Real Joy to the World

Joy to the World image 3We have just entered into the month of Christmas festivities, and traditionally this holiday spirit means holiday exuberance that is often expressed by lots of eating, drinking, spending, and other forms of “making merry.” For some, these activities can be considered an addiction or the powerlessness to carry out what would be to one’s ultimate benefit.  I recently heard Pastor Rob Bell describe addiction as something that you do in your effort to find joy, thinking that this is the only avenue to the happiness you seek, except that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1, NIV). Bell goes on to suggest that because we get caught up in repetitive behaviors or mindsets, continuing to hope that they will meet our desire for joy, we overlook the real happiness we are searching for.

Though we usually think of addiction as drinking too much or smoking, we forget that each of us has an addiction to our own thoughts and perspective, and the crazy thing is, we are completely oblivious to it most of the time. Here’s what an addictive thought pattern looks like for me:

I want my children to be well, so I continue to suggest (OK, maybe strongly suggest) that they take certain steps, such as eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and other motherly advice. While this is good and necessary when they are young, my children are now young adults who must figure out (sometimes the hard way) the best path toward wellness for them. My problem is that I think that my best path toward the joy of seeing my children well is offering helpful, unasked for advice. This addictive mindset keeps me on a loop that I tend to go back to when I see them suffering, stressed, or sick.

What I must recognize is that even more than I want for them to be well, I want for them to embrace wellness as their own choice, and I know that it is a process that sometimes includes “How’s that working for ya?” Dr. Phil moments. Because I can’t just will myself to stay silent, I have to focus on the joy I’m really searching for – the joy that comes from knowing my kids are capable of making healthful choices without my input. As Bell puts it, I allow these competing desires to do battle, and my stronger desire will win.

Other times we struggle with cravings in our desire for comfort. Most of us just want to feel good, particularly when stressed, and for some this means another drink or a bag of potato chips or peanut butter M & Ms (my go-to comfort candy). When we resort to comforts that we know will not make us feel good long-term, however, we are shanghaiing the process of seeking joy in ways that will last. Once again, when we want to feel good, we usually mean we want more energy and we want to physically feel on top of our game. Our stop-gap measures, such as large quantities of peanut butter M & Ms, are not really the joy we seek. By recognizing the real desire we have (physical energy and wellness), we can let the opposing desires clash rather than relying on willpower, knowing that when we’re clear about what we really want, the practice promoting the best joy will win.

The key is being aware of what our truest desires are and keeping them at the forefront of our minds. Sometimes this requires some mental revamping, and contemplative practice (such as mediation) and prayer offer opportunities for that. Other helps that I’m trying include meaningful quotes and physical tokens to remind me of the greater joy I’m seeking. Bell mentions the scripture from Psalms 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” and he interprets this as saying that the Father, Son, and Spirit have created everything for joy, and there are many avenues toward that joy, not just the one addictive mindset or habit that we are relying on. There are other ways for us to move toward joy beyond our addictive mindsets or habits, and by seeing clearly what we really desire, we can break free and experience the joy we seek in this world.

~by Nan Kuhlman

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