Our Lenten theme for this week’s Wednesday Live Worship service was Joy. We read the 15th chapter of Luke (parables of the Lost Coin, Sheep, and the Prodigal Son and his brother). In our conversation about these verses we lifted up what brought joy and what prevented joy. The story of the Prodigal Son elicited the most spirited of conversations as many of us related to the grumblings of the older brother…of course the well-behaved, respectful brother was upset! His father bent over backwards for the younger son’s disrespectful and wasteful behavior! For all of us who are the well-behaved rule followers, we feel little joy when the son who was thought to be dead returns to the Father’s open arms.
But it brought up the question for me about the relationship between grace and joy. Sometimes we are hesitant to allow ourselves to feel joy, to share it with others because maybe we don’t feel as though we deserve it. And sometimes, as in the case of the older brother, his resentment of his brother and his resentment of his Father’s unmerited kindness (aka grace!) meant that the older brother sat outside of the party and pouted.
I know that when I am grumpy, feeling stressed, or in a downright foul mood, it is easy for me to resent all of the happy news or social media posts of others. As I see and hear of people beginning to travel, restaurants opening up, kids going back to school, and families reuniting; sometimes my grief and resentment that I can’t travel or see my family can bubble up and prevent me from celebrating their joy. It is at those times, when I am unable to feel that vicarious joy that I need a come to Jesus moment—and that I need to cultivate joy in my life. Cultivating joy takes effort and a bit of self-awareness. Cultivating joy usually means I need to step away from a situation, perhaps step outside and ground myself in the goodness around me. A process that has worked for me is this:
It is a mental exercise that helps me cultivate joy. As we live into this week’s theme of joy, I hope it can be a tool for you and your family, too. When you are feeling grim and grumpy, unable to see or experience joy try it out. And thankfully, we have a God and Savior who deeply understands the idea of resentment, so much that he based an entire chapter of his gospel to teaching us grumbly types about the gift of allowing grace and joy for one’s self and for others