When I told my professor that I was leaving graduate school and returning to work, he said he was sad to see me go. He said that during our semester together, he’d enjoyed my work and thought I was “a ray of sunshine.”
A ray of sunshine.
Now, if you’ve never met me, you might think I get that sort of thing all the time. I do not. As a matter of fact, I had never before been called a ray of sunshine, nor have I been described as such since. It’s just not what people typically think of when they think of me.
(So you better believe that I still have in my possession the research paper where he wrote those same words [He called me a ray of sunshine not once but twice. TWICE!]. I mean, I haven’t framed it. But I do have it.)
A few years ago when my high school class was planning a reunion, somebody created a Facebook group. Obviously. Because that’s what you do. And in one of our long, rambling, joking threads, one of my former classmates wrote something rude to me. He was joking, but it was still rude, and hello? we’re not actually in high school anymore. So I sent him a message to say, Hey! Don’t be a jerk! That led to an apology and his observation that my Facebook posts are always positive.
Well, what did you expect from a ray of sunshine?
Seriously. I was surprised to hear that was his takeaway from our Facebook friendship, but as I scrolled down my wall reading my recent posts, I realized that I do, for the most part, stay pretty positive.
And even if that makes a few people roll their eyes and call me a Pollyanna, I’m okay with that. After more than a few years of letting bitterness and cynicism take root in my heart, I’m finally learning to do what my friend Sara talked about so much: choose joy.
As I’ve worked on my and Sara’s book (Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts), I’ve done a little research into how other people define joy. In the end, though, I kept coming back to Sara’s definition, the one that resonates most with my heart, the one that I’m pursuing more than ever:
Joy is the unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it. I choose joy not despite what’s happening in my life but because of it.
Staying positive and choosing joy isn’t cool, you know. It’s WAY more cool to put on a facade of apathy and cynicism. Isn’t it?
Um. Well. Maybe. That is certainly what the internet and much of pop culture would have us believe. But I am going to disagree – and I’m not sorry.
Here’s another definition of joy I found that I just love. Pope John Paul II said, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Hallelujah is our song! You guys, we ARE the Easter people. As believers, we do not grieve as the world grieves, and we have a peace and a hope that passes all understanding. How could we NOT seek and choose and hold on as tight as we can to JOY?!
And on top of that – as if we need another reason – life is hard. It really is. And if we have built up stores of joy for ourselves, if we have created a habit of choosing joy no matter our circumstances, then we can face those hard days or hard seasons with strength and faith that we will make it through.
When we decide to make joy a priority, facing life with gratitude and an eternal perspective, we create an incredibly strong armor that will protect us from those rough days, those hard times, those difficult-beyond-belief challenges. It will remind us that, even when the dark days come – and they will come – we can still choose joy. We can still CHOOSE.
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way . . . When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
So when I think about the eye rolls or snide comments positive thinking and joyful living have brought me – even in my limited experience as a ray of sunshine – I’m okay with that. I’m not sorry. Because each of us has the ability to choose – and, like my friend Sara, I choose joy.
How do you resist cynicism to choose joy instead?
This post is part of the 31 Days Writing Challenge. To read all the posts in this series, click here. And to learn more about this challenge or to find more series to read, visit Write31Days.com. Apple photos courtesy of my brother, James.
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