The Miserable Christian: Finding Raucous Joy

My husband passed on an article to me from The Resurgence blog entitled Raucous Joy. The article explored the fact that sometimes Christians—who have the most reasons to enjoy life—enjoy it the least.

As I read it I knew in my heart that I do not permit myself to enjoy life most days. It's nose to the grindstone, punch it out, wage war, get it done, endure, kind of life. Granted, there are brief periods during each day that I "take a break from life" to actually enjoy something (when I worked full time it was lunch-unless I packed something like a sweet potato and carrots-ugh; now it's chocolate cake in a mug after the baby is asleep).

It's quite strange to be so addicted to not enjoying life. During my short 31 years on this planet I've been known in my communities and friends to be an entertainer-loving to get a good laugh out of people; I'm known by my laugh-people know I'm in a room when a punch line is good; and I've been told I've brought joy to people in various ways.

So why so blue, panda bear? Why take a position of a gloomy martyr? Why don't I celebrate life more? Why don't I seize each day to enjoy life and be thankful and merry?

I guess I feel guilty. I guess I feel like I'm avoiding real life, you know, the mundane and boring parts. The parts that I have to do and the parts that have to be hard and bland.

Do I even sound like someone who knows Jesus? Who knows the Jesus that died on a cross for me that I might live and have ABUNDANT LIFE?! Crazy girl. I'm crazy. I'm like one of those monks that lashes themselves for penance, only I just make myself not enjoy life for the sake of not enjoying life. Yep. I'm crazy.

In this article Bob Kelleman asks this question:

Is the way Christians live life and talk about life a portrait of celebration and joy?

Don't look at me. Because my answer would not be a happy one.

Kelleman goes on, "[Paul reminds us in Titus] that the way we live our life is to make attractive the teaching about our Savior. We adorn doctrine by our joyous celebrations of life."

Oh. So by being a martyr dying for the difficult each day, I'm making the Gospel unattractive?

Boring, listless, gloomy, negative, dour, exhausted, dismal, dreary; this is not the Gospel! So why do I then refuse to live in celebration and joy?

Christian celebration and enjoyment adorns doctrine because it goes deeper than the face value of things, events, moments, and victories. It's rooted in the fact that God exists, is Supreme and Sovereign. Our celebrations and enjoyment of LIFE are a testimony to his goodness, grace, love, kindness, and the Gospel!

So I guess I need to ask myself a few questions. . .

How can I celebrate life more? How can I celebrate and enjoy life that will show the goodness and greatness of God to others? How can I teach my children to have a heart that celebrates?

I thought of a couple ways to do more celebrating and less. . . glooming. . .

Five Ways to Incorporate Celebration into Life

1. Don't be afraid or feel guilty for doing things you enjoy!

For me, I enjoy taking trips with my loves. Day trips, weekend trips, vacations. I love it! It doesn't even have to be a super special or unique place. Just going somewhere is enjoyable. I ruin the enjoyment when I let guilt creep in. . .guilt of spending money (even if we saved for the trip), guilt of leaving behind the needs of others at our church, guilt for being "frivolous" with our time. I must stop this! It takes the enjoyment out of time with my family exploring God's amazing creation.

2. Incorporate celebration into family traditions and holidays.

My mother-in-law delighted in celebrating her children as they grew. When birthdays came around (and the calendar is quite full in May), she would decorate a chair of honor for the birthday boy or girl and make the meal of their choice for dinner. It might seem little, but it's sometimes the little things that make a big impact.

3. Practice hospitality . . . with food.

There's not much that is more delicious and wonderful than food, except maybe food with friends. Invite people over and dine with them. Celebrate life by enjoying food, Jesus, conversation, and laughter. Ask questions. Be delighted by what God is doing in the lives of others. Make the night about enjoyment and fellowship rather than stressing out on dust bunnies lurking in corners or whether it's a meal worthy to be on Iron Chef.

4. Discover what you enjoy about each season.

I do not like winter or spring. Least favorite. I could let a mild depression sink in. I live in Colorado, so these seasons are "mild" snowy season, but they are still cold and unpredictable for this Florida born and raised girl. It's hard on my heart to go from a 60 degree sunshine day to 30's and snowing the next. But instead on dwelling on what I don't like about a particular season, I decided to discover what is enjoyable.

