My daughter Emily and I were running late to school and found ourselves in agonizingly slow traffic. The stress grew in my back and neck and stayed with me through the morning. Then, our dishwasher decided that like God on the seventh day, it was time to rest from all the work it had done. That evening our microwave died as well.
In his book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes about “the tyranny of circumstances.” The day-to-day grind of life, small crises and disappointments and challenges, can rob us of our joy. They compound over time and can cause us to feel a low-level despair.
Those are easy compared to the awful times of unexpectedly losing a job or getting a bad diagnosis or hearing the words “I don’t want to be married anymore.” In times like that, people can wonder, “Will I ever be happy again?”
One of the hardest things to accept is that we don’t often have control of our circumstances. Step one of the 12-step program is, “We admitted we were powerless.”
There’s a lot about life we can’t choose. We don’t choose our parents or how we’re treated as children. We don’t choose when illness comes. We don’t choose trauma. But here’s what I have come to believe: To rejoice is a choice.
We have the power to choose whether to dwell on life’s hardships or think on the good. Philippians 4:8 counsels, “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.” We can give thanks for what we have or lament what we don’t.
Really, joy is a series of incremental choices, one step after another in the same direction: to believe and not doubt, to be happy rather than despondent. Suffering is inevitable, but misery is optional.
When the dishwasher died, we had to get the old dishwasher out before the installers arrived with the new one. I thought it would take 15 minutes at the most, but an hour later we were still wrestling with the appliance. We removed the bolts. It wouldn’t budge. We pulled and rocked it back and forth. Finally, when it dislodged, even though we had turned off the water, some remained in the hoses and ran all over the kitchen.
In the middle of that mess, I was faced with a choice. I could choose to deal with it happily, or I could bitterly do the work.
I chose joy. Immediately I felt a lightness, like a weight lifted. I even heard myself laughing at the chaos.
We can choose joy.
Maybe the hardest part is admitting we have a choice at all.
Brent McDougal is pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.