If you disagree with me, spend five minutes on social media (but no more, please). What do you see? “Waited 10 minutes for my double half caf frappuccino.” (frowny face emoji). “Some guy just cut in front of me in line at Brookshire’s. Going to be one of those days.” Seriously? That was worth typing? Much less the time I’ll never recover spent reading it? And now, here I am, griping about all this. Like I said…whiny.
We live in a culture of cynicism and discontent. As Tim Keller notes, we’ve surpassed our ancestors in our ability to travel, communicate, our accomplishments in science and medicine, and we’re less brutal and unjust to minorities today than we were even 100 years ago. All of this has transformed human life and made us unimaginably wealthier and more comfortable than our ancestors. Yet. Keller observes, no one argues that we’re significantly happier than they, especially when one looks at the incidence of depression, hypertension, and stress-related illness in our culture. All this materialism has made us no happier, maybe less.
We now seem bred for discontent, living in the era of what one author calls the microcomplaint, this constant state of mild disgruntlement, one in which griping about little things becomes a cultural pastime. We look for ways to be offended, demand apologies from each other, and hold grudges.
And, then, something happens like last week to bring it all into stark contrast. It kind of exposes the superficiality of “Don’t you hate it when there’s too much foam on your latte?” when your brother’s trapped in his fourth floor apartment with no food, because his ground floor is flooded. It’s hard to get too worked up about who is the subject of Taylor Swift’s latest grudge when, like our GCS alums Ashley and Ben Case, your mom just lost her house and everything she owns in the flood (check the GCS Alum Facebook page if you want to help). Maybe sometimes it takes something really awful to shake up God’s people, redirect them out of the silliness of this world, and give them a vision for who they can and should be as sons and daughters of the King, in both big and small ways.
Here’s one of those ways: maybe nowhere else can people who claim to love Jesus Christ make a difference in this dyspeptic soup of discontent we call modern culture than simply choosing joy.
Joy is a choice, you know. It’s not something that happens to you. It’s a decision, a paradigm shift- determining to no longer be, as George Bernard Shaw said, “the feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy”, to living as one who truly grasps that, although we were complete reprobates living in active, shameful rebellion to a totally righteous God who ought to have wiped His hands of us, He chose to capture us, rescue us, and recalibrate our entire lives. Joy is attitudinally transcending the grimy haze of this fallen world toward viewing all of life with the crystal clarity of saved gratefulness. It’s just seeing things as they really are for someone whose been given new life, instead of the way they used to be, and realizing that every circumstance is an opportunity for my good and God’s glory.
Joyful people are a delight to be around. I’m not usually a “name-dropper,” but two people pop right into my mind. The woman who heads up our prayer ministry is one. One of our board member’s husbands, a traveling minister, is another. There are times when I am so grateful to see these people that I just want to weep, so palpable is the joy that radiates from them, so attractive are they to be around. And, these are folks who are no stranger to tragedy, who have endured deep suffering many of us can only imagine. Yet, they’ve chosen joy. They are some of my heroes, everybody’s favorite people, and they are tremendously effective for the gospel by simply living and walking this earth.
I don’t want my kids to be discontented gripers, unpleasant to be around; you know, those ones who are always complaining about what they don’t have, getting something and asking for the next thing, the one’s who, when you ask them how they’re doing, say, “fine, except for….” and then proceed to share their microcomplaint? I pray I have the self-awareness to realize if and when my kids are these people, and when I am. I want to take every moment to point out to them those trillion things we’ve been given, those opportunities we have, things we don’t even think about, like the families we were born into, our education, and this country. I want to train them (and myself) to turn every microcomplaint into a blessing- “Isn’t it awesome that you actually have a frappuccino to give you the calories and to take that run around the block we’re now going to take. Ready? Here we go!,” and, “Isn’t it cool that God gave you the opportunity to serve another person and teach you patience by giving up your spot in line at Brookshire’s to him?”
Will your kids think you’re annoying when you choose joy this way, and train them to do the same? Absolutely. But, like so many things in life, it’s the annoying things that really stick, isn’t it? Think about your own parents. While I’m training my kids, I’ll train myself to consciously choose joy when things are actually going well, and truly prepare my heart for when real suffering happens.
Jay Ferguson writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.