Today, I want to remind you that joy isn’t just a feeling; it’s a choice.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier to choose joy when the feeling is there, but your emotions don’t need to have the final word. I can’t help but grin as I write this article because I’m re-playing in my mind typical morning conversations with my daughter.
My baby loves to sleep and when you tell her that sleep is over, the amount of attitude that exudes from her little body is amazing. After wearing my patience down to the nub, I remind her that joy is a choice by asking her very “calmly” to ‘change that face, little girl!’
I’d like to report that my words carry deep influence and she is instantly obedient, but every parent knows the struggle. Her response is insightful though, “I can’t. I don’t know how.” Her words strike me every time because I know how she feels. Emotions can be overwhelming which, at times, makes choosing joy or a better attitude feel almost impossible.
Over the last few years, I’ve sculpted my response to that question and have come up with a strategy to help her choose joy. It’s not a foolproof plan because the emotions win the fight half the time, but I believe I’m teaching her how to fight. I want to give my daughter the tools to make hard choices when everything inside of her is telling her to make the wrong one.
So here is my strategy to choose joy:
Worship God. This may be foreign to you but I’d encourage you to give it a shot. This simply means to sing and/or meditate on the goodness of God. There is a Bible story in Acts 16 about two missionaries who were thrown in jail and beaten. After the beating, as they sat in the jail cell, they began to sing and worship God. It’s an amazing story because, as they sang, an earthquake shook the prison and the doors swung open and their shackles fell off. The story ends with a jailer and his family deciding to accept Christ and a church was started in the Roman colony of Philippi.
I’m convinced by this story, and by my own experience, that focusing on the presence of God changes your internal temperature in your current reality. There is something special about worshiping the God of the universe that puts our lives in the right perspective. My daughter and I worship God together almost every morning.
Be Grateful. My initial attempt to help my daughter change her attitude is to ask her to say out loud three things she is thankful for. The first couple of times this didn’t go over so well. As I said, it’s still a struggle! The goal is to give her the tools to choose joy. At times, the tool can be a difficult one to use but practice makes perfect.
Being thankful helps shift our focus away from our emotionally charged reality. Most bad attitudes come from unmet expectations, so the best counterattack is to think of the things that have met or exceeded our expectations. Remember Acts 16? The church that was started in Philippi? Well, a year or two later this church faced difficult circumstances and Paul (one of the missionaries beaten in jail) encouraged them to choose joy and to rejoice amidst their challenges. In Philippians chapter 4, he writes, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Be a Giver. Once again, many of our attitudes are affected by the things we didn’t get; expectations that were unmet. Doesn’t this ring true in a season that can be overwhelmed by materialism and the “I want’s”? If we aren’t careful, disappointment can carry us to dark places and sometimes the only way to get us out of those places is to begin doing something practical. There is a fine line between being “fake” and practicing a practical discipline until your internal attitude catches up.
I think of this every time I jump on the treadmill at the gym. My attitude stinks and I don’t want to be at the gym but I force myself to walk for 30 minutes and afterward I’m a completely different person inside.
Being a giver is a discipline. It’s a practical way of saying that it’s not all about me. If you truly want to access a joy that supersedes your attitudes, you have to remind yourself that life doesn’t center around you.
My prayer and hope for you is that you learn how to choose joy! Worship God as often as you can, fill your mind with the things you are grateful for, and give as much as you can. I truly believe if you are proactive in these things, your life will be full of joy.
Chad Fagundes is Men’s and Outreach Pastor at Koinonia Church in Hanford, CA. He can be reached at email@example.com or 559-582-1528.