I have been writing a book about the fruit of the Spirit. This is a series of meditations with some ideas for further exploration and activities after each one.
It’s going very slowly because I’m better with deadlines than with doing things in a more open-ended sort of way. However, I’m persevering and have got halfway.
So, in celebration, I am sharing a random part of what will eventually be a book here today.
I hope you enjoy it and I would welcome any comments, questions, ideas, or ways for me to get better at just sitting down and writing the thing!
Joy and Wholeness
When we’ve struggled in life for a while we can forget what joy and happiness are like.
We might muddle along saying we’re fine, to ourselves and others, and pushing away any hint of sadness, anxiety, frustration or depression with food or alcohol or binge-watching TV, or anything else that deadens our feelings for a while.
But the trouble is that you can’t choose which emotions to have and which to ignore.
Pushing away the ‘bad’ ones also removes the ‘good’ ones – it’s just how it works.
So if we want to be better at experiencing joy we need the courage to face all our emotions – including the anger we don’t want to admit to, the anxiety that keeps us up at night, and the jealousy that burns in us when we see other people doing better than we are.
The only real and lasting way to release the hold of these emotions is to work through them, experience them, resolve their causes, learn what they’re trying to tell us, and come to peace with the whole range of feelings that make up a human being.
It’s then that we grow in wholeness, get some healing, and increase our capacity to experience positive feelings, like love, peace and joy.
Because as the negative feelings are acknowledged so too can the positive ones come out and be acknowledged, and as we heal we start to find new wonder and delight where before we might have thought a bland, dull existence was all that we could hope for.
And when that joy starts to grow it will be real joy.
It will be a joy that knows all about difficulties, pains and disappointments but sings anyway because it also knows about the beauty of sunsets, the comfort of being with people who love you, the triumph of not letting yourself be controlled by hurts and negativity, the blessing of being loved by God.
Joy doesn’t ignore reality but it understands that there’s a greater reality that gives us hope and strength.
It knows that light will always ultimately chase away darkness, even if darkness seems to win for a while.
It knows that good will always ultimately defeat evil, even if all we can currently see is trouble and chaos.
It knows that God remains at our side even when everyone else deserts us, even if we don’t always remember this.
Of course, we can’t just decide to be joyful.
Growing fruit is a long process that takes work and patience, the right environment and weather conditions.
But we can decide to try to sink our roots deeper into God each day.
We can decide to focus on good things instead of just bad ones.
We can decide to try to remember what we have to be grateful for.
We can surround ourselves with things that are beautiful or funny or comforting.
Philippians tells us:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
For it is in thinking about these things that we begin to see God at work around us and recognise that there is a place for joy in our lives.
Suggestions for exploration and prayer
- Try making a paper chain. On each piece of the chain write something that is good in your life or the world, that you’re grateful for or that you want to celebrate
- Pet prayer rocks can be used to remind you to pray, and they might make you smile at the same time! Find a rock, stick on some goggly eyes and some hair (maybe made out of wool), and leave it somewhere you will notice it and remember to think about good things that you want to praise God for.
- Decorate a jar in a way you like and then write joyful things on lollipop sticks and put them in the jar. When you feel you need some more joy and happiness in your life you can pick them out and read them.