Just Versus Joy


About twenty years ago I was working for an arts-in-education nonprofit as a program coordinator. It was my job to schedule music, dance, and theater performances in K-12 schools across the state. I kept track of the artists’ availability, spent a good chunk of my time on the phone setting dates with schools, made sure everybody had their contracts and directions all sorted out, and did it all over again when the occasional blizzard shut down the whole state for a week. Usually rescheduling was needed in occasional smaller doses, such as when an artist got ill. (I remember the male half of a husband-wife team once calling to tell me that his poor flu-stricken wife had been reduced to “a puddle on the bed.”)

Only once did I have to deal with a flat-out no-show. One of our most popular performers, a dancer, just didn’t appear at the school where he was scheduled that day. He couldn’t be reached. I could only apologize to the teacher who called to inform me, and I finally was able to speak with the artist the next day. His explanation? “I did not have peace in my heart, and I cannot dance when I do not have peace in my heart.”

“Well, Paul, there were 300 students and their teachers, all in their seats in their school auditorium, who did not have peace in their hearts when you didn’t bother to show up today.” From there I suppose I reminded him of Alexander Graham Bell’s great contribution to technology and impressed upon him the necessity of availing himself of it in future should he be unable to fulfill a scheduled commitment.

All this is to get to something I was mulling over in regard to the quote I posted on New Year’s Day. Living out of joy rather than out of duty doesn’t mean waiting for a joyful mood to strike. “Feeling like it” is just as much a crutch as a raw sense of duty, and a less reliable one, at that. Learning to live out of joy doesn’t mean throwing away the to-do list; it means coming at it with a different attitude — not one that magically appears if the stars of the weather and the circumstances and your hormones are perfectly aligned, but one you choose to put on because it’s your favorite one in your wardrobe. (Sorry for the clashing-like-argyle-and-hounds-tooth metaphors, but I always consider myself to be doing well if I come up with any at all.)

Nothing’s more useless than an exhortation to “just do it” (a slogan, I might note, that was inspired by a murderer’s last words). It is the law, and it is powerless to motivate us to obey. But joy is perfectly suited to the task of motivation. Joy reminds us of God’s goodness, tells us stories of His love, and points us to the obedience at hand as a means of delighting in Him the way He has delighted in us. Joy lights a flame beneath raw duty, pours on the oil of gladness, seasons with the salt of grace, and transforms even the most distasteful obligations into a gourmet feast for the soul.

So don’t just do it, joyfully do it.

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