Maybe it's because for the past few months I've been in such an uncertain period of my life, but I've recently been thinking quite a bit about joy. Unlike happiness, which is something that cannot be called upon or chosen, joy is something that we can, in fact, choose to have.
That reality has always kind of confounded me. Because my understanding of joy is usually a false one (mixed up with the idea that it is the same thing as happiness) I've always viewed verses that discuss choosing to have joy, or being overcome with joy, as quite difficult. I want someone to just tell me exactly what it means to choose joy. Joy is slippery, because it must be sincere, but it is also a clear decision.
In addition, the Bible not only encourages us to be joyful, it commands us. One passage that has been a stronghold for me for many years is this one from Romans 12:12:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (NIV)
I don't know exactly what it means to be "joyful in hope," but I know that I'm commanded to do it. And as with so many other things, that is a good place to start. CS Lewis wrote a whole book that told the story of his journey to joy, called, appropriately, Surprised by Joy. In it, he discusses the ambiguous nature of joy, and explains what he thinks joy is:
Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with [happiness and pleasure]; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.
And later on Lewis writes:
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still "about to be."
In Lewis's opinion, then, joy is something just out of our reach, something that we receive only when in communion with God. And yet we are clearly commanded, throughout the Bible, to rejoice, as in Philippians 4:4:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (NIV)
So what does it mean to choose joy? How do we separate joy from the health and wealth gospels and the wrongness of expecting Christianity to bring prosperity and happiness?
I think it has to do with the first verse I quoted. Being joyful in hope points to the fact that this is not something we can pull from inside ourselves, or manufacture. It is a constant choice to call ourselves back to the truth of hope--a reminder to fix our eyes on the grace and promises of Jesus. On a super practical level, it probably means reciting the words of the gospel to myself, meditating on the work of Jesus, speaking with God. It means questioning my motivations and assumptions, and forcing myself to weigh my words and my thoughts before sliding to extremes.
In this season of life, it means being grateful for the blessings poured out on me, and being patient in the uncertainty. It means trusting in God's provision, and not being cynical about my dreams. It means being faithful to wait, and pray, and cry maybe, and not giving in to the frustration of constantly being in a state of uncertainty.
The times in my life when I have had the deepest awareness of both the fragility and the beauty of life are when I've had to wait, and be joyful in hope. Especially during this season of Advent, let us rejoice in the goodness of a God who commands us to pursue something so very good for us.
Last year my brother Daniel released an EP with five songs on it. It was called At Last - Far Off, and it has some of the most beautiful worship arrangements on it. One of my favorites is Psalm 77--it is such a simple refrain, but one that is refreshing and humbling.
Worth listening to, especially during this time of advent. Or check out his new single just released for Christmas, Puer Natus Est.
Basically, just listen to his stuff. It's all good.
There have been a lot of things said over the past several days in regards to the turmoil in St. Louis, and the controversy surrounding the ruling not to indict Darren Wilson. I found the words of Benjamin Watson, a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, to be really truthful, in the midst of it all. Worth a read.
From Benjamin Watson's Facebook page:
"At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope."
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love to talk about the Myers-Briggs test, and those who love to hate on it. (And, I suppose, those who have never heard of it. But there are less of those.) I’ve known people who began by loving it later come to hate it, because the test has taken over their circles of friends, and because there are individuals who begin to see life decisions through the lens of the test (“Should I date that boy? No! I’m an ISFJ and he’s an ENFP. It would never work.”) A quick google search will come up with countless dating websites that explain in detail what each personality type would be like as a spouse, and how to interact with them. Obviously, the world of Myers-Briggs has gotten out of hand.
What makes the situation even more humorous is the fact that very few people actually take the real test; since you’d have to pay around $50 to take the official test, most people take a knock-off internet test that approximates the real one. So when someone looks a friend in the eye and says she understand everything about that friend’s soul based on a fake Myers-Briggs score, I can see why people have started to get jaded about the world of personality testing.
