Kay Warren in her book, Choose Joy, talks about "joy-killers" in the chapter "Nurturing Joy in Others." She mentions four: cynicism, criticism, selfishness and ingratitude. There is nothing that sucks the joy right out of a day like someone who is focused on and wants to talk about all the "bad stuff." Now, I'm not talking about a friend who calls for help with a problem or situation in their life...someone who genuinely desires counsel, encouragement and prayer. They are truly reaching out, and we need to be there for them. But there are those wounded individuals who like to talk about the bad, the sad, the devastating, and depressing without wanting anything except to spread the gloom. And if they can't find something in their own lives, they would be glad to tell you about someone else's problems, or, if all else fails, they will give you a detailed report about all the tragedy and terrible on the news. Cynicism and a critical attitude are so much apart of them it has become ingrained in their day to day existence. A counselor told me some people have had so much trauma and drama in their lives they do not feel alive unless they are feeling the emotions that go along with trauma-drama. It is truly a heartbreaking way to live. This counselor went on to tell me that many of these sad souls, even when their lives are drama free, will manufacture trauma or take on others' depressing situations simply to feel like they are living. They will actively look for the sad, bad, and unhappy moments in life; consequently, they very much believe "we're all going 'to hell in a handbasket'" (I'm not sure what that means, but I am sure it's not good). Even when something good happens, there is always a "but" added. "Dinner was good, but it seemed so rushed." "Sea World was fun, but I got drenched at the Shamu Show." "I enjoyed the concert, but the music was too loud." I especially found this one amusing from a bride TV show: "I liked the quaint church wedding, but there was too much talk about God." Most of us can relate to this...life hands us difficulties one right after another and we begin to see everything through a grey veil. We almost don't dare think good can happen for fear of being disappointed. Better to think the worst and then be pleasantly surprised. Escaping from this kind of constant critical and cynical attitude is not easy, but as sure as there is a risen Lord, there is a way out. I've seen success. I've lived success.
Sometimes we are not all together cynical, but we can be about one or a few people in particular. Those poor unfortunates are the ones we think the worst of first and then readjust our focus as they prove us wrong. With my darling husband Peter, I had that problem. I thought I KNEW his motives...and in my mind, when I saw an action, I immediately subscribed a motive to it and then reacted out of what I KNEW he was thinking. Let me just give you a little example: Let's say I get dressed up to go out with Peter, and he doesn't say anything about how I look, instead, we just scoot out the door. My thought process might go something like this: I wonder why Peter didn't say anything about my outfit. Maybe he doesn't think it looks good on me. Maybe I don't look nice anymore. Maybe he wishes I still looked like I did when I was 19. As the evening goes on, he does not try to hold my hand or put his arm around me. I don't think Peter wants anyone to know he is with me. He isn't proud of me anymore. Well, fine! I won't try to hold his hand either! Two can play at this game. When we finally get home, we get ready for bed and I am fuming. He doesn't try to kiss me goodnight or anything. I knew it! He doesn't even want to kiss me good night. (Frankly, I wouldn't want to if I were him either.) Fine and dandy...I very aggressively roll away from him and the tears start up...I cannot believe he does not find me attractive anymore:( My heart is broken. Peter hears my sniffing and felt the aggressive roll away.
"Cherri, what is wrong? You have been acting weird all night long!"
Finally, I get to tell him what he thinks!!!!! "You don't think I'm pretty anymore. You don't find me attractive. You didn't even want to hold my hand in public!"
"What the heck are you talking about?"
So as I explain to him what he was thinking throughout the night, he explains to me that I am 100% wrong about what he was thinking and his motives behind his actions or inaction.
I wreck a perfectly wonderful evening with my overactive imagination and negative thoughts. Yep, a joy-sucker for sure.
These four: cynicism, criticism, selfishness and ingratitude often ride in the nasty attitude car together. Because we have a cynical attitude, we are naturally, critical, and these attitudes feed our self-focus. When living in the world of cynicism, criticalness, and selfishness, there is no place for gratitude. Many times we don't think there is anything to be grateful for.
If life has caused a cynical and critical spirit in us, or if we find ourselves having a critical attitude about a chosen few in our lives, it doesn't have to stay that way. Change is just a choice away. I love the twist on the famous "Serenity Prayer": "God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it's me."
Now for my friend, Elaine...
Think opposite of everything I have just talked about and you have Elaine:) This woman is extraordinary. She lives with a serious disease every day of her life and has for many years now. Sometimes she receives good news and other days bad...but you wouldn't know it from the look on her face as she greets you at church. This lady ALWAYS smiles. Not only that, she takes the time to encourage anyone who has the joy of being in her life. She, even with all she has to deal with day after day, is proficient in giving joy away. This humble, sweet servant of our living Savior has learned to "trust in the Lord and do good" (Psalm 37:3) and in all her doing and trusting she has learned a valuable lesson she shares with us about living life as a Christ follower...Joy is not based on circumstances or situation...it is based solely on the One who is our joy. Elaine shows me that joy is a beautiful process or cycle...We receive joy from God, who freely gives...we give joy away as much and as often as possible and all that joy we pour out on others it covers us as well. Have you ever tried to fix an irrigation system while it's on? Peter and I did. A head came off our drip system and was shooting water everywhere. We both worked at fixing the problem and eventually succeeded, but we were drenched from head to toe and completely silly with laughter as we looked at each other. Well, I was silly with laughter...He was just plain silly.:) Joy is like that...it covers even in the midsts of troubles and problems and while living in a world that is "going to hell in a hand basket."
My friend, Elaine, in the midsts of her trouble, hands out muffins and bulletins at our church with smile. She encourages and loves with messages over Facebook. She attends parties for newlywed wives who are starting up home businesses. She leads Bible study tables for the women's ministry. She gives encouragement with a hand on a shoulder, a hug or kind word. She gives joy extravagantly everyday.
There are scores of opportunities to give joy away as we live out each day. I pray our eyes would be open to all the possibilities that come our way. I pray that cynicism and criticalness would become a thing of the past in our lives and believing the best and gratitude would take their places. I pray that we would be joy gushers to those around us...that they would feel drenched in the joy of the Lord. Lord, fill us with Your joy. Help us to trust you for our circumstances and while trusting, that we do good for others bringing joy to You and those You put in our paths. We love You and desire Your goodness to be known among men.
Love to you, my joy-gushing friends!