I wanted to choose English as my major in college. Because I grew up without much, books had become my prized joy. I remember sitting on the carpet in kindergarten when my teacher Mrs. Carol told us it was library day. Can you imagine how shocked and excited I was to learn we could borrow books from the school library and take them home? Wahoo!
Ah-ma, my mother, had quit school when she was thirteen. She became a mail-order bride to immigrate to America from Hong Kong and gave birth to me at eighteen. When I was seven, my father abandoned our family, and I had to grow up quick. My world narrowed, hemmed in by responsibilities as the oldest. But since that fateful day I carried my first library book home, Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoben, books became my best friends.
So when it came time to apply for college, it only seemed natural I’d want to be surrounded by what gave me the most joy: books. I longed to build my life in a world inhabited by stories and words.
But Ah-ma didn’t agree.
“You’re selfish. How does studying English help our family?” Ah-ma queried. “You just want to be happy for yourself? Fly away like a bird and leave me and your little sister here in our bad neighborhood?”
How could I be happy knowing others in my family weren’t happy? I scolded to myself. Don’t be selfish, Bonnie.
This was the moment I incorrectly learned that loving someone meant giving up what brought me joy. The greater the love, the more important it was to put aside what gave me joy. My love was evidenced by the joy I was willing to surrender.
These statements created the misbeliefs I carried about joy into my relationship with God and adulthood. I always felt it was more important to be content rather than to choose joy. I told myself it was nice to have joy — but only if it was a by-product of taking care of others. I didn’t need joy. Joy wasn’t necessity; it was a luxury I thought I couldn’t afford.
Of course, this was a misbelief that God corrected later when I became a mom myself to two boys and started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. I had to learn to replace the lies with the truth I learned about joy from God’s Word.
To heal, I had to learn I was worthy of joy.
Perhaps, today, God is inviting you to do the same — to quietly lay down the things you do out of performance and busyness and open the gift of joy He’s placed in you.
When do you remember feeling joy as a child? Was it when you rode your bike, dipped your brush in paint, or wrote in your journal? Did you feel joy when your hair flew as you danced, when your fingers touched the keys of your piano, or when you sang in front of the mirror with your hairbrush? Did you spend hours creating a world for your Barbie dolls, laughing on the swings with a friend, dusting your hands in flour baking with your grandma or fishing with your grandpa?
Or maybe, like me, you don’t have a lot of childhood memories spent getting lost in joy, but you secretly long to explore what would give you joy now.
Joy may feel selfish, but it isn’t.
Joy becomes your heart’s response to God when you reclaim your rightful place in this world as someone valued, seen, and important — His beloved child.
Joy challenges you to ask yourself whether you believe you are worth prioritizing. The truth is, a well-loved woman who chooses joy will naturally bless others, like a river being filled by refreshing spring rain.
You are not obligated to make others happy first before you choose what gives you joy.
Jesus whispers, Just as you can only give the comfort that you first receive yourself, so it is with joy. Choose joy today.
Notice the order of how the care of God flows — it starts first with you receiving joy and comfort. And when you get refilled, you’ll be like a river flowing out to others.
Jesus is gentle and kind. He cares about how you’re doing. Especially when life is stressful, it’s even more important to get refilled! You’re His beloved.
These things I have spoken to you so that . . . your joy may be made full.
John 15:11 (NASB)
Whenever I speak to couples, women’s groups, even U.S. military officers, the greatest resistance to joy I hear is, “It feels selfish to choose joy.”
But it isn’t. Choosing joy is a holy, sacred, and countercultural act of faith to say:
“I don’t have to earn rest. I don’t have to earn my happiness. I live by grace. My Heavenly Father has something beautiful and joyful that I only I get to enjoy. I don’t need to have a perfect life to choose joy. Even though my life is messy and I am imperfect, God says I’m still worth it. I choose joy.”
So, friend, what do you like to do that gives you joy? Share a comment and then go enjoy that!