advent week 3 | the discipline of joy

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy

Someone once told me that it takes 21 days to form a habit. And when I think about it, the habits I've formed in my life have come so easily that they're hardly a second thought: 

I make the same amount of coffee every morning for Delwin and me. Same brand. Same flavor. Same time on the clock. I always light the same candle before doing my quiet time every day. Three to four times a week - when I work out - I do the same high-intensity interval training set. When The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air comes on, I catch myself singing the theme song without skipping a beat. I buy the same brand of almond milk and am coming to terms with the fact that I really only like wearing the same four colors: black, gray, white, and olive. (Life is so much easier when I can just close my eyes in my closet and pick out a black sweater and feel absolutely zero pressure or self-consciousness. Also, let's be honest - black is the most forgiving and with two toddlers - I need ALL of the forgiveness.) At one point, Delwin and I went to our counselor and she pointed out that we talk about the same things, pretty much every time. Go figure.

Certain aspects of my life are on repeat, so much so that they've become an indestructible part of the rhythm, things that I "just do" at this point versus habits that are forced or willed or overly-strategized. 

But for every habit that finds itself cozied up on the couch of my life, there's another that's impatiently waiting on the doorstep, incessantly ringing the doorbell, just waiting to make its way into the fold. 

This year, there was one habit I noticed that I'd abandoned completely. That was the habit - the discipline, really - of celebration. Celebration was reserved for peoples' birthdays, our anniversary, Christmas and New Year's Eve. It was to be shelved until one of my friends was having a baby, or getting married, or maybe getting a promotion. Celebration did not make its way into random Tuesdays, or team meetings, or lunch with my mentor. Sometimes, "fun" would creep in, but not intentional celebration: naming the joy that lives in the cracks. Sometimes laughter would bubble up, but not true joy. 

I think what was happening was that I was allowing my twisted ability to turn every moment into one of foreboding joy to win. I didn't want to get too excited or expectant because, well, maybe the other shoe would drop. And if the shoe dropped, I'd be ready with my "medium" excitement or tempered reaction, because if the other shoe drops, you're left disappointed. If the other shoe drops, you're left vulnerable and exposed, feeling ridiculous for having any expectations at all. 

Life is never that good. 

But it is. IT IS. 

Why can it be that good? Because the buck doesn't begin or end with me.

If you're like me and profess to be a follower of Christ, you choose to believe - if not in your heart, then at least in your head - that someone other than you reigns. And if someone other than you reigns, if you believe that He is Lord -  then you believe He has the power and intention to change everything. To weave you into His plan for redemption, to make all things new - even you. This means that if - and when - the other shoe drops, it doesn't phase you because you know He's not surprised. He knows. And, somehow, some way, He's using that for good. For your good. For all of the curse words and tears and lumps that creep into your throat, He reigns. He sees you and He reigns. Over the lost job, the wacky finances, that really crappy relationship, that loss and your grief, the "no" or "not yet," the insecurity and unknown - or maybe just the randomly awful day.

This doesn't mean He's cruel. (Quite the contrary, He's so abundantly and attentively kind.) It means He's above. He's bigger. He's greater. He's better. And if He's better, then our job is to remind ourselves, on repeat, that He is so.

Here's the deal: He reigns AND life is still really messy and awful sometimes. And so the habit and discipline of joy doesn't make Him a better God - it makes us more resilient and available followers. Followers who can see a circumstance and praise Him anyway because this same Truth has become our reflex that's on repeat. He is better. He is better. He is better.

Three days ago, my mom called me. My dad is back in the hospital - the ICU at that. I could feel my heart numb up, ready to protect myself from feeling sadness, anger, disappointment. For a day or so, I barreled through work, using it as a distraction and an out. 

But the next night, my daughter hugged my neck and my son gave me the sloppiest of kisses and my husband brought me a cupcake and through them, I knew God loved me. Somehow, I knew that He was better than my Dad's illness. He was better than my fickle emotions and twisted coping mechanisms. He was better than the hospital nurses and doctors - than the uncertainty of it all. 

This past week, I had a fiery conversation with a trusted mentor about the craziness in our wold and what seems on some days like darkness is winning. 

But tonight I watched a video of a partially paralyzed man who - every year for his birthday - bravely dives off a diving board to remind himself of his worth and ability - year over year on repeat. And I remembered that His power and Spirit settles and resides in people living and breathing all around me. Somehow, I knew He was better than corrupt, power-hungry men and women. He's better than the water or human trafficking crises. He's better than all of the political or humanitarian problems and solutions. He's better than the mess that's sometimes made of the Church.

The Savior reigns over it all. 

I want to be someone who celebrates life on a Tuesday. Who can leave any conversation or meal or meeting and say in an internal whisper, "Joy! He reigns!" Even if it was hard. Even when I'm not good enough to scrape joy out of life on my own.

At this point, I'm realizing that this joy - the joy of Christ coming - that's all I really have to hold on to. This thinking is the habit I want to form. It's the sameness that I want to permeate my life. 

So, for you, this third week of Advent:

  1. What habits can you inventory in your own life as of today? 
  2. Do you believe the Savior reigns over every part of your life? If not, why not? 
  3. How can you make the habits of joy and celebration an intentional part of this week? How can you ensure that they live beyond the Advent and Christmas seasons? 

I'd love to be inspired by you. Send me a note, leave a comment. We're in this together, friends.

To Christ, who is true joy to our world, 



Ashlee Eiland