For a book about joy, this one talks an awful lot about sorrow. Warren begins by describing life as parallel tracks, “with joy and sorrow running inseparably throughout our days,” always linked because God works all things together for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28). This, she writes, is the strange paradox of the universe: “at the exact moment you and I are experiencing pain, we are also aware of the sweetness of loving and the beauty still to be found.” While Satan may use suffering as a weapon, God also uses it “to reveal to us great wealth that is hidden in the secret places of sorrow.”
Joy, as Warren defines it, “is the settled assurance that God is in control of all 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.” It seems joy is often found when we are under pressure, experiencing tragedy, or feeling discomfort when God is changing us.
Warren can speak to this; she has become well acquainted with pain, suffering, and loss. She is the wife of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Cal.; loving and leading the Bride is a journey on those parallel tracks she references, one full of great highs and deep lows. She is also a cancer survivor. Her family has dealt with other serious physical and mental health issues. Additionally, she is an advocate for those infected by HIV and AIDS, and for orphaned and vulnerable children. She doesn’t just talk about suffering; she has walked with it.
Warren also admits she is, by personality, an “Eeyore” – quick to see the problems, quick to worry, quick to criticize. Joy is not natural to her, which gives her an interesting perspective in this discussion. She talks about how we can become prisoners of personality; sabotaging joy, and entertaining voices that steal it. By trying to control our lives and the lives of others, we can reject God’s good. We can choose dissatisfaction instead of contentment with what may be only one moment of joy, yet “for joy to become a reality you must fight against the heart attitudes of legalism, worry, workaholism, and perfectionism and instead nurture grace, trust, balance, and acceptance.”
The “joy of the Lord” is what sets Christ followers apart from everyone else whose only options are the cares and concerns of this world. Warren writes:
When the sky falls in and we are thrown into chaos, our faith-life is suddenly on display for everyone – neighbours, friends, unbelieving family, and coworkers – to see. And the Bible says our faith-life should provide a stark contrast to the life of unbelievers, so much so that it would be like looking at a brilliant star against the inky blackness of a dark night sky – you can’t help but notice the difference.
I warmed up to this book. At first, it felt formulaic, but as I read on, I could see myself on the pages; I could see areas where I was sabotaging joy. As I read the prayers and questions that end each chapter, I saw how I needed to pray them.
In the end, I decided to walk with a small group of women through this book. I think the book has a strong call that is worth listening to. Though not stated, this book appears to be written for women, as she occasionally addresses women or “sisters” directly.
Warren observes that joy often seems to come as “moments.” In then end, she writes, “I’ve stopped demanding that a moment last longer than it can. I don’t require a moment to be anything other than what it is: a brief span of time that has been given by a gracious Father. I will wring every bit of pleasure out of this moment because I don’t know when the next one will come.” It is this kind of intentionality – intentional contentment and trust – to which the book calls us; to – as the title suggests – an ongoing choice.
—Teresa J. Klassen is a part of SunRidge Community Church in Kelowna, B.C., a community of friends trying to figure out how to love Jesus, love people, and live mission in their city. She is director of an out-of-school-care program and volunteers as children’s ministry team leader at SunRidge. When she can find the time, she blogs at www.onebrownleaf.wordpress.com. She has been married to Michael Klassen for nearly 24 years and has four kids age 19, 18, 17 and 15. The “J” in her name stands for Joy, something she has pursued for about 44 years.