Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Why “Choose Joy” Is Misguided Advice

If the exhortation of 2015 was to Overcome Fear then the siren’s song of 2016, less than a month in, is to Choose Joy.

It’s misguided advice.

Choose Joy is a slogan for greeting cards and coffee mugs, not life.

Is there something wrong with choosing joy? Of course not. Often choosing joy is a worthwhile endeavor. The problem is that it carries the unspoken implication that if I don’t chose joy, I must be choosing unhappiness or disgruntledness or curmudgeonness. Or even more insidious, that I’m choosing to be ungrateful for all of the blessing bestowed upon me.

When I spill coffee during my commute, yes, I can choose joy and be grateful that I had coffee to begin with. Or I could just not make a big deal out of it - annoying as it was – and save my joy for something just a little bigger.

If Choose Joy is drummed into us as a singular beat, what happens in seasons of heartache and unhappiness?  What about when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office mowed down by devastating news? What a disservice it is in that moment to think that a “bigger” person, a “more faithful” person, a more “mature” person would choose joy.

We are told to be steadfast in all things. To give thanks in all things. We are never told to choose joy in all things. When Mary and Martha mourned the death of their brother, Lazarus, did Jesus extol them to choose joy? No. He wept. (John 11:35)

Or what about the unclean woman who touched Jesus’ robe and was healed. Did He turn to her and say: Sister, you chose joy these last twelve years, therefore you are healed. No. He said, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)


Embracing the inevitable darkness does not mean you are not a joyful person. It does not mean you are a person who is succumbing to life’s circumstances. It means that you are a nuanced, complex human being who is willing to learn from all facets of life.

Sorrow and pain and fear teach us so many things that joy never can.

I stood in my daughter’s orphanage this summer. It was the place she called home for too many years.


I bore the sorrow and import and heaviness of that moment. It was a sucker punch to the stomach. I felt physically ill. Had it not been wholly inappropriate, I would have fallen to my knees and cried out.

On why choose joy is misguided advice


I looked at my beautiful and vibrant little girl – the one the doctors told me would never walk – and I resolved. Resolved to help give hope to children who have no hope.

That resolve, the one that came from a place of hurt, helped lead to the decision to host Mr. Scientist.

Was joy the result of Mr. Scientist being in our lives? Yes.

But did the decision to host him come about because I chose joy? Absolutely not. It came from a place of brokenness and inadequacy and fear.

Choose Joy sounds nice. It’s well intended. But it only skims the surface. For my part, I’m going to Choose Peace. Peace let’s you accept the hard and the hurt and the wholeness. Often the result is joy, but it’s not the pursuit.

May you go forth in peace.


  1. Peace that passes all understanding. I am going to choose that too.

    Thank you.

  2. Peace that passes all understanding. I am going to choose that too.

    Thank you.