In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was obsessed over the accumulation of wealth. He was greedy, hoarding his pennies. He was mean, complaining about the poor. He was nasty, wishing ill on others. No one wanted to be around him. His main problem, however, was that he had lost his joy. Wretched behavior grew in the chasm left behind. In a last ditch effort to save Scrooge’s soul from eternal torment, three ghosts individually appeared to him to whisk him through time: past, present, and future. With the Spirits’ guidance, Scrooge examined poignant moments of his life and was convinced that he needed both a change of heart and a change in behavior.
Similarly, we’ve all had moments in which we’ve buried our joy so deeply that it seems like we’ll need several miracles to find it again. We battle busy schedules and stress over unfinished projects. We say things we don’t mean to loved ones and regret how we’ve hurt them. We obsess over wrongs done to us and harbor contempt towards offenders. Financial worries, health scares, and tension all add to our woe. We want to dismiss everyone and everything with a loud “Bah! Humbug!”
But we don’t have to hide from the Grim Reaper—or avoid answering the phone—by curling up beneath our covers on cold, dark mornings. There are ways to get through the gloom and into the light. We just need a healthy disposition and a route to lead us back to joy. The three avenues that help me are to give, pray, and sing.
A year ago, I fueled my van at Costco and started to maneuver past the pumps. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry. I had plenty of time to meet my boys at their school and take them home. It was cold, about 40 degrees. The boys would keep warm inside until they saw me arrive.
Just as I was about to exit the Costco lot onto a busy road, I saw a young woman walking through the grass. She struggled on the uneven ground in part because she was lugging an infant carrier. I had no doubt there was a baby tucked underneath the layers of blankets. Of the two travelers, the young mother was the one crying.
For once in my life, I wasn’t conflicted over whether or not to offer help. I rolled my window down and shouted a couple of times in the woman’s direction before she heard my offers to give her a ride.
She told me that her van had run out of gas in a lot across the street from Costco. She had seen the gas pumps and made her way over to ask for help. A man whom she had approached was rude and turned her away. Her tears led me to believe that she was emotionally defeated by the time I came upon her.
According to Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Through my chance meeting with the young mother, I know exactly how it feels to be blessed. It is joy to be handed trust and confidence from a stranger. It is joy to provide for another person. It is joy to cry together, hug goodbye and wish good upon one another.
In Matthew 25:35, we read, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” If you’re inspired to give of yourself in any of these ways, you’ll meet a need in someone’s life. Sometimes they’ll thank you. Sometimes they won’t. When you give freely, without expecting anything in return, you’ll feel differently, and you’ll want to give more.
There was a time when I couldn’t imagine squeezing a single minute out of my day for any other being, even God. I was a busy mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, volunteer, committee member…titles galore. For crying out loud, I couldn’t possibly support one more relationship! And then, I gave in to an ever-present tug: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). So, God joined me during my early morning showers.
Praying while showering may seem disrespectful to people of other faiths who are tied to strict worship ceremonies and customs. But my Christian faith teaches that nothing stands between the Creator of the Universe and me. I can approach Him anytime and anywhere. I may be casual and speak conversationally with Him. Alternatively, I can be formal and lower myself to the ground in reverence, never losing sight of the fact that He is owed my perpetual thanks and utmost respect.
Throughout my years spent getting to know Him, I’ve discovered that He has quite a sense of humor. He’s very opinionated and He’s jealous for my attention. He’s loving and kind too. And sometimes His expression of love comes with harsh discipline. What’s really cool, however, is that He provides me with all that I need.
We work well together: I seek His input into my life and He directs me…I may have that statement backwards. Either way, I don’t always listen, and the path isn’t always easy or clear. I’ve tripped over plenty of litter—ugly sin and temptations, disappointment and heartache—scattered by the world. I’m not immune to any of it. Often, I wonder if I might even be more susceptible to it than people who don’t care about His approval.
The beauty of His and my relationship with one another is that He knows what I truly think about Him, and I get to experience the joy of His companionship as He walks with me through all my trials. It feels good to know that He is ever present and looks forward to our one-on-One time. “Go into your room, close the door and pray to your father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).
The Detroit Christian radio station, K-LOVE 106.3 FM, challenged its audience members to spend thirty days listening to nothing else but Christian radio. The point was for listeners to replace worldly distractions with the praiseworthy songs and positive messages provided by Christian radio programming. For me, that meant that I would have to turn off daytime TV shows and evening news programs.
I did it! I tuned out mainstream media and primarily listened to three stations: K-LOVE; Faith Talk 1500; and WMUZ 103.5 FM – The Light. For well-over a year now, my life has been practically void of televised news and I don’t miss it one bit. There are plenty of other ways to get information. My friends, family, and church all provide enough details for me to feel like I have some idea as to what is happening in the world. If I want to know more, I look to the Internet and mindfully select what I want to read or view. By choosing to do this, I am not bombarded with overly negative and repetitively broadcast stories. Bucking popular information sources and spending time singing along to songs of worship has brought greater peace to my life and more productivity to my days.
I admit to venturing astray by going to hear the Rolling Stones play at Comerica Park; how could I not? I collected nearly every one of their albums during my youth. By the way, the concert was amazing! The guys all defied their ages as they played a dozen and a half of their iconic songs, and I had fun singing.
In comparison, a year earlier my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by attending a concert performance of Christian artists: Third Day, Mercy Me, and Colton Dixon. That concert was amazing for a different reason: Christian music seeps into my soul like nothing else. I carry songs of praise almost constantly in the background of my mind. And the joy I feel is powerful enough to get me fervently dancing. That’s a phenomenon for a conservative girl like me. With my arms reaching towards heaven, I belt out words of worship, words reserved for the King of Kings. Mick may still jump around like a thirty-five year-old, but I know my heart belongs to Jesus. I feel it in my joyful soul.
“Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19).
This Christmas, I hope you’ll plot your way to joy. GIVE cheerfully, PRAY boldly, and SING loudly!