For your reading pleasure, my enjoyable lists about winter and spring:

Winter: skiing, Christmas, the mountains in snow, wool socks and scarves, hot chocolate, quiet slow evenings because it gets dark so quick

Spring: crocus that come up early, planning and prepping the garden, baby season a the local farm, Easter

5. Be thankful and teach your children to be thankful.

When I worked at Eagle Lake Summer Camps, Mondays were the worst-even at summer camp! Sundays were high energy,preparing and welcoming new campers for the week. Mondays were days for strong coffee, lots of pancakes with peanut butter, and dark dark sunglasses. My friend Renae instituted "Monday Morning Thankfulness" and encouraged the counselors to make a list, even a small one, of things they were thankful for on Monday. Sometimes my list included showers, a heated dining hall (summers in Colorado mountains are still cold), and forks, but hey-it helped my attitude; it helped me remember to enjoy the things I'm thankful for, even when the day feels like a drag.

What about you? How do you celebrate and enjoy life? Any suggestions on how you incorporate enjoyment and celebration?

How to Make New Friends In a Grown-Up World

Friendship is a gift. There's just something so good about a person that "get's you," that you can ugly cry in front of, that knows your favorite color even if you don't, and who chooses to indulge in DQ Blizzards with you even when you were supposed to go to the gym. After all, Proverbs says there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (or in my case, sticks closer than calories in pizza - I love pizza).

While friendship seems to remain important and highly desired, the way we make friends tends to change as we move into adulthood.  Your time gets consumed by work, distance cramps your style, you move to a new town, and then add a husband or some kids to top it off, and how the heck do you keep making friends?!

I get a lot of women who mention how difficult it is to make friends in a new place. I get it. After I married my husband we moved to a new city, started attending a new church, and basically started from ground zero with friends. But even after getting "plugged into" a church, these women say they still have trouble connecting with people.

Because friendship with other women is important, I really wanted to share truth to help us continue to pursue friendship even when the ground seems fallow.

First, let's look at what a friend is, and then let's get into the nitty gritty to help you make some new friends.

The Biblical View of FRIEND

(What's the Bible say about Friends?)

  • Friends Love and Help Each Other - "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17
  • Friends Speak Truth and Life to each other - "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy."  Proverbs 27:6
  • Friends Sacrifice for each other -  "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13
  • Friends Communicate Value to Each Other - "Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name."  3 John 1:15
  • (There is so much more to friendship - look up "one another" on biblegateway.org to learn more about friendship.)

How To Make New Friends

(Hard, but practical truths to get you back into DQ with a new bestie.)

1. Get Plugged Into Your Church - no seriously. I don't mean "plugged in." Many people use the term "plugged in" to mean they attend regularly and maybe participate in activities here and there. Being plugged in actually means contributing, serving, using the gifts God has given you to serve the body of Christ in the church. Start volunteering at your church and you'll meet a crew of others who are like hearted.

2. Learn How To Ask Good Questions - The art of good questions asking is seriously taking a nose dive. Good questions lead to meaningful conversations, which translates into friendships. But often we don't know how to ask beyond the basic questions: "how are you?" and "how was your week?" Everyone has a story to tell; everyone has things they like; everyone likes to talk about themselves. Learn how to be curious about someone and ask good questions (check out the How To Ask Good Questions Series - coming soon).

3. Greet People at Your Church - For real. Greet people when they walk in (and out) the church doors. Strike up a conversation, not just a "welcome!" (see #2 again). The more people you greet and get to know, you'll begin to meet people you connect with - women who have similar interests, or are in similar seasons, or who you just think are fun!

4. Practice Hospitality - That means have people over to your house and feed them. Opening up your home to someone is a form of opening up your heart. You are extending an invitation to them that shows their value and your desire to get to know them. Don't be consumed with perfection (spotless house, homemade everything, matching dishes), but be willing to extend love even in your weakness. (And when their over, practice #2.)

5. Fight for Friendship - As silly as it sounds, sometimes we just need to pursue the heck out of people and not give up. Keep loving, keep helping, keep inviting. Let go of any lies you may be believing about friends - that they have to be in the same season of life as you, that you can't be friends with someone you disciple, that you can't be friends with someone who is older or younger.

Do you have tips on making friends? Share in the comments below!

Identity in Christ: The Old, New, and False Self

I have this really old long sleeve shirt; it’s from my earlier years when I ran cross country for Chamberlain High School. I was an eighth grader and placed 19th at the State Meet. Our team actually won the State Title that year because I was one of many stud runners on the team (insert wink face).

