The last few years I’ve been doing quite a bit of contemplating on what it means to have joy. A few months ago I attended, with my mother, a morning coffee that one of the women in her Sunday school class was hosting. There was a woman there who I had not met before but we talked most of the morning. Near the end of the morning she said to me, “You have joy. I can see it.” That statement made me pause for a moment but I thought to myself, “Yes I do.” I can honestly say that I have joy in my life.

You see, I feel like I’ve been on a quest to understand what joy really is and what it truly means to have it. I didn’t always have it but I can say that even when trials of life make themselves apparent that I am still joyous. That doesn’t mean I’m jumping up and down singing “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” like the cartoon characters Ren & Stimpy (remember them from ‘90’s Nickelodeon?) all day long…or ever. It means that I know, no matter what, even in periods of great doubt, hurt and/or questioning, I know God has me and isn’t letting go.

The question is how do we bring more joy into our lives? We can’t just go grab it. It isn’t a mysterious force that just plants itself on us. No great amount of scriptural knowledge will bestow it on us. Well, how then? I am completely convinced that one of the ways we increase joy in our lives is by doing things for others and trying to be the best example of Christ that we can be. Constantly. I don’t mean we have to make sizeable donations to charitable foundations or grand, lofty gestures of kindness for everyone to see, I’m just talking about letting others see Christ in us without them ever being aware of it.

How many times have you been in a hurry running through the check-out at the grocery store and all you can think about is the super hard day you had, that you have to get home and make dinner, make sure the kids’ homework is done and get them to bed before you have any kind of peace and quiet? It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year (admit it, you just sang the theme song to ‘Friends.’). All you want to do is buy the groceries and get the heck outta there. Are you on your phone? Is the person in line in front of you taking sooooooo long? Ugh. “I just want to get out of this place!!!” Then…you see the cashier. She/he probably has been standing there 2, 4, 8 hours perhaps? That person has seen the good, bad and U.G.L.Y. of humanity all day long checking out all types of people. You just want to get out of there but that cashier is trapped and has nowhere to go but to deal with a lot of people who probably feel just like you. For the 3-5 minutes that you have now become that cashier’s customer drop all the junk that you’re feeling. Get off the phone. Smile at that person and ask them how they’re doing. Tell a joke or give them a compliment to make them smile and when they’re done ringing up your groceries tell them you hope they have a good day as you leave. That small gesture may not be a big deal to you but could be a HUGE deal to that cashier. You might be the only person in their entire shift that makes them feel like an actual human that matters. Once you leave, feel free to be grumpy again to yourself but what you just did wasn’t about you, it was about that cashier. Don’t just do this in grocery stores but do it everywhere: at gas stations, drive throughs, the cleaners, at restaurants…wherever you’re interacting with people. Even when you’re going through the pits of despair in your own life what is it to be kind to a random stranger for a few minutes? To show them a smile? To treat them with dignity and respect?

Another way is to just pray silently for random people (remember that cashier?). How many times have you walked through the store and you’ve seen a random shopper that looks like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders? Just say a silent prayer for them. You have no idea what they’re going through but God does. Oh, and pray for those folks in your life that have hurt you, who have wronged you, or who you just some days want to slap. Yep, you heard me. One of the hardest things we can do is pray for those that we feel we’re justified in not liking. It’s ok to say, “God, I don’t want to pray for this person because…..” but still pray for them. Pray for good things in their life. Don’t pray for the things YOU want God to change in them but just pray for their wellbeing and God will take care of the rest – in them and in YOU.

Life isn’t about us. I know we think that it is most of the time but we were put here on earth not for ourselves but for others. It’s our job as Christians to be here for others, to do things for others and to reflect Christ in our lives. Just be kind, gracious and loving. Truly be loving towards your neighbor, which means everyone not just the person in the house next to yours.

Also, enjoy and relish in the little things in life. Truly experience God and his beauty and breathe it in. Remember to stop in the midst of all the chaos and truly see the joys all around us. There is a little rabbit that I’ve named Little Bunny Foo-Foo (so original, I know) who comes into my backyard every morning and evening. I love seeing this little bunny and he makes me smile every time I see him. For the moments that I watch him I am filled with joy. I’m a massive animal lover and I get that not everyone’s going to love the little bunnies but find those small things that make you happy and relish in them. Awesome parking space in the front next to the store during CHRISTMAS??!! Rejoice in it! You got the last piece of chocolate cake before the restaurant ran out? Woo-hoo! Find joy in it! Experiencing the mountains, waterfalls, beaches, seas, meadows, lakes, music, theater, art…whatever those “things” are that make your heart leap….breathe them in…and thank God for them. All these things are reminders of God’s power, might and beauty and we experience them all the time but how much do we actually stop to appreciate them? Don’t take them for granted.

I guess my point, through all the above rambling (and great for you if you’ve actually continued reading this far!) is that when we change ourselves to reflect more of Christ to others and when we take the time to appreciate all the things around us that God daily provides to us, we begin to notice a change in ourselves and joy just begins to creep in. Also, let me state, I am far beyond perfect and I fail on massive scales each day. At times I’m still selfish and I can be hurtful and prideful. I am nowhere near perfect or free from sin. I’m not free from hurt, pain and trials in life but I can say, even through it all, I do know joy, I have joy and I hope you do too.

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galations 5:22-23

Jen Allen
Curb/Word Entertainment – Director National Promotion

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Wise, Weird & Welcome: Learning and Leading with the Lepers and the Locust Eaters

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