I am thrilled to hear from Kimberlee Conway Ireton today. Kimberlee is the author of The Circle of Seasons, the book we are reading through this year as we orient ourselves around the church calendar. Thank you for the gift of your presence and wisdom, Kimberlee.
It is Eastertide, the Great Fifty Days in which we celebrate Resurrection, Christ’s triumph over sin and death and evil. During Easter, we remember our own baptism, too, in which we died with Christ and were raised with Him in newness of life. This whole season is life and joy. Those of us in the northern hemisphere see that newness of life and joy reflected in the greening of the trees and the myriad colors of the flowers, as if creation itself were dancing for joy that winter is over and gone, the time for singing has come!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Ring the bells, sound the trumpets, bang the gongs, shout for joy! Death is defeated! Joy is here, is now!
And it is.
And it’s also not.
That’s why our task in Easter is to live in joy—and it is a task. It’s something we do. And in this vale of tears, it’s sometimes hard to do.
You wouldn’t think joy would be so difficult. After all, it’s what we all crave, right? We want joy. And yet…joy is hard. Think about it. Does it bring you joy when you yell at your kids or snap at your spouse? Does it bring you joy to fritter away an hour on Facebook and get sucked down a dozen different online rabbit trails that leave you wishing you had that hour of your life back? Does it bring you joy to hurl yourself onto your bed and curl up in a ball of teeth-gnashing self-pity? Does it bring you joy to listen to the voices of self-loathing or self-doubt or self-exaltation that seem to be constantly knocking about in your head?
No? Huh. Those things don’t bring me joy, either. And yet—I still do them. Now why is that?
One word: habit.
Those things get to be habits with us. And it’s easier to ride the rails of joyless (and often death-dealing) habit than to strike out into fresh paths of joy and new life.
Here’s where the good news of Easter comes in: Jesus broke all those death traps—they can no longer hold us. He has broken their power over us, and we are free to live in joy. We have His power—His amazing resurrection power—to say no to the stuff (and the sin) that steals our joy.
Now, there’s no magic bullet. We can’t just wish ourselves out of joyless, life-denying habits and into joyful, life-giving ones. “Divine grace works along the lines of human action.” That’s Charlotte Mason, one of the wisest women I know. St. Paul said it, too: “Continue to work out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12). There is work to be done, and sometimes it’s hard. Trust me on this—it’s taken me a dozen years to get in front of my hot temper and the habit of lashing out in anger when I am frustrated. And I’m not 100% successful even now. But I see such tremendous growth—God has taken my loaves and fishes, my paltry (and at the same time oh-so-difficult) efforts to shut my mouth and bite my tongue when I’d rather rant and rave, and He has blessed them, multiplied them. He is helping me to become a patient, kind person. And if you knew just how impatient and unkind I have been, well, you would believe in miracles!
But wait. You do believe in miracles. You believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. You believe in Resurrection. You believe in new life. You believe in the promise of Easter: of death defeated and life without end, joy without end.
And if that’s the case, if we as Christians really do believe in miracles, then of course we must believe that God can transform us, can reach right into the sinews of our bodies and the corners of our minds where lodge the habits that steal our joy and keep us from living free—and bring them out into the light of resurrection. He can take all those joyless habits of feeling, thought, and action, and work in us to replace them with habits of life and joy.
God wants to give us the mind of Christ, the life of Christ, but we have to put it on, take it up. And to put it on and take it up, there are things we will have to take off and put down (my temper, my scathing tongue). And depending on how hard we’re clinging to those things or how deeply they’re embedded in us, that may be a battle, it may take some time (or a lifetime), it may be two steps forward and a step and a half back. No matter.
The saints and angels are cheering us on. God is cheering us on. God, who is patient and kind and abounding in steadfast love, is eagerly watching and waiting for us to take off our joyless habits and put on the mind of Christ, to lay down our life-denying habits and take up the life of Christ, for He is eager to help us, to aid and abet and uphold us in the joy-life, the life of the risen Son.
Friends, we have died with Christ, and we are raised with Him. Ring the bells, blow the trumpets, bang the gongs! And for the love of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, live in joy! Here. Now. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Watch the sun rise, study a tulip. Listen to a symphony, or bird song, or silence. Read a good book. Read the Good Book. Bite your tongue. Smile. Sing. Pray. Raise your arms. Shout huzzah. Dance a jig. Sniff a lilac. Stare at the stars. I mean it. Quit reading this post and go do something that brings you joy. Then do it again and again and again till it becomes a habit, the habit of joy.