The fight to have joy, on a Thursday, in 2016, is demanding.
When three year olds flush socks and toothbrushes and puppies yelp all the long night and your kindergarden is smarter than you, how in the world do you press on towards joy?
Jeesh, some days, wouldn't it not be more realistic to just fall down and take the beating of life?
When weeks are filled with deferred hopes or harsh criticisms, how dare I ask us to engage in this battle?
Is there not the temptation to just accept a life of quick highs and plummeting lows, resigning that this is life?
Yet, in these last months, the invitation to battle for joy was one I could not refuse. Could it be that there is a joy that levels mountains and raises valleys? Could it be that this is a fight worth fighting, that gives me something far better than happiness?
This last spring, we studied Philippians, a letter from a pastor named Paul, to his church in Philippi. Each week, I saw his words point me to Jesus, who is my example and my very reward in this battle for joy. In true Gospel fashion, the themes of this book turned concepts on their heads, putting front runners in the back and pulling the least of these to the seat of honor, titling life as loss and death as gain.
And therefore, I have had to do some back tracking, as I see in Paul's letter that the pursuit of joy comes not from a filling, but an emptying.
As chapter 1 closed, I saw Paul displaying joy, as he was emptied of so much of what made him him. Rather than waiting in fear for life's next blow, could I bravely beat life to the punch, willingly pouring out my love for being in my element?
Instead of waiting in pessimism for life to take away my freedoms, could I wage war on common happiness by emptying my heart of lesser lovers? Could I pour out my love of success and being liked by others, and love Christ instead?
And rather than chasing down a life that meets my expectations, could I let the question mark remain on my future? Ya know, the unknown future, the dream that just doesn't seem likely anymore. Could I allow it to loom on my horizon and yell at it's unavoidable face that Jesus is better than a plan for my future?
Chapter 2 introduces a joy-stealer. A thief that is just too close to my heart. A bandit of both joy and peace.
The church that Paul loves is having some drama, there are some women who can't seem to get along, who can't seem to play nice.
A regular assault to our happiness is conflict with each other. So Paul walks his church through the battle plan. He begins by telling his audience to do nothing from rivalry or conceit.
Rivalry, this desire to get ahead.
And conceit, being puffed up when I am ahead.
This image came eerily quickly to my mind. My minds eye shows me the times I have hurriedly pushed my way to the front, elbowing my way and then sticking my chest out and my chin up once I am there.
Oh how I wish I was writing this blog to junior high girls. But, ladies, we don't outgrow this behavior, do we?
Do we not rival each other, for the front of a million sneaky lines?
Are we not conceited at times, wanting all the best for ourselves? The best homes, reputations, kids, bodies?
Do we not nudge each other out and push each other down, subtly, so that we can enjoy the top all by ourselves?
Don't we desire to be viewed as put together, poised, and confident?
Does something in us squirm when we see someone else have what we want--their flat tummy, their bulky bank account, their attentive husband?
Do we not find subtle ways to let everyone know how we are ahead? How full we are with a busy schedule, friends, and purpose? So we post on Facebook only the pictures that reveal our best days, but hide our double chins, unflattering angles, and tempers.
(Perhaps we should take a lesson from my youngest here. Front, and center, if you weren't sure)
Why, why do I do this? Why do I forfeit my battle for joy by getting caught up in this? Why, do we, like the women of Philippi, wage war against each other rather than linking arms and advancing across the battlefield for joy?
A few years ago, God graciously let me experience a bloody battle that exposed my caustic heart in this area, and I will never be the same. Time moved slowly, but eventually I limped off the battle field. Grace cleared the fog, and I found understanding of why I, and maybe other women, find it hard to play nice.
I often grasp for position or praise when I am insecure. Yet insecurity is only a symptom that covers up my underlying disease of pride. I feel insecure when I think I am being shorted of something that I deserve. In that moment of rivalry, conceit, and insecurity, I believe that God has given to someone else, what he should have given to me.
In this moment, there is much at stake. There is much to be lost in friendships, in our families, and in our churches.
What do we do?
Do we fill up our life with super good friends, friends that would never hurt us or misunderstand us or withhold grace and understanding?
Do we fill up a list of how we can be a good friend and will ourselves to execute it perfectly? Do we stuff these insecurities deep within our inner dialogue praying earnestly that they never sneak out?
I wonder if the best motivation to play nice, the best strategy to battle for joy, involves turning these concepts on their head? Or maybe, just like in Philippians 1, in this fight for joy, this fight for unity, is also about emptying?
In chapter 2, Paul unpacks the greatest emptying ever displayed, when Christ emptied himself of all his rights to come to earth. Jesus set aside his heavenly throne and glory and emptied his body of his glory, and became a man, putting on our weak skin. And once here on earth, he didn't fill up with the pleasure of immediate success or popularity, but assumed the position of a servant. And with his eyes on an eternal joy, he poured out his life, in the style reserved for criminals. He went after his forever joy by bravely pouring out his very blood.
This emptying allows us to have peace with God, as Jesus took our punishment from God, paving the road to joy for our otherwise condemned hearts. But it also is the solution to find peace with each other, giving the richest of examples of humility.
I must move my gaze-- from whatever she has, from what I want, from who she is, and who I want people to believe I am. And I must, I must put my eyes on Jesus. The Jesus who didn't grasp for any power or glory, but laid it down. And came for you, and for me.
To my friends still with more questions than answers about this Jesus. This Jesus who emptied himself of heaven, of glory, and position, he did it for love. This love is for you, friend.
To my friend plagued with insecurity, or sick with pride, there is freedom for us. We can fix our eyes on this example of emptying and quit the race to the top, to the front.
Joy is ours when grace teaches us to emulate Christ's humility. And that humility, keeps us from the fights that rage between us.
May you experience the joy of the God who loves you, today.