I arrived late, so I may have missed it. It is possible the presenters talked about it and I just didn’t arrive in time to hear it. But I don’t think so, because the Quaker presenters on building peace talked about how easily peacemakers can become discouraged and then they led us into an activity designed to generate hope and joy. The source to which they led us to find joy and hope was our own accomplishments.

Sigh. I could get discouraged.

Friends, I agree that we often do wonderful things. And the presenters to whom I am referring gave a good presentation, and I found myself stirred to join in their efforts at the Air Force base an hour or so down the road – after spending an hour by myself in the woods to re-find my hope and joy following their presentation. So there is lots of good stuff happening. I do not wish to complain. And yet I have to ask, what happened to the joy of faith?

When I look back at my blogging and other writing and speaking during the past 6 months, I discover that I have started preaching. Me – preaching? I feel like I owe my liberal friends an apology: “Honestly, I swear, I didn’t mean to become a preacher of the joy I find in God. It just … happened.”

But seriously, here is the anatomy of my transformation to becoming a preacher of the Good News of faith in God:

The first movement was God lifting me out of the deep trough of depression in 1994. I had been passively suicidal for months following the end of an abusive relationship. And suddenly, after daring to yell angrily at God in a private prayer time, God filled me with love. I began to know the power of God for good, and I began to talk about God as our source of hope, just a little bit. But I still looked to prophetic, righteous anger as our source of energy for transforming the world. 

The second movement was attending worship at West Hills Quaker church whenever I was in Portland to visit my in-laws. I had Ffriends there from my seminary days. What I noticed was how little time attenders at the church spent expressing righteous anger over the shortcomings of the world around them and how much time they spent doing things like cooking meals together for homeless people.

The next step was in the days after September 11, 2001, when mental health counselors suggested that we limit our intake of bad news. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, when depression began to set in again at the hopelessness of everything, I heeded their advice for the first time. I took a few weeks off from intense reading of newspapers and only took in enough to be informed about the big picture. To my amazement, I found an upsurge of energy to be engaged in resisting the war!

At some point after becoming a Good News Associate in the summer of 2003, I noticed how joyful I usually feel after being with my fellow Associates, most of them evangelical Quakers, and how joyless liberal Quakers often seem to be.

While teaching Ignatian spirituality last fall to men and women in recovery from addictions, many of whom are homeless and have lost their jobs and family relationships as a result of their substance abuse, I noticed that many of them nonetheless expressed gratitude, time and time again. They were grateful for things like waking up in the morning; for being free from the dehumanizing effects of their addictions; for God’s love; for the kindness others showed them. Their gratitude stood in stark contrast to the fears, worries, and cautious planning I would hear at Quaker Meeting from all those of us who have houses, food, and family life.

My next step was a simple decision to be more joyful. I felt embarrassed to be spending time worrying and fretting about the stuff in my life when women and men who have nothing can be so grateful, generous, and compassionate. It was clearer to me than ever before that joy does not arise out of having a sufficiency – if that were the case, homeless people would be unhappy and liberal Quakers would be happy. My AHA! was that joy comes from entrusting one’s future to God. So yes, it is as easy as deciding to be joyful.

So, Friends, I decided to be joyful. I prayed to God that I would feel gratitude for all the amazingly wonderful things and people that surround me. I prayed that my worries and sadness about the problems of the world would simply fade away. I decided to tell people about my discoveries, and my early blog entries (look at October, November,and December entries) give more details about my journey to joy. It began to feel burdensome to listen to comfortably-off people worry and be sad.

Since deciding to be grateful, I keep discovering more and more reasons to be joyful. It is no longer merely a decision now. More and more, I feel it rising up within me. I still work in a hospital where I see death and illness, and I still work with homeless men and women whose material futures seem bleak, and I still read of conflict and troubles in the world. Suffering is still real. What’s different is that I now know hope and joy are not waiting for us on the other side of attaining world peace, eliminating physical pain, or eradicating poverty. Peace of mind is not waiting for us on the other side of securing the future for our children or securing work or our own retirement. Hope is not based on seeing the exact route to the happy ending at the end of the story. Trust in the future is not based on seeing the societal developments that will lead to a peaceful settlement between conflicting sides.

I can no longer keep myself from telling everyone who wants to listen that hope, joy, peace, and feeling safe arise out of being in the hands of a God who promises to be with us in whatever we encounter. How can I keep from proclaiming what I know to be true – that this God of ours has plans of peace for us? That God is actively at work, using even the bad things that happen for good.

The mystery of it all is that as I allow this joy and gratitude to bubble up within me, I can hardly keep myself from throwing myself into work for peace and justice. The more I trust God, the more I also see God at work in societal developments, too. It looks like peace, abundance, and safety are just waiting to be birthed into the world, and I want to be part of it!

Query for prayerful consideration:

What is the source of hope in my life?