By Victor M. Parachin
While running errands one day, Kimberly Kirberger passed two teenagers holding a car wash sign. Her car was dirty, so she pulled over.
While waiting in line, Kirberger was curious what motivated nearly 50 teenagers to devote an entire Saturday to washing cars. After her car was washed, she handed the teens a 20-dollar bill and asked what they were raising money for.
They explained that a friend of theirs—C.T. Schmitz—had recently died of cancer. He was 15 years old, 6-feet-2, and had a lot of friends, all of whom described him as a “boy sweeter than any they had known.” One of his closest friends, a youth named Kevin, decided to plan the car wash as a way to honor his friend and also to bring together his classmates.
Kirberger learned the teens wanted to plant a tree in front of their school with a plaque in memory of their friend. They handed Kirberger a bag of homemade cookies with a tag that said: “Thanks for helping us plant a tree for C.T.”
Those teenagers provide a glowing example of this reality: it is possible to reclaim joy even when living has been severely tested. Those teens had lost a beloved friend. Yet they had the maturity and wisdom to find a way of turning sadness into gladness, hurting into healing, and pain into peace. The young people took heartbreak and began the process of transforming it into something hopeful, even joyful.
The art of living is not merely bearing up under trials and troubles, but finding ways to cultivate joy in daily life.
In her book Finding Joy, Charlotte Davis Kasl says: “Joy is good for you. Joy has the power to open our hearts, remove fear, instill hope and foster healing . . . joy stimulates our immune system, increases our energy, and gives us mental clarity.” These reasons might be why the apostle Paul implies joy should be the normal state of a Christian. Here are some ways to bring more joy into daily life.
Begin by understanding that the will of God for us includes joy. “If you have no joy in your religion, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere,” evangelist Billy Sunday said. The Bible supports this by reminding us the will of God for us includes a heavy dose of joy.
Here are some examples: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, New Revised Standard Version). “Those who go out weeping . . . shall come home with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:6, NSRV). Likewise, Jesus promised: “Your sadness will turn into gladness” (John 16:20, Today’s English Version).
Those Bible passages mean we are not doomed to a lifetime of duty, responsibility, struggle, suffering, and unhappiness. Rather, we are destined for joy.
Bring enthusiasm into all of life’s activities. Whether you are a volunteer coach, serving as a church committee chair, or working long hours as a busy professional or trade person, bring enthusiasm into all of your life’s activities. Here is solid advice from Norman Vincent Peale: “Think excitement, talk excitement, act out excitement, and you are bound to become an excited person. Life will take on a new zest, deeper interest, and greater meaning. You can think, talk and act yourself into dullness or into monotony or into unhappiness. By the same process you can build up inspiration, excitement, and a surging depth of joy.”
Consider the example of Donald A. Dreyer, who refused to let age keep him from plunging enthusiastically into all aspects of his life. At 55, he was accepted into medical school. After graduating, he practiced medicine for 20 years. Then he became convinced it wasn’t too late for him to begin working out. Thus, at age 75, he began lifting weights and became stronger and stronger. He entered the National Senior Games and won the gold medal in the javelin throw. Now 80, Dryer holds medals in five events.
Dryer says getting older provides him with unusual advantages: “Now that I’m 80, I no longer have to compete with those young 75-year-old punks!”
Use your life to be a blessing. The word bless comes from the old English and means to wish happiness and prosperity or to confer well-being on someone. The perfect way to begin each day is to remind yourself to be used as a blessing.
Here’s an exercise to try immediately after waking up, but before leaving home for the day. Offer this simple prayer of blessing: “This is the day God has made. May I be a source of joy and blessing to everyone I encounter today. May I be the person who sees a need and responds; may I be the person who sees a hurt and tries to heal it.” In offering this daily prayer, you open up your life to be a point of joy to others and, in the process, will experience joy yourself.
Author Audre Lorde has observed: “The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.” This was exactly the experience that took place in the life of Susan Fahncke.
In the article “The Tattooed Stranger,” she tells of driving by a man and his dog on a very hot summer day. The man sat on the grass holding up a cardboard sign that claimed he was “stuck and hungry” and invited someone to help. Fahncke pulled her van over and pondered the situation. The man had tattoos running up and down both arms and even on his neck. He had a bandanna tied over his head, “biker/pirate” style. “Nobody was stopping for him. I could see the other drivers take one look and immediately focus on something else—anything else,” she recalls.
As she sat in her air-conditioned van, this Bible verse suddenly popped into her mind: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, NSRV). Fahncke reached into her purse and took out a 10-dollar bill. Her 12-year-old son, Nick, knew right away what she was doing and offered to take the money to the man. She warned her son to be careful, and then watched as he approached the homeless man. The startled stranger gladly accepted the gift. When her son came back to the van he said: “Mom, his dog looks so hot, and the man really is nice.”
Farhncke knew she had to do more. “Go back and tell him to stay there, that we’ll be back in 15 minutes,” she instructed her son. They drove to the nearest store and carefully selected some gifts; she explained to her children that they couldn’t be heavy because the man would need to carry whatever they purchased. They settled on two bottles of water—one for the dog and one for the man—a water dish for the dog, some bacon-flavored dog food, and some people snacks for the man.
Hoping he wasn’t a criminal, and still somewhat afraid, Fahncke approached the man, gave him their purchases, and immediately saw something that made her ashamed of her judgment about him. “I saw tears. He was fighting like a little boy to hold back his tears. How long had it been since someone showed this man kindness?”
The stranger stood there like a child before a Christmas tree. When she took out the dog’s water dish, the man snatched it out of her hands “as if it were solid gold.” Telling her that, to this point, he had no way to give his dog water, he carefully set it down and filled it with the bottled water she bought. Immediately she saw that this “scary” man was “so gentle, so sweet, so humble.”
As she drove away, she broke down in tears. “Although it seemed as if we had helped him, the man with the tattoos gave us a gift that I will never forget,” she said. “He taught that no matter what the outside looks like, inside each of us is a human being deserving kindness, compassion, and acceptance. Tonight and every night I will pray for the gentle man with the tattoos and his dog. And I will hope that God will send more people like him into my life to remind me what’s really important.”
Her experience is an eloquent reminder that we can and must bring joy to our world!
Victor Parachin is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), an author, and a freelance journalist living in Tulsa, Oklahoma.