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Choosing to live joyfully is a discipline

Sally Clarkson
Courtesy of Sally Clarkson

High expectations filled my mind as I swayed back and forth in the rhythmic movement of the train. I was returning to Poland many years after I had lived working there with students. I anticipated a sweet, heart-filling reunion. I looked forward with anticipation to visits with cherished friends from days gone by.

Yet, upon my arrival, I found myself depleted and somewhat discouraged. Difficulty, broken relationships, loss of faith, health issues filled the stories of my colleagues and weighed heavily on my heart. Making my way to a park bench one afternoon in a despondent mood, I questioned God about it all. The stories I had heard — and even the circumstances of my life didn’t seem to measure up to what I had expected when I started this journey of faith years before. I was caught in a personal reflection of the disappointment life had brought my way.

Suddenly, my reverie was interrupted by the music of a child’s laughter. Searching out the source of this delightful sound, I discovered that under a nearby flowering tree, a little toddler was twirling and dancing, arms up to catch the falling blossoms as they swirled to the ground in the spring breeze. He was utterly captivated by the delight of the moment. My heart was captured by his exuberant joy, and I knew this was what I wanted: to live life just as he did at this moment, my own hands upraised, delighting in the beauty to be found around me.

Experiencing one of those rare moments of insight, I understood that I had agency to focus on what is beautiful in order to keep my soul alive, instead of only pondering the harsh realities that so many had shared. “Unless one becomes like a child,” Jesus had said. I needed to practice the way I steered my thoughts: to focus on the falling flowers or the raging storms. Everyone I know wants to live a life full of happiness, warm memories, and laughter. Yet the very real troubles we face threaten to force our attention their way instead, stealing the joy we might otherwise experience.

With every phase of life comes new areas of distraction and challenges, interruptions, and misfortune. Many of these situations are completely out of our control. Yet our perspective, the way we choose to approach or react to them, is up to us. Will we focus on the bad news, health and financial challenges, political unrest and other difficulties we are surrounded by? Or will the falling flowers, rainbow-glistening soap bubbles, and wonder of newborn baby skin play a larger role in our minds and hearts?

Joy is a choice. God has given us the power of agency, the ability to direct our minds, wills and emotions in the direction we want them to go. Such power requires discipline, determination, and practice in centering our lives on God’s Word and Spirit, so we might submit our attitudes and emotions to Him and respond appropriately to the realities of life.

Choosing joy is not innately natural as most of us have not had a model of such determination. But it can become a habit if we ask God’s help in shaping our heart-attitudes. Choosing to see joy and beauty in every moment has produced abundant fruit in and through my own life. But I had to learn how to practice it as a way of life.

Today, determine to change your perspective. Whatever small treasures you find, focus on really noticing and delighting in them. Purposefully seek joy in the creation that surrounds you — the stunning mountain sunset, golden retrievers created for giving delight, the intimacy of deep friendship that brings comfort and healing, and many more. See each one as a personal reminder from God that He is present with you in every moment. May He make His joy known to you in the middle of your own chaos and stormy life today. 

Sally has authored 24 books and crafted thousands of messages on her blog, Additionally, through her podcast, At Home With Sally & Friends, which has more than 15 million downloads, she acts as a companion to women as a voice of encouragement and inspiration. 

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