Choosing Joy

Nothing says “eternal” like a frigid, wintery night in rural Wisconsin. The light of day begins her retreat at four-thirty in the afternoon as darkness nestles across the horizon and an accompanying chill spreads over the land. Out on our farm, nighttime is not dotted by the glowing light of street lamps, headlights and home fires. It’s just plain dark. Sometimes it seems as though morning’s light will never come. In spite of my intellectual awareness that the “day” isn’t really over yet, my energy begins to wane as I find myself counting the hours until bedtime. And oh, how long those hours can be!

So night after night throughout the extended northern winter, I fight a battle. It’s a struggle between my senses and my will. I want to go to sleep. I feel like closing shop and hibernating until the sun emerges from her celestial slumber. But sleeping isn’t my vocation. I have a husband to care for, a home to tend to, and a blissfully active ten-month-old baby girl to entertain who doesn’t give a hoot about the difference between night and day. Somehow, I have to stay awake and continue to serve the ones I love. At least for a few more hours.

Enter: The Will. Every night — nay, every hour — I have to make a deliberate decision to do what needs to be done, be it cooking, cleaning, playing with my baby or cheerfully greeting my husband after a long day of work on the farm. I’m not good at this. It seems my best efforts only get me as far as the bare necessities. Being productive and joyful during the darkness has too often been a losing battle, until last week, when I got an idea for a new offensive strategy: I decided to dust off my tap shoes.

These little black wonders had been lying dormant in a forsaken corner of my closet for a decade. But as I was trying to rouse myself to wash the day’s dishes (and praying for the grace to get them done), I suddenly suspected that those abandoned shoes might help inject my evening with some sorely needed energy. So I strapped the shoes on my feet, slung my daughter on my hip, and turned on her favorite CD, “Dance, Baby, Dance!” And we were off.

In an instant, the kitchen transformed from a dark room of duty into a dance hall of delight. My baby giggled and bounced as I resurrected my Time Step and rustily Shuffled-Off-To-Buffalo. The light of my smile dispelled the darkness of the night and the healthy sweat I worked up made me forget that it was only two degrees outside.

The whole escapade was over in a matter of minutes. But its lingering effects made a huge impact on my night. I felt joyful, energized, rejuvenated. Not only did I get the dishes washed, I baked a carrot cake and even made cream cheese frosting from scratch. It was a clear victory over the power of darkness (so to speak), and an answer to my prayer. And afterwards, I realized I had followed some sacred advice, without even knowing it.

The Psalms tell us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, at all hours of the day: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praise to your name, Most High. / To proclaim your love in the morning, your faithfulness in the night, / With the ten-stringed harp, with melody upon the lