The Discipline of Joy

This is a response to Chapter four in John Ortberg’s book “The Life you have Always Wanted“. He does not say that Christian’s should be happy and smiley all the time. That is bad theology but he does suggest we should practice joy but then does not tell us what joy is.

I am going to suggest that what he means be joy is those practices that lead to celebration and I therefore think that a two fold approach is needed

Stage one is a practice which is very close to Buddhist mindfulness, the only difference being that it tends to seek out pleasant experiences rather than just taking any experience. That is when something good happens you take the time to actually experience it, enjoy it, savour it, appreciate it, there is not a good verb in English. John suggests spending a whole day doing this each week. That I would not think possible in modern life, too many commitments but it is possible to have the occasional spoil yourself day and/or to try and have five minutes when you just let yourself savour what you are experience. It might be the warm blankets over you as you lie down to go to sleep. Just feel their weight and the warmth reflecting back from your body. What I find really good for doing this is to write poems. Most of mine start with me just trying to capture some experience in words. I have to experience it first before I can find the words.

Stage two is complimentary and that is to practice gratitude. No I do not mean the idea of thanking God for the cut knee. I mean when you come aware of something as given, whether from God or from another human being, just acknowledging that. It takes all of two seconds to do. Somebody opens a door for you and you say “thanks”, a person serves you in a shop and you say “thanks” even a driver lets you into a flow of traffic and you wave your hand. It makes you aware of how many things you receive each day. Then there are things that are not due to any other human but are not under your control either: it not raining on a wet day when you leave your brolly at home, the flavour of blackberries picked while out walking, having the health you have or a good family and friends even a nuch needed parking space. To acknowledge that much of life is given and as a Christian I see it as given by God so it is natural to thank him.

The thing is that together the two work together to provide a motor out of which celebration naturally happens. A life savouring the generosity of God, can there really be a better basis for joy.

That is not to say nasty things don’t happen they do and it is totally right to be cross when they do but a discipline like this helps so that nasty things don’t overwhelm us. It provides hope in times when hope otherwise seems far away. Sometimes all we can do is savour the pain and offer that to God but God takes even that.

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