in whatever state I am,
therewith to be content."
When I first started my current job, they only played country music. It was the favorite musical genre of the woman who began working in my department first, and every morning when I walked into the room, she already had on her country tunes.
And I hate country music.
I do love Lady Antebellum. I admit I enjoy the old, country-ish Taylor Swift. And there's a few Rascal Flatts songs I will play occasionally. I have even come to appreciate a Carrie Underwood song. But those are the exceptions to the rule. Play a song about a truck in the mud and how the dirt road winds like a woman's body and my soul dies a little. When I hear a man's deep, twangy and raspy voice that sounds like he is intentionally pretending he never learned how to read or correctly pronounce English words, I want to scream- no exaggeration.
That is what I listened to eight hours a day for over six months. But during those long months where sometimes I wanted to crawl into a hole when turned on the local country station yet again, I did something I'd never done before- I sang along anyway.
When I was twelve and my best friend moved away, I stopped singing. I couldn't sing. It was several months before I could go back to singing again, an activity that I am always doing. And when I look back on my life, as a small child and a young adult, for the big things and the small, I wallow and pout in what I consider the unfair and cruel treatment from God. I don't sing.
I'll never know why I decided to sing along to the country music. Clearly it was the Holy Spirit working in my life, because I learned some things those long months of my country music immersion.
First, I began to appreciate country music on a small level.
I learned new tunes, sung new harmonies, and found country music almost like a new world I had never explored. I tried to see my hours of listening to country music as an education of a genre of music I had previously avoided.
But most significant was when I discovered that none of my co-workers realized how much I loathed country music.
I'll never forget when one of my co-workers looked at me in shock when I admitted I hated the radio station.
"Really?" she said.
I was confused. "No," I said. "I've never liked country music." I couldn't think of any time I had said I loved it.
And then I remembered that I had also never said anything about my musical dislikes. I remembered that I'm always singing. Even to the men with the raspy, deep, hick country vocals.
Though I was thrilled to correct my co-worker and tell her about the music that I actually love, I was also proud that they didn't know about my hatred for country music.
I learned a lot about joy over those country music months. Joy is something I have struggled with a lot throughout my life. I used to beg God for joy, but really, what I wanted was to be happy. And the only way I thought I could be happy was if God made all of my dreams come true.
Joy didn't come, and I became angry. Joy was a good thing to pray for, something that I knew God would love to give me. So why wouldn't He? Instead, with each year joy became even harder as situations in my life seemed to get darker and my life went in the opposite direction of where I wanted it to go.
So where was my joy?
I have always had joy since the day at four years old when I surrendered my life to Jesus. Jesus is my joy. Jesus is joy Himself. Because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for me, I have everlasting joy.
"And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'"
The joy Luke is talking about here is Christ Jesus Himself born as a baby to save us from our sins. Peter fleshes this out more in one of his letters.
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:8-9
We have joy in Jesus himself as our God, Savior, and friend and we have joy in Jesus' death and resurrection. We have joy in Him now on this earth and we have joy in knowing that someday we will live with Him forever in Heaven. This is the joy that I have.
I shouldn't have prayed for joy. I should have prayed for the strength and diligence to practice and live out the joy already inside of me.
This Christmas I went to a women's event at my church. After a delicious breakfast and a gospel centered talk, we were discussing the song "Joy to the world."
"Do you guys think joy is a choice?" one woman asked.
And without hesitation, I said, "Yes."
I told them about the country music I was forced to listen to at work. I told them that for me, joy is a daily struggle in which I constantly have to recommit myself and remind myself of the truth of the joy I have in the gospel. The struggle could be from something small, like wanting to tear my ears out from all of the country music. Or it could be bigger, like my life going in the complete opposite direction of what I wanted. No matter what the struggle is, I have the tendency to forget my joy.
Ultimately, I have the joy of Jesus and His gospel within me always, even when I don't feel joyful or content. But it is a choice I must make each day. There is a tension there between the joy I already have and the joy I need to learn. I must choose to look at my life through my joy in Christ that can never be taken from me. I must choose to rejoice and sing through all of life's circumstance.
I must choose to believe and trust in the joy I have in Christ even when it feels joyless.