By Traci Bolden

Traci was born and raised in Louisiana. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, Shreveport. She served as Center Director for Care Net Pregnancy Services counseling women and families facing unplanned pregnancies. She and her husband have been associated with Care for Pastors for 12 years. In February 2023, she joined the staff as a faith-based counselor. Traci has been a Pastor’s wife for over 32 years and has a heart for serving women. She and her husband, Robby, have been married since 1990 and have three daughters, Kristen, Kaitlyn, and Hannah.

    Joy is a Choice

    Wednesday, February 14, 2024

    Christmas for most is a very joyful time of year. It is usually filled with the busyness of serving at church, hosting family, celebrating with friends the birth of our Savior–doing all the traditional things that pastor’s families do. Yet, I found myself experiencing a lack of joy with every task, like I just needed to get through it. Everything around me was by all appearances good, but negative emotions just seemed to be drowning out the excitement of the season. There was no legitimately good reason not to be joyful. I don’t know about you, but when I am not joyful it is because I am focused on myself, and my negative feelings tend to take center stage. I had been thinking a lot about the past year and all the changes that had taken place for me and my husband. For me personally, my position had changed. My home environment, which was my safe place away from the world, had changed. We became empty nesters. My circle of friends had changed, and I was wondering “What will the new year bring?” What additional changes will there be for us and how will I handle them? This was weighing heavy on me as the kids left and the Christmas tree came down and I felt myself more melancholy than usual. I considered many factors to be the culprit, including my hormones. Admittedly, hormones have played a huge part at times in my attitude when I have not experienced joy, but I knew in my mind that I still had a responsibility to choose joy, no matter what my body was tempting me to embrace.

    Joy is a choice. You can choose to be joyful in spite of your circumstances. So, I was as joyful as I was choosing to be. I gave myself all of the advice that I would share with others who were experiencing a lack of joy. I was filtering my thoughts through truth and trying to put them in the right framework. I was fighting for joy!

    One of the best descriptions of joy I have read is this, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all of the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

    I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”  We don’t have to guess what the Lord’s will is concerning joy. He tells us in this verse. There is no mystery.

    When anyone goes through a season of great change and stress, we maintain joy by developing a habit of thanking God for all that is good, in spite of our circumstances or feelings.  One of my very good friends gave me a homemade housewarming gift. She said she didn’t know exactly what I needed so she made a Blessing Jar. It was a simple jar that she had decorated with a ribbon. Inside was a notepad and pen for me to jot down things that I am grateful for every day. This is my new habit. Developing a daily gratitude list. She had no idea that I had been struggling with this very issue, but God in his goodness, gently reminded me of what I needed to be doing instead of grumbling. I realized in that moment that my problem was not a lack of joy, but a lack of gratitude.

    We will be filled with joy when we think about what is good in our life, the things we are grateful for. David said in Psalm 126:3, “Yes, The Lord has done amazing things for us! What Joy!” The more we focus on what God has done for us, the more joy we are going to have in our life, because it produces gratitude.  When we express gratitude to God, it helps refill our empty emotional tank, especially during the difficult seasons of change, sadness, heartbreak, or uncertainty. When we cultivate an attitude of gratitude, being thankful in every circumstance, our stress will lessen. It is said that the healthiest human emotion is gratitude. I wholeheartedly agree!

    Do not allow feelings to take the lead and allow them to write the narrative of your story. You and I have to choose to put into practice what Paul talks about in Philippians 4:4. He says, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again–rejoice!” In Philippians, Paul uses the word joy more than 16 times (depending on your translation), nonetheless, it is a lot for this short book because he knew that we would need to be reminded often. He wrote the book of Philippians during the darkest time of his life, in prison, waiting to be executed.  Yet, he still found a way to be grateful for his circumstances. He made a deliberate, conscious choice to think about the right things. Philippians 4:6-7, which I have read many times and shared with many clients as a reminder says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and THANK HIM for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your heart and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

    What robs us of our joy quicker than anything is when we know the right thing to do, and we don’t do it.  James 4:17 says, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”  I often ask this question of my clients, “What is God telling you to do, but you haven’t started doing it yet?”

    The secret to continual, abundant, and overflowing joy is obedience. I have had to ask myself this question these past few weeks. What is God asking me to do that I haven’t done yet? I had to admit that I don’t have it all together. I have had to walk humbly before the Lord accepting life with gratitude even though things aren’t perfect.

    Our greatest joy comes from serving others. When we shift our mindset off ourselves, real joy is experienced. Serving God and serving others changes our perspective.  When we walk in humility, depending upon the Lord while serving others, our stress goes down and our joy goes up.

    This was encouraging to me this past week because of a personal struggle. I knew what I should be doing, but I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t filling my emotional tank with the right narrative. My prayer is that we do not become complacent toward the Lord in our service to Him, not just another task on our to-do list, but rather that HE would be the delight and joy of our existence.

    Help us continue providing resources of care for pastors and their families.

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