Know that when you pick the word joy for your word for the coming year, God will see if you really mean it. One of the surest ways where I can be tested in this area for both joy and patience is when I make the morning commute into Charlotte. Just making the transition from I-85 to 485 can make me, as R.E.M. used to sing, lose my religion and lose it quickly. But I am putting into practice reframing my focus and, part of this, is realizing that, while I cannot control my external circumstances, I can control how I react to them. Knowing that the connection to 485 was coming up, I immediately began to prepare myself for it.
One of the ways I am refocusing my attention this year has also been one of the most joyful ways: praying for others. Since I realized that I would be sitting in stand-still traffic, I let my thoughts become prayers for those who I am praying for daily. It was amazing how, when my focus was not on what many, including myself, would see as an irritating and frustrating problem (the traffic) but used this as an opportunity for mindfulness, God allowed me to see past this world into a deeper and more real one. It was as if, in a moment, this world unfolded to reveal the one of His kingdom. What I was saw was Christ approaching. Not to me, but to a line of women. Then I realized that each of the women in the line were the ones who I was praying for. Jesus came to them and, one by one, he embraced each woman. Then he laid his hands on her forehead in the form of both a healing and a blessing. "You are my beloved daughter. I love you and you are of great worth to me." Then he leaned forward and whispered in each woman's ear. I don't know what Christ whispered to them, but my prayer was that each of the women would hear his voice today, hear that whisper in their ears.
Then my focus shifted to those of the men and women in the cars all around me. How much different would their perceptions of their circumstances and their own lives be changed if they, too, saw Christ coming to them, embracing them before laying his hands on their heads in blessing, before calling them his beloved son or daughter? How different would the world be if we truly, each one of us, saw ourselves this way?
And as I prayed for each of the women that they would understand, deeply within themselves, the truth of that reality, I felt such joy rise up within me. I saw the traffic not as a frustration but a blessing, an opportunity. That is joy. Joy sees past our circumstances to the future hope that our joy is rooted in. Joy is not happiness. Happiness is circumstantial and ephemeral, but joy is lasting and eternal.
In that moment of joy, I felt the same delight I would bringing a gift to a party for a dear, close friend. I felt connection, to those I was praying for, for those around me even though they were all strangers, and I felt closer to God.
Now I pray Romans 15:13 over them all, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
And, perhaps, when you are sitting in traffic, you will choose not to let yourself become angered or upset, but will find great, deep and abiding joy.