My teammates and I bought a state XC long sleeve shirt with the year written on the front, 2003. I ran in that t-shirt for years. I wore it so much that it had holes in the armpits, and the wrists were dirty and stained from all the sweat it had endured. I concealed the holes pretty well, but that didn’t make them go away. My mom kept telling me to retire the old shirt, but I would not relent. In college, my friends teased me about it, so I finally gave in and left it at home in my bedroom dresser.

My old shirt reminds me of my spiritual journey, specifically my identity in Christ. Often times, I want to hold onto my old ways, my sin, my old self. That old shirt was comfortable. My old self and my sin can feel comfortable. But comfort isn't always the goal.

Paul instructs us to put off the old self and live in the new self, which is life with Christ.

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-44 (ESV)

Identity: The Old, The False, The NEW

The Old Self

You see, the old self is what we create apart from God. It is the self that existed before Christ came into our lives. The old self is what we hold onto because it’s all we’ve ever known, and it is a result of the Fall.

In Colossians 3:5-7, Paul tells us to put off the old self. He is calling us to do away with all our idolatries, the practices and attitudes of our old life.  Put simply, the old self is the sinful nature.  Sin, no matter if it is an outward manifestation or an inner idolatry, is the driving force of the old self. Before we knew God, we lived for the pleasures and enticements of the world; we were imprisoned to sin, Satan, and death. In the old self, we fought and rebelled against His character and His love.

This business of "putting off" that Paul commands implies that we no longer are in need of it. We can toss it.

The False Self

What’s important to note is that the very nature of the old self has no claim on us like it used to because it is regarded as dead. Romans 6:11 says that in Christ, we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness. The old self is gone. However, the false self is the posture we take when we fall back into our old ways and when we find new ways of sinning.

When we live in the false self rather than the new nature given to us in Christ, we miss out on life with God. We can become performance-driven, constantly seek people’s approval, and live in fear. The false self is how we seek to find worth on our own after Christ has redeemed us. Positioning our identity in anything other than the Trinity is a deed of the false self.  However, God wants us to find our value and worth in Him.

The New Self

If we continue reading in Colossians chapter 3, we find that Paul is calling us to put on the new self. So what is the new self? It is our truest self, made in His image before the creation of the world.  Our new self is the love of God.  He is what gives us value, worth, meaning, and purpose.

Most importantly, He gives us His love.  We see His love for us in Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension.

In the new self, we are becoming more and more of who we were created to be and more and more like Christ. This is not a paradox. The more we become like Christ, the more we are becoming our true, most authentic selves.

Putting Off the Old and Putting on the New

This is important, friends. I could easily go into a performance-driven mindset, where I want to achieve this. But is this what it’s about? Do we simply just stop sinning and adopt new sets of behaviors? Do I make sure I have everything on the "new self list" down?! Do we simply do all these “good” things until Jesus comes back?

I think not.

In Colossians 3:5, Paul says “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” Put to death is an imperative statement, meaning it is done and complete. We are not called to “put off” because it has already been done by our Savior Jesus Christ. Paul invites us to respond and cooperate with the transformative power that is working within us, the Holy Spirit. This is a matter of us acknowledging the old self’s deadness, abandoning it, and replacing it with the truth. We have been given a new nature through Christ!

Just as we are not the ones who are in charge of putting off the old self, we cannot be the ones who put on the new self. This is God’s doing and not our own.

The growth and sanctification in our lives is Holy Spirit work and rooted in God's love for us. Colossians 3:10 says we put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. We live into the new self by spending time with God and receiving His grace. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts when we orient our lives towards Him. It comes about by spending time with God in His Word, conversing and listening to Him in prayer, growing in awareness of His presence, and loving and serving others.

Rooted in Christ & Becoming Like Christ

We put off the old self because Christ has done it, and He has invited us into new life with Him. We were once not a people, but now we are God’s people (1 Peter 2:10). We are the Beloved.

For us as believers, our identity is in Christ. That is never going to change or go away. We are rooted. The frustrating thing is that we still sin. However, that doesn't mean God is not at work in our lives.  The Holy Spirit continues to redeem and restore us back to the image of God, and we participate in that by seeking the Lord. We are still becoming who He made us to be, and it will come to completion when Christ returns.

Rooted and becoming. What a beautiful thing.

About the Author

Jackie grew up along the banks of the Missouri River in South Dakota.  In college, Jesus changed Jackie’s heart and reoriented her life for His glory. She met her handsome husband at school, and they moved to Denver after graduating and getting married.  She is pursuing her master’s degree in Christian Formation & Soul Care at Denver Seminary and expects to graduate in December 2015.