“Your joy is your choice. Today I choose joy,” says Mike Himes—and he is correct. Yes, we know there are times when joy is not possible. Serious tragedies, dire straits, difficult moments may dampen joy for a season. Joy is an inappropriate emotion in some circumstances. But I think Himes understands such seasons and circumstances. Instead, he is referring to those people who walk around with their own personal cloud formation hanging over them—the ones who choose not to be joyful. It’s to these people Himes is speaking: “I’ve chosen joy. What’s your choice?”
There was a time when my life wasn’t joyful. True, I had reasons not to be joyful, but when I look back I realize both my circumstances and my lack of joy were my choice. I chose to be a grouch. At work, when I walked through the halls, people would say, “Why are you so angry?” I didn’t know I looked angry, but my face evidently reflected the un-joyfulness I felt inside. I remember myself back then, and wonder how anyone put up with me. I must have been a terrible drag to be around.
Praise the Lord, those days are in the past. Changes happened that led me to choose joy over anger, and a pleasant expression over a grouchy face.
Paul knew how easy it is to forget to choose joy. He had just entreated two of his fellow workers for Christ to “agree in the Lord,” even urging other members of the church at Philippi to “help these women.” Whatever had caused the rift between them, it was getting in the way of their joy. We will never know—this side of heaven—what caused them to disagree, but we have seen enough of these situations to know how devastating such un-joyfulness can be. Paul wanted them to change their outlook.
“Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says, “and again I say, rejoice.” Tabitha Gray says, “Paul was smart enough to say it twice because we might not have gotten it the first time.”
Theatre textbooks say that playwrights tell us something three times if they want us to remember it. We may be surprised, then, that Paul only tells us twice. Still, if we’re even half awake, twice should be enough.
It might not appear that Julian of Norwich had much to be joyful about. She was a medieval mystic and theologian. For a good part of her adult life she lived in a small cell attached to the wall of the Church of St. Julian, from which she might have received the name by which we know her. Julian said, “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.”
Primitive religions teach that all life is sacred, that divinity can be found in all things. In this respect, they may be closer to the truth of God than most modern Christians. Like Julian, they see the sacred in everything.
If this is the secret of joy, it is even more important to make the joyful choice, not just today, but every day. We owe it to ourselves, to our loved ones, to everyone—to God, to be so full of joy that it wells up in us and overflows.
Is it possible? Can we do it? Can we put aside the un-joyful aspects of our lives and be so aware of God in everything and everyone that we practice the fullness of joy every day?
Do we dare to do otherwise? Bethany Hawks says, “Each of us can be a reflection of what joy is.” She might have said, “Each of us can be a reflection of what God is.”
That’s what Paul urges every Christian to do.