[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 4, 2014.]
Living Faith: ‘Don’t worry, be joyful’ a song we can all sing
By Roxane B. Salonen
Out of context, the pastor’s words might have been misconstrued by those prone to anxious thoughts.
“Those who worry do not know God,” he’d said.
But I knew what he meant. Rather than disparaging those who’ve ever had a worried thought – we’d all be condemned if so – he wanted to encourage and give us hope.
Just that morning he’d allowed worry to overcome him, he told us, noting that he’d had to remind himself that if we truly believe in a good and loving God, worry should never grab hold for long.
Worry is a human inclination, but it can be tempered with God’s deep love and caring for us. In claiming that reality, we can kick much of the worry threatening our daily peace to the curb.
Leaving church that day, the song, “Don’t worry, be happy,” came to mind. On the best days, this song can incite a whole lot of smiles, but it can feel wholly disingenuous other days, seeming downright offensive that anyone suggest we shirk our real worries at the cue of a corny tune.
And yet the pastor’s point still has much merit. Should worry drive us? It comes down to this: Are we in God’s hands or not?
Pondering the “happy” in the above-mentioned song brings me to another word that seems inseparable from belief in God: joy. While we can’t be happy all the time, as believers we should be able to experience joy most of the time.
Happiness and joy are not the same. Happiness is the petal; joy the root. Happiness is the wave; joy the steady, ever-flowing undercurrent.
When we fully absorb the reality of a good and loving God, joy can penetrate our souls in a way that the more fickle, surface happiness cannot.
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis writes, “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.”
And as Diane M. Houdek writes in her commentary of this work, “Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy,” “If we trust that God loves us as individuals, as we are, we can’t help but be filled with joy.”
Further, she adds, knowing we are loved thus, it becomes easier for us to see that God loves those around us as well.
Joy spreads and begets love.
But joy can be threatened, too. Recently, I experienced a series of trials that tampered with my inner joy. Thankfully, amid that train of darkness, my joy was restored and revived.
It took a trip out of town with my youngest son to set joy back in motion.
After arriving in Bismarck and enjoying dinner with my mother, we wandered to the Capitol grounds to catch the sunset.
While awaiting the sky-burst on that warm fall evening, the two of us romped around on the grass, gleefully taking photos of statues, trees and sky, striking silly poses on occasion.
We paused to lie down on the grass and, head to head, sized up the looming “Skyscraper of the Prairie,” giggling while attempting a “selfie.”
Joy started sneaking back.
Then, just as golden, pink and blue streaks began to spread across the sky, a gray cat with a fluffy tail found us and endeared itself to my son, who was aptly enamored. The tender way he handled that little creature made my heart leap.
Joy had begun its healing.
The next day, I visited several area schools and talked to elementary students about the writing life and the great state of North Dakota. Their questions, smiles and thank-you notes engulfed my spirit.
Joy had returned full-on.
But how do we keep this joy thing alive?
Partly, it has to do with how we respond to others. As Houdek writes, “Perfect joy is the ability to return peace and love to those who cross us.”
What an empowering, lovely thought.
And while we cannot just turn on happiness at will, as Houdek says, “If we strive to be joyful on a daily basis, we seem to develop reserves upon which we can draw.”
With joy’s return and these reminders, I’m recommitting myself to keeping my joy-tank filled, renewed in the thought that if we let the reality of a good and loving God soak deeply into our bones, joy will pervade our lives.
And so I will sing a new song, “Don’t worry, be joyful.” Care to join in a refrain or two?