Finding Joy Is a Choice

Kay WarrenBy Kay Warren5 Minutes


I used to think that life came in waves: There was a wave of good and pleasant circumstances followed by a wave of bad and unpleasant circumstances, with a lot of ebb and flow in between. Or life was a series of hills and valleys; sometimes we’re up, then we’re down. But life is much more 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, accomplishment, 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. And in the strange paradox of the universe, at the exact moment you and I are experiencing pain, we are also aware of the sweetness of loving and the beauty still to be found. Likewise, at the exact movement we are full of delirious delight, we have the nagging realization that things still aren’t quite perfect. No matter how positively we think or how hard we try to visualize only happiness, the sorrow track remains. One of our toughest challenges in life is to learn how to live on both of those tracks at the same time.

But there’s hope! Look ahead with me.

My young grandsons are train fanatics, so I often take them down to a quaint outdoor train station where Amtrak stops many times a day. When the ticket agent isn’t looking and the coast is clear, we stand on the train tracks together and look ahead as far as we can see, hoping to catch the very first sign of an approaching train. As we stand on the tracks and stare into the distant horizon, those parallel tracks become one, no longer distinguishable as two separate tracks.

That’s the way it will be for us too. During our lifetime, we “stand on the tracks” looking for signs of Jesus Christ’s return. We stare into the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. One day, in the brightness of His coming, we will meet Him face-to-face. And when we do, the tracks of joy and sorrow will merge. The sorrow will disappear forever, and only the joy will remain. And everything will finally make complete sense. But until that day comes, we live with the parallel tracks of joy … and sorrow.

A few years ago, I read a quote by Paul Sailhamer, who said that joy comes from knowing God is in control of our lives. I liked that, but I wanted to adequately express what I believe Scripture teaches about how to live a joyful life. I’ve written a definition of joy, so I can remind myself of the powerful truths when I’m feeling shaky:

Joy is 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.

Did you catch that? Joy is a settled conviction ABOUT God. It’s a quiet confidence IN God. And joy is a determined choice to give my praise TO God.

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Excerpted from Choose Joy by Kay Warren. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012. Used by permission. www.bakerpublishing.com