Last week I returned from a wonderful 8 day retreat with my family in Miami Beach. Literally within a couple of hours of my return, BAM! Life happened. I found myself totally deflated on the side of the road waiting for the police to arrive after having gotten into a collision with another vehicle on the highway. I was determined to be at fault so that accident came with a $130 ticket. Moments before I had received a voicemail from a client who wanted to downgrade a service, which meant that I would now have to pay out $300 extra that I thought was contributing to my bottom line that week. To add insult to injury, the words “possibly totaled” were uttered and that almost sent me into a tailspin. You mean that car that I just invested hundreds of dollars in for a new tire, a new battery and a new registration within the last few months? That car?! This is not happening.
Upon returning home that night, as I replayed the accident over and over again in my mind and what I could have done to prevent it, I tried to think about how grateful I was that I was physically OK, as were the passengers in the other vehicle involved in the accident. It could have been much worse I told myself. I tried to make those words console my spirit but I couldn’t. “Thank God you weren’t injured. Everything else will work out.” I read the words in my mom’s text message but they weren’t landing on me the way I desperately wanted and needed them to. I tried watching TV to get my mind off things and 10 minutes in, the power goes out. It’s completely black and quiet, except for the sound of raindrops outside. I’m left with these ridiculous thoughts consuming my brain. So I pray for the second time that night and at some point during that prayer I drift off to sleep.
I’d like to say that joy came in the morning and I felt better but sadly, I was just bitter. I questioned God and myself and the pity party continued. Yes, in the midst of my prayers and quiet time I still had a bad attitude. It was a bad scene getting worse. As if the car accident wasn’t bad enough, I started thinking about all the other things in my life that were not going the way I desired. It was an ugly snowball effect that seemed unstoppable. But something happened the next morning. I woke up and God led me to a scripture I’ve read probably a hundred times or more.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” James 1:2
The scripture was embedded in a devotional I read from time to time in the mornings and this particular entry was entitled, “Don’t Let a Bad Attitude Rule Your Life”. Yep, it was clear God was talking directly to me. I needed an attitude adjustment…quickly. I read further…
“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:3
At first I was resistant to the message because these last two years of my life have been nothing but test after test after test. I told God I was over all these tests. But I stuck with the scripture and I continued to meditate on it. The next day my attitude shifted completely in the midst of an “aha” moment. I realized that God was giving me an important lesson in something I thought I had already learned. It was a lesson in joy. And I felt a thousand times better once I learned it.
Most of us are experts in what I am now defining as circumstantial joy. Merriam Webster defines joy as 1) to experience great pleasure or delight 2) the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. Yep, that makes sense. When things are going exactly the way we want and plan or even better, we have joy. That’s how the world defines joy and that’s why we’re so good at it. But what happens when things don’t go our way and we experience trouble, which tends to happen to us as humans if we live for any period of time. Does that mean we can’t or won’t have joy? I then asked myself how God views joy, especially in light of that scripture in James.
I was led to another definition of joy offered by Theopedia (think Wikipedia for Biblical Christianity) that states joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is the settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. That sounds more like the joy James was talking about.
When I look back to those low moments last week, I had those moments not because I wasn’t genuinely grateful for all of the good things going on in my life. I was and I still am grateful. I now know that it is possible to be grateful without being joyful. I was not really experiencing joy because I needed a lesson on how to be “full” of joy in spite of my circumstances. I always wondered how some people are able to have such great attitudes (without faking it) in the midst of their hardship. I can admit that prior to now I was one of those who was “faking it until I make it.”
Had I not gone through what I went through I would not have learned this valuable lesson so for that, I am grateful. And I’m continuing to learn while I’m still going through it. I believe the most important lesson I’ve learned in this process is that joy is a choice. We can’t control a lot of things that happen to us in this life but it’s a blessing to know one thing we can control is our joy. It’s a choice we have to make every single day when we open our eyes. I share this humbling experience because I know I’m not the only one who needs to learn or be reminded of this lesson. We’re all going through things that trouble us big and small. My word of advice as you are going through it…choose joy.