While not-so-innocently meandering around the Hobby Lobby this month, I found myself drawn, as usual, to the décor aisles. Scattered about the adorable canvas signs (silently beckoning, “Buy me!”) I noticed a few signs with the phrase “Choose Joy” artfully painted on canvas. Before I knew it, the sign appeared in my shopping cart. (I still don’t know how that possibly could have happened!)
That little canvas hangs up on my wall where I see it daily. Some days, it’s an encouragement to me, to ask myself: where is the joy in my voice, in my eyes, in my facial expressions, or even in my driving? Other days, I’m longing for joy, but keep getting pulled underwater.
While counseling my young people at our parish, I hear often of their longing for joy, and I feel the same desire in my own life. We’ve seen it in others, and we crave it. However, in the ebb and flow of life, we find our joy bobbing up and down, above water one moment and under the waves the next. Especially in youth ministry, we want our witness of joy to be contagious to our young people. As the adage goes, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” The question always on my mind was: “How can I give joy?” but I learned that the first question should be: “How do I receive joy?”
Joy is buoyed by hope.
Hope inspires and purifies our activities toward God’s own Heart; it keeps us from discouragement, sustains us when we feel abandoned, and opens us up to eternal expectation of the good (CCC 1818). Buoyed up by hope, [one] is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. In other words, when our joy feels like it’s sinking, hope keeps our heads above the water.
Hope is anchored in God’s love.
If we are flagging in hope, read of His promises. Ask Him when He has ever failed one of His little ones, and listen for His answer.
Daily prayer is the wellspring of hope.
Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer. (CCC 1820). We simply cannot be effective and fruitful evangelists without daily prayer. Those of us in ministry positions should be even more steadfast in committing to daily personal prayer; not just devotional prayer, but seeking after deep intimacy with Our Lord. Commit to a scheduled time daily, and have constant recourse to the sacraments. Jesus is the source of our hope, and we simply cannot gain hope without His help.
Joy doesn’t always look the way we expect.
“One who has hope lives differently”, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says in his encyclical Spe Salvi. We live differently with hope, because of a steadfast trust in the One who made the earth and sea, and everyone who inhabits it. However, joy in trials and sorrow looks a lot less like a series of enthusiastic cartwheels, and much more like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It echoes the choruses of “Thy will be done” and “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”.
Joy is our defense against the attacks of Satan.
Saint Francis of Assisi wrote about joy: “The devil rejoices when he can snatch joy away from the servant of God. He carries dust so that he can throw dust into even the tiniest chinks of the conscience…But when spiritual joy fills hearts, the serpent throws his deadly poison in vain. The devil cannot harm the servant of God when he sees that he is filled with holy joy.”
In every circumstance, each one of us should hope (CCC 1821).
Hope’s trademark is its constant confidence, not wishful thinking. It is a virtue, after all, which means it is a “firm attitude, stable disposition, habitual perfection” (CCC 1804). That’s easy when we’re floating along; much harder to do when there’s a hole in our canoe and we’re sinking quickly. But yet, if our hope should abound in every circumstance, so should our joy!
If it feels like our joy is sinking, remember that we are buoyed by hope – a theological virtue. Because of this, it is given only when we ask for it by name. Let’s grasp tightly our anchor of hope, confident in Love, who will never let us drown.
The joy of a heart filled with hope is unmistakable. Not because of a superficial smile, but because joy freely gives love. This freedom comes only from unsinkable hope. In that freedom, we choose joy, because Love Himself not only saved us from drowning, but plunges us into the ocean of His infinite love.