Thanksgiving and Choosing Joy

This past week was a really fun week. Someone and I traveled to the U.P. for Thanksgiving with his mom's side of the family. I'm so thankful for the time we could spend with our family this year, for the good food and good times, for safety on the roads, for abundance and blessings.

This past week was also a sad week, with the news on Monday that an older woman, who had just completed chemo and radiation treatments for a brain tumor and had been re-admitted to the hospital, had taken a bad turn for the worse and was given just a couple days on this earth, and on Wednesday, as we were in the car driving north, that she had died that morning. And her death broke my heart, for several different reasons.

On the national holiday for being thankful, I felt sad. I felt like there was a cloud of grief hanging over me, even though I'd been thinking about and writing about remembering God's goodness in the midst of circumstances and having joy because God is our source of joy. It's not that I questioned God's goodness or His joy, but for all the thinking and writing, I still didn't get it . . . because how can grief and joy coexist really? And did I even want joy when someone had just died?

But joy is more "complex" than I'd thought. Joy is deeper than happiness in the fleeting feeling sense of the word, but rather, though it's not easily defined, it's a state of mind of abiding happiness and hope rooted in the assurance of God's goodness and sovereignty. It's possible to have this deep assurance that transcends circumstances and yet be saddened by the circumstances. Because joy is not just a religious term for happiness or the religious way to be happy. Having joy doesn't mean you'll always be happy, and having joy doesn't mean you must always feel happy. It's okay to be sad—joy doesn't disallow grief {even Jesus wept!}. Sadness doesn't negate joy because joy doesn't equate to happiness {the feeling}.

So what does it mean to have joy? Paul's exhortation to rejoice in the Lord always is familiar, and we want to, but joy isn't something we can manufacture, so how can we choose to have joy? How can we claim joy in the midst of this groaning, broken life?

I was thinking back to youth group a few years ago when I was involved as a small group leader and we were studying through Philippians. The leader quizzed the kids every week on different facts and key points, and one question was, "thankfulness leads to . . . ?" The answer: joy. Joy is, in part, a byproduct of a thankful heart, of thanksgiving. I know how writing down God's gifts has made me more aware of blessings and grace in everything not just the eye-catchers. And when you see God's blessings overflowing, joy starts to overflow.

"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!"
      ~ Philippians 4:4, NLT

Last week I read a neat "parable" that was really good to hear right then. It is about a farmer facing difficult circumstances happening one after another, yet he still "gave thanks . . . and he got joy". Toward the end was this thought {though I don't necessarily agree with its exclusivity}:

"The one thing we must pray to be great at is thanksgiving — because it’s the one thing that makes God great in our lives."
      ~ Ann Voskamp

When we give thanks to God, we magnify {"make great"} God. The act of thanksgiving, and thereby the act of worship {recognizing God for who He is}, leads to joy. I'm coming to recognize that perhaps the concept that God is the source of our joy is misinterpreted because it implies that believers have to find out how to get joy from Him, when really God is the source of our joy because we choose joy when we give thanks to Him.

I like in this instance how The Message paraphrase words this verse:
"Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!"
      ~ Philippians 4:4, MSG

Celebrate means "to extol or praise". Revel means "to take great pleasure" and to be "not just pleased . . . but overwhelmed with joy". In other words, celebrate God, praise Him always, magnify Him through thanksgiving; and revel in Him, be overwhelmed, full to overflowing, with joy in Him.

Because thankfulness leads to joy.

[Linking up with Titus 2 Tuesday]

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