A few years ago I was wandering around a flea market in southern Spain, looking for nothing in particular, when I spotted a hessian shoulder bag with the words ‘TODAY I CHOOSE JOY’ in bold black font printed across it. I bought the bag (I needed a beach bag anyway) and posted a picture of it on Instagram along with my book and sunhat, in celebration of the fact that here I was, finally, enjoying a relaxing holiday.
Fast-forward a few months.
It was the morning after the Manchester Arena bombing, and it was gradually emerging that twenty-two people – including some children – had been killed. The commuters at the station that morning were ashen-faced and weary. I stood alongside everyone else on the platform, reading the newspaper and feeling horrified. There was no good news here, no redemption story, no relief from page after page that told of death, pain, loss and injustice. Like so many other mornings, I felt a kind of blank despair over a world in chaos, and wondered where God was in any of it.
A woman brushed past me. ‘I like your bag,’ she said, ‘Good choice. It’s strong.’
I’d forgotten I was using it, and for a moment I felt a pang of idiocy – children were dead and I was wearing a bag about joy?
But the woman was being serious, and she was right. It would have been a strong choice, had it been a conscious choice at all.
Yet I fear that ‘Choosing Joy’ has become a fad – a trendy thing to say by people of all faiths and none. It gets printed on bags and t-shirts, shared on Instagram, preached on a Sunday morning. Very few people actually know what it practically means, or how to do it in the face of tragedy, bitter disappointment, fear or just the daily grind of life.
I didn’t that particular day, and sometimes I still don’t.
I think that’s because joy is intrinsically linked with faith. It’s a spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). You’ll notice that it’s often harder to hold onto your joy in the face of hardship if your faith has been unsteady, or if – like me – your busyness tends to try and overtake your spiritual focus. And perhaps that’s why Christmas can often feel so underwhelming. Meticulously planning a December full of magical, ‘joyful’ experiences – our focus so often consumed by carol concerts, diary management, present-buying - we are often exhausted and miserable by Boxing Day.
What if we chose joy during Advent by choosing Jesus first? And what if we continued making that choice beyond Christmas; a daily conscious decision that flies in the face of whatever lays ahead?
‘Good choice…It’s strong’