My mom had a no-fail way of dealing with grumpy, complaining, mopey kids: she’d send us to our rooms with one command: “come out when you’re ready to be happy!”
Typically I would stomp off full of whatever grievance I was nursing, only to come out soon after, having laid it aside. Not that the trouble went away; but I learned that my response to problems was in my control. And to “be happy” was possible, whatever else was going on.
I know, it sounds trite. Bobby McFerrin’s cheery song “Don’t worry, be happy” comes to mind and I want to say Come on, now. Be real. Except that all those times in my room taught me that it’s true. In most cases it is possible to be happy.
Christian joy is an interesting thing. It’s not like natural joy at all. Natural joy is like a stream that bubbles and sparkles on the surface when the conditions are right. Christian joy is more like a deep current that is there whatever the weather. Pope Benedict XVI says joy is “a supernatural power that helps us to deal with the challenges of daily life.” It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in your soul. And you can “fertilize” that fruit by choosing to rejoice. Like my mom said: “be happy!” When you start to praise, the feelings follow.
Miriam shows us how …
There’s a lovely example of this in the Old Testament. When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and they saw their pursuers drowned in the waves behind them, they sang praise to God while Miriam led the women in dancing and playing their tambourines. But of course they’re happy, you might say. They’ve been saved!
But did you ever wonder how it was that those women had tambourines to play? That they knew how to sing and dance? For years, maybe generations, they’ve been slaves. Pharaoh has been working them half to death, killing their sons. God had them be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. What does it say that among their few needed belongings, they packed tambourines? It tells me they had found time to make them … that they had learned to use them … that they valued and brought them along.
Those Hebrew women knew how to praise God — and must have praised God — even while they were slaves. Praising God must have helped to keep their hope alive. And when deliverance came, they were ready!
… and so does St. Paul
St. Paul shows something similar in his letter to the Philippians. Not only is he in prison for preaching the gospel, he’s afflicted by some whose preaching is motivated by a desire to torment him. Yet “I shall continue to rejoice,” he says, “for I know that this will result in deliverance for me through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (1:18b-19, NABRE).
I love that: “I shall continue to rejoice.” That’s “continue,” as in to keep on doing what he’s already doing. In spite of imprisonment and affliction, he is rejoicing. How? Take a closer look at what he says next:
- “I know that…” — Paul has faith. In spite of his situation, Paul knows God is in control.
- “…this will result in deliverance for me…” — Paul has hope based on that knowledge.
- “…through your prayers…” — Paul knows the power of prayer and knows people are praying for him.
- “…and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ” — Paul has confidence in the support of the Holy Spirit.
Faith in God does not just give hope. It gives reason to rejoice. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” In everything that happens in your life, whatever it might look like from here, he is working for your ultimate good.
Build a habit of gratitude
If you want to cultivate joy in your soul, build a habit of gratitude:
— Sing songs of praise as you go about your work, in your car, wherever you are. Not just when you feel happy but when your feelings start to sag.
— Don’t like to sing? Try praying the psalms. Psalm 145 is a classic psalm of praise. Or try Psalm 100, or 8, or 146… There are so many good ones. Do you need to get in the mood first? Try Psalm 4 or 25. Get familiar with these prayers; for thousands of years they have been turning people’s hearts to God.
— Count your blessings and give thanks. Someone once said that When you’ve lost your joy, you might just find it hiding in your gratitude! It’s true. Gratitude and generosity, loving others, rejoicing: all of these “turn on the tap” and allow the joy of the Lord to flow into your soul.
Anyone can be joyful when things are good. As Christians, when we draw our life from the Lord, he fills us with supernatural joy even when things are not good. The power of joy is always at our disposal to help us deal with life’s challenges. You have the choice to rejoice!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing! (see Romans 15:13).
Blessings on you as you meditate on his Word.
© 2019 Sarah Christmyer
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I wrote more about Miriam and her tambourine in Becoming Women of the Word: How to Answer God’s Call with Purpose and Joy! Available from Ave Maria Press and wherever books are sold.