However, I am writing in defense of the Myers-Briggs test, and other personality tests. With some caveats, of course. While the test has the potential to become a self-centered exploration of all the various and fascinating aspects of YOU, I have also known friends who have found genuine healing in the discoveries they’ve made about themselves through the introspection and perspective the test provides. One of my friends grew up in an environment where people constantly told her to “Stop being so shy!” and rewarded her peers for being assertive. She struggled to understand why she couldn’t force herself to become comfortable being outspokenly friendly, until in her twenties she took the test, in an environment where her friends were also taking it, and discovered that lots of people have introverted tendencies, enjoy being alone, and aren’t naturally comfortable meeting new people or being outspoken. Learning this about herself allowed her a lot of freedom to grow and become more comfortable with the way she operates.
In my own life, the test has taught me quite a bit about accepting the differences between my friends and myself. I used to spend a lot of time being frustrated and hurt when friends bailed on me and flaked on plans (and of course I still am to a certain extent—that will never totally change). But when I discovered the difference between people with the J initial—who, by and large, are punctual, dependable planners—and the P initial—who tend to prefer keeping their options open and going with the flow—a world of understanding emerged for me. I don’t have to take it so personally if my Friend the P bails, because the more I understand about the way she operates, the more I realize that she can love me dearly and be a flakey person at the same time (not that it will be any less annoying in the moment.)
Like anything, the Myers-Briggs test can and has been taken too far. But it’s also a great way to begin to understand and empathize with friends, uncover more about the way you yourself operate, and build community. Just make sure you follow these simple rules:
1. Never think that a person is the sum of their Myers-Briggs test results. You’ll never know everything there is to know about a person, and you can’t put people in a box!
2. Never limit your work/friendship/dating options based on your Myers-Briggs test results. Especially if you haven’t taken the real test. That’s just silly.
3. Don’t get self-obsessed. The test is not an excuse for you to talk or think about yourself for hours. It’s just one way of identifying your tendencies.
And most importantly:
4. If you begin talking about the Myers-Briggs test and one (or all) or your companions doesn’t want to talk about it—STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.
I laughed when I saw the prompt for today. "How patient are you?" it asked. Anyone who knows me probably knows how impatient I am. The number of times I went behind my mother's back as a kid, because I couldn't bear to wait for my schemes to come to fruition (and also because my policy was generally ask for forgiveness instead of permission)... let's just say one of the first things I learned about myself is that patience does not come easily to me.
It hasn't gotten much better as I get older. If I've been arguing with someone, I find myself panicking if I can't resolve the conflict immediately. I still struggle with the childish impulse for instant gratification (though I'm convinced that one of the greatest things about being an adult is that, if you just really need that frosty, you can go buy it. Right away.) Just last night I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning because I wanted to finish writing the script for my devised project, even though I knew my mind would be clearer if I waited until morning. As much as I have learned about being an adult, patience is still one of the hardest things for me to learn. And the hardest part of learning patience, as an impatient person, is that you have to be patient and wait to learn patience. It's enough to drive a person crazy!
Because of all this, I know patience will be something I continue to learn for the rest of my life. And yet there are a lot of big picture things about my life that I've already been forced to learn patience in. I don't have a long term job yet, I don't have a spouse, I don't even know where I will be living after December. Learning to be patient as these things become clear is hard, but it's also a privilege. There is joy and excitement is knowing that my place right now is transient, exciting, and full of possibility. God has been graciously teaching me to enjoy the ride.
And I'm also beginning to see the benefits of being an impatient person. I can stand to learn to be more patient, and will continue to do so. But I've also realized that, with the right balance, being impatient can be a good thing, because it gives me the urgency to be a doer. I am motivated and thorough when I have a project on my plate. As I grow in patience, I can also grow in appreciation of this assertiveness, and learn to find the balance between the two. Life is not about growing into an extreme, but into the balance between two opposites. Here's to being given the patience to learn to be patient!
Open and Unafraid
David O. Taylor