Choosing joy

Last week when my daughter’s flight from Kansas City was delayed due to stormy weather I was afforded a little more time in the airport to “people watch”. Fortunately, I was seated where I could easily observe passengers emerging onto the concourse without looking like a stalker. Minutes after the arrival board posted each plane’s landing, throngs of people would pour out through the hallway. Some passengers had loved ones gathered close by the entrance to greet them. Squeals of joy, bear hugs and pats on the back followed. Other travelers arrived with little or no fanfare. Smartly dressed in business suits with briefcases in hand, they strode toward the next meeting. Still others emerged from the hallway with the look of uncertainty that often accompanies travelers in a new city.

Interestingly, even though every arrival had its own story, each person’s eyes seemed the same in one distinct way. They were all searching for something. Some were undoubtedly looking for a familiar face in the crowd. Others routinely scanned phone messages on the way to the escalators. A few looked anxiously for the signs that would point them to the baggage claim area. As I watched them parade by it struck me at what a perfect a parallel this was for the way I can choose to approach my life. I can either expect business as usual, fearfully contemplate what to do next or anticipate joy.

I’ve been there. Falling into the routine that is “the business as usual” way of looking at life. Losing sleep in fearful anticipation of the unknown. But the good news is that no matter where I am in any situation I can always choose joy. And in choosing joy I receive the source of my strength. Nehemiah 8:10 tells me that “The joy of the LORD is my strength.” I choose to believe Psalms 27 that “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life.”

Therefore, I must search through life with conscious intent. By choosing the numbness of busyness or being sidelined by paralyzing fear, I am allowing the enemy to rob me of the extraordinary. Instead, I must anticipate the best that God has to offer me. And in doing so, I will choose joy.

The day after Christmas

For over a month it occupied the space normally taken by our enormously overgrown umbrella plant. The places underneath it now bare; presents it had guarded, opened and gone. The gold beaded garland which had been hung with so much care a few weeks before now hangs in drooping, careless cascades where little hands have pulled at it. 

As I take the ornaments from their posts I feel an overwhelming melancholy. The house is too quiet and all that remains to be done is to put away the decorations. I wonder what is there to look forward to now? Where is the unspeakable joy of Christmas Eve? What happened to the sweet song of the angels?

On Christmas Day in the midst of all the squealing laughter and happy chatter I had paused to kneel in the corner of my kitchen to give thanks for the blessings of my family. Now only days later I am wondering where my happiness lies. But as quickly as those thoughts are formed the Spirit whispers to me in the quiet of the house. And because of the silence I can hear Him plainly.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Missing the faces of my family around me it is all too easy to slip into the nearsighted vision of the world. In reality, there is much to look forward to because God has a plan. A plan that is meant for me alone. Joy still abounds even in the days after the celebration. And it is because of the stillness I can clearly hear the continuous song of the angels. Glory to God in the highest!

Forgiveness

How wonderful life would be if we could resolve our conflicts as quickly as children after a playground tussle. Two little boys, one blonde the other brown-haired, sat together at lunch smiling and laughing, trading stories and cookies. Five minutes into recess they were at my side wailing accusations. Brown-hair said he had been pushed and kicked. Blonde-hair was sporting a goose egg above his eye. Best of friends only minutes earlier were now spewing out conflicting crime scene reports. I listened intently as each one told his version then put on my referee shirt and sent them to opposite ends of the time-out area to cool down. After the proper amount of “refrigeration” we came back together, talked it out, shook hands, forgave and forgot. They ran back out on to the field of play as friends again.

I have to admit that I don’t always handle conflict in my own life quite so well. I wear my referee shirt a little too often letting that innate sense of fairness get in my way. If I get hurt, it is usually because I feel I have been treated unfairly and the road to resolution is blocked by my unwillingness to let it go. I don’t stay mad; I hold onto hurt.

Recently someone I dearly love unintentionally hurt my feelings.  It took a day or two but I got over myself and forgave the slight. After all, I told myself, I’m not the kind of person who holds onto grudges. I have always taken seriously the “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against” part of the Lord’s prayer. Still as I prayed the Spirit called me into account. I may have forgiven and given up the anger part of the offense but knew deep down I was still harboring hurt. As long as I allowed that seed of hurt to remain no good fruit was going to grow. It was time for me to live out 1 Corinthians 13:5 as an example of love. Paul writes that love “ does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

It’s hard to ignore that last part- it keeps no record of wrongs. I was fooling myself to think that just because I wasn’t angry any more didn’t mean I wasn’t keeping score. The fact that I was still hurt was evidence to the contrary. The Spirit reminded me that allowing hurt to hold me hostage is a scheme of the enemy.

And so I finally gave it up – all of it this time and managed to break out of my pity-party-prison. I’m not saying it was easy – just necessary. Sometimes putting the key into that prison lock and turning till I hear the click is the hardest thing in the world to do. And yet when I finally summon up the courage to do it I find myself basking in the sunshine again wondering why in the world I waited so long. And then like the little boys in the school yard I can run back onto the playground with a free, unincumbered heart thanking my God for the gift of forgiveness.

Thank-you, Jesus for the extravagent love and forgiveness You have poured out over me. Although I am undeserving, I accept it with a grateful heart. Help me to return that love and forgiveness to the ones around me. I love you, Lord.