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This year as I pursue joy, I plan to read a new book about joy every season. To keep myself accountable, I’ll be sharing reviews on the blog, along with updates on how I’m doing with choosing joy, and what God is teaching me through this pursuit.

My first book for this endeavor was Choose Joy, by Kay Warren. I didn’t realize before reading it that the quote I’d already chosen as my mantra for the year came from this book! (When I found the quote online, it was attributed to Rick Warren. Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t realized that Kay Warren was Rick’s wife, and that the quote actually originated with her). So a random Amazon search for books about joy led to such a great coincidence! (Or, as Luke said, is it really a coincidence? Hmm.)

The book begins by reminding us that joy is a choice, one that is much more difficult for some of us to make than others. Warren herself has had a lifelong struggle with depression so she (like me) has a harder time pursuing a joyful life, and I appreciated her candidness and perspective on this.

After defining joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things,” Warren reminds us that joy does not exist in the absence of pain, but alongside it, and even within it. Specifically, she points to the life of Jesus as both a man of suffering AND a man of joy. I loved her track metaphor, which I quoted in my Word of the Year post, describing life like “a set of parallel train tracks, with joy and sorrow running inseparably throughout our days. Every day of your life good things happen. Beauty, pleasure, fulfillment, and perhaps even excitement occur. That’s the track of joy. But every day of your life also holds disappointment, challenges, struggles, and perhaps even losses for you or those you love. That’s the track of sorrow. Most of us try to ‘outsmart’ the sorrow track by concentrating our efforts on the joy track, as if by our positive outlook or outright denial of reality we can make the sorrow track go away. That’s impossible, because joy and sorrow will always be linked.” 

The remainder of the book is divided into three sections. In section one, Joy is a Conviction of the Mind, Warren shows how God and our pursuit of Him are the only true paths to joy. This section has some wonderful thoughts on adopting Heaven’s value system and how we need to meditate on God, immersing ourselves in knowledge about Him, so that this knowledge becomes our personal conviction that we cling to in times of trouble. In section two, Joy Is a Condition of My Heart, Warren demonstrates ways we can nurture joy in ourselves and others. My favorite takeaway from this section was about pursuing acceptance rather than chasing after perfectionism. In part three, Joy is a Choice of My Behavior, Warren outlines specific steps we can take to pursue joy in our daily lives. These include strategies such as simplifying various areas of our lives, lightening others’ loads, looking for joy mentors, laughing, celebrating, showing affection, practicing gratitude, and living in the moment.

This book has been incredibly helpful for me as I figure out how I will fully embrace joy in 2020. Warren reminded me that joy is a posture and an attitude—one that will require intention and action—and that ultimately, it requires a full alignment with God. Warren’s illustrations are applicable and helpful, as are the quotes, Scripture references, and action items she has included. As is often the case in reading, there were some sections that spoke more to me than others, and I found the first few chapters much more helpful (and well-written) than the rest of the book (so common in Christian living books, unfortunately; I heard an author say recently that most people stop reading before the 30% mark, so writers intentionally pack all the good stuff into the early chapters—which is a bummer for those of us who see things through to the end).

This book was written a few years prior to the suicide of Warren’s son, and though he is never named, she makes frequent reference to her agony for a loved one facing mental illness and the end she anticipates for him. It’s heartbreaking to know that she was right in her predictions, but also encouraging that she was able to find joy in the midst of a mother’s turmoil and devastation.

I am so glad that I read this at the very start of my year of Joy, and might return to it mid-year for a reminder of the great truths it presented to me.

My Rating: 4 Stars.

And now an update: more than a month into 2020, my experience with choosing joy each day has been a beautiful one—even more beautiful than I could have imagined. I have been starting each day in prayer and reading God’s Word, which helps get my day off to a good start. By doing these things first thing in the morning (rather than later in the day, as I’d previously done), I am opening my heart up to the Lord before my day even begins. As my day progresses, I’ve been focusing on being more present, practicing gratitude, and seeking opportunities to laugh, serve, and play. I’m amazed at how much less stressed, overwhelmed, and irritable I am throughout the day. I truly do feel more joyful.

That’s not to say that every moment is a perfect one. Two weeks ago we were having an extremely rough afternoon, with Charleston in a complaining mood and the twins screaming inconsolably. In a very low moment, I sat on the floor crying—not just because the day was a hard one, but also because I was mad at myself for not being able to smile through the messiness. I hated that I was allowing my circumstances to dictate my mood and attitude. But rather than losing my temper or calling the day a failure, I recalled my definition of joy: “the settled assurance that GOD IS IN CONTROL of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately EVERYTHING is going to be all right, and the determined CHOICE to praise God in all things.” 

Even in the midst of a brutal day, I could believe that God was in control. I could choose to praise Him. And I could remember that He uses all circumstances, even (especially!) the challenging ones to mold my character, cultivate patience and perseverance, and lead me back to hope. God was with me that hard day and every hard day since, and He is truly where the joy is.

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