy in the new year.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)