I recently took my Mom out for lunch and much of our discussion centered around spiritual growth. I always thought I’d be a fully mature Christian by at least age 30, but the older we get, the more apparent it becomes that actively engaging in sanctification with the Holy Spirit means being willing to play the long game. Perfection, not even near-perfection, just isn’t possible this side of eternity.
My first reaction to this realization is one of frustration, but my next reaction? Sheer relief. I can relax in Jesus. I don’t need to fixate on mine or anyone else’s past mistakes and wasted seasons of life. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) He will somehow (because He’s God and all) redeem everything and turn it around for good. I don't understand how, but if anyone can do it, the Creator of the Milky Way and of atoms, of Mt. Everest and oak trees can do it.
Finding Joy: Where To Start?
Meditating on this fact alone - God’s got it, and no one is perfect yet - brings a lot of joy. Not just circumstantial happiness, like what we experience right now in the hustle-bustle, sugary and colorful Christmas season, but a calm, hopeful feeling that grows the more we focus outward. Focusing outward? What does that mean?
The first time I really remember noticing a real disconnect between prioritizing my own comfort/happiness and true, lasting joy at the end of the day was back in high school. I think it may have been Thanksgiving. My family of four was home for the day, but I don’t remember anyone else being there. It’s likely my grandparents had already gone down to Florida for the winter. At any rate, I had the entire day to do whatever I wanted. I could eat snacks and take a two hour long bubble bath and read all day if I wanted. Which is pretty much what I did. Best day ever right?? But I distinctly remember laying in bed that night wondering why I wasn’t feeling more happy. Hadn’t I just had the best day ever? No homework, no responsibilities or someone else setting my schedule or priorities? Instead, I just felt kinda….ambivalent. Dissatisfied. Which I found surprising and very odd.
I’m currently reading Jeremiah, and I think the way God describes the New Covenant provides a lot of clues on what He is like, and what we find joy in when we follow in His footsteps.
“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.” (Jeremiah 32: 38-41)
“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
What I take away from this today is 4 things:
I am not Becca Island, a place wholly unto myself. I am in an eternal covenant with God and have been forever joined with other believers in Christ. Like one giant, diverse family.
God doesn’t begrudgingly care for me or wait for me - with arms folded - to get my act together. He will always do good to me. He rejoices in doing good to me, to us. And He engages in my welfare, in our welfare, with all his heart and soul. God uses an agricultural term, “plant”, which implies planning, consistency, and daily maintenance. See #1 for engaging in others’ welfare.
He forgives my mistakes and doesn’t remember them, doesn’t define me by them, doesn’t hold them over my head. If He does this with me, then I should be doing this with others, so they can at least get a taste of what Jesus is like.
God is never, ever, ambivalent or apathetic. Therefore, becoming more like Him means we will become less so.
So this Christmas season, despite ample opportunity for circumstantial happiness (sugar and presents and decorations and craft parties!) how do we continually tip the scale toward true joy? Especially if we notice our days consistently ending on notes of stress or ambivalence?
I think the first place to start is where you, the reader, and I are right now. Meditating on Scripture, “praying without ceasing,” using the tremendous resource of the Holy Spirit to help us believe what is already true in our life: God is big, so very big. And so very gracious and passionate toward us. We are forever with Him and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And if God finds great joy in passionately caring for us, then waking up each day asking, “What should we do today, God?” and “What can I do for the people around me today?” should be the way that we seek out true joy in this season.
And I think in doing so, all the other things - the decorations, parties, festivities, gifts, etc. - will mean so much more because our joy isn’t dependent on them. Working with the mighty, endlessly brilliant Creator each day in taking care of the people around us provides us with the meaning and delight we are really searching for when we make ourselves the focus of each day.