On Tuesday, I had the joy of picking up my 7 year-old son from school. As I watched him amble about in the school play lot and make his way to the car, I wondered to myself when I stopped stomping in puddles. I asked myself if I could remember when I no longer saw fallen branches as swords. I pondered when the last time I played in the snow. Joshua was having fun, and I was jealous – but I hadn’t worn my snow boots and I had, at some time between 7 and now, grown up. Somewhere in the 42 years I lost my sense of joy in the midst of life.
But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. Psalm 68:3
Where does it go, that child-like mirth and merriment we all exhibited before we became adults? It feels that one day I was making snow angels and the next I was complaining about the wet and cold snow on my wrists and ankles. As my level of responsibility increased, it seems that my level of rejoicing decreased. When I would stop and smell the flowers the muddy garden would ruin my shoes. When I chanced to gaze up at the clouds I’d get raindrops in my eyes. I began expecting that there wasn’t time for fun and assuming that there were more important things to gain than laughter.
Where do I go to get it back, to remove the grump and replace it with a grin? In answering that question, I have drawn a simple conclusion – joy is a choice. If I want, I can find joy everywhere: joy is found holding a baby, swimming in the ocean, watching a campfire and building a snow fort. Joy is not based on our circumstances (after all, the Bible tells us that we can have joy in the midst of terrible trials) but a byproduct of our response to our circumstances. We choose to have joy.
It also occurs to me that life is joyless when we are caught in a rut. When I was Josh’s age, I received as a gift a slot car racing track. I built that track and raced those cars for a few joyful days, seeing how fast and how long I could race. But watching the tiny cars going around the same figure eight over and over again soon lost its charm. Sometimes our joy evaporates when we live life like a slot car – doing the same thing over and over again.
Chances are, you will not see me any time soon stomping through mud puddles or climbing trees, but you may see me in unusual places in a deliberate search for joy. I might be sitting cross-legged on the floor playing jacks or in the park swashbuckling with a broken branch. You might see me in some of the usual places with an unusual smile, choosing to delight in the chatter of children or the majesty of God. Joy is out there, my fellow travelers. Maybe we will find it together.