By Autumn MacArthur
I’m pretty much the last person you’d think God would call to write about growing a more joyful life.
After a year of challenges in 2016, I was downright miserable despite my apparent faith. I’d struggled to accept a new long-term health issue. I’d achieved far less than I hoped at work, always chronically behind schedule. I felt I’d failed as a wife, too often annoyed and impatient with my disabled husband. I regretted so many mistakes and wrong choices. I hadn’t quite forgiven God for everything that hadn’t happened as I hoped, despite my prayers.
Oh, I posted plenty of pretty, faith-filled memes to Twitter and Facebook. I prayed and read my Bible every day. But all that hid the ugly truth: I wasn’t feeling joy or love. Not one bit. I wasn’t writing, because how could I write joyful, triumphant stories of love and faith and overcoming when I wasn’t feeling any of those things?
The idea of choosing joy was about the furthest thing from my mind. I think if someone suggested it to me as an option for getting out of the hole I was in, I would have screamed at them, “How can I possibly choose joy when my life is falling apart?”
Then God sent me Pollyanna. While doing research for a novel, I re-read the old story about a young girl with an optimistic outlook. It’s become a criticism to call someone a Pollyanna. So much so that the American Heritage Dictionary defines a Pollyanna as “a person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic.”
I disagree with this definition. We need optimism. We need to look for the good in our lives. And we can do so not foolishly or blindly, but with our eyes wide open. We’re designed to feel joy. God programmed it into our very DNA. Too often the hurts and challenges of life can stop us from feeling that joy, but God’s will is for us to rediscover joy and to revel in it!
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16–18 NIV).
But we need to be real about it and do it with faith. We don’t live in a good world filled with good people who always do good things. We live in a fallen, broken world with fallen, broken people. Bad things happen. We make mistakes. We fail. Other people fail us.
Faith in God is what transforms hope we can make the best of things from blind optimism to a true spiritual practice. Trusting that he has a plan and a purpose to bring good out of all that happens to us makes it possible to feel true confidence in the present and the future.
God wants us to live in joy, but feeling that joy and gladness is our choice. We need to grieve and feel sorrow and anger when so much seems to be going wrong. Then we need to move past it. Joy and bitterness can’t live together in the same heart, as Miss Polly finds in Pollyanna.
Pollyanna taught me that we need to choose joy, not just once but again and again and again. It’s not easy, but choosing joy is one of the most significant ways we can show our faith and trust in God. It means truly believing he can and will bring our highest good from everything that happens—even as a result of our own wrong choices, even with the worst life throws at us.
We start by opening our hearts to God. Being honest with him and ourselves about what we really feel. Asking him to help us trust that despite what has gone wrong in our lives, he does intend our highest good. Then making the conscious choice to look for the blessing and to give thanks for everything.
We must play the Glad Game, trusting that he has a plan and a purpose for it all, even with the biggest, baddest, so-hard-to-give-thanks-for trials. Like every skill, our capacity for gladness grows the more we practice it. The God who brings the dead to life and turns water into wine can also mend our broken places and transform our hurts into joy.
Right here, in the midst of all that seems wrong with our lives and the world, he’s ready and waiting for us to ask him in to play the Glad Game. We always have a reason to be glad. Let’s look for it, find it, and be thankful.
“Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Peter 4:13 NABRE).
Autumn Macarthur is a USA Today bestselling author, living near London with her very English husband (aka The Cat Magnet) and way too many spoiled rescue cats. She loves writing deeply emotional romances to make you smile and remind you how big, wide, and deep God’s love is. You can find her at autumnmacarthur.com.
Photograph © Jay Dantinne, used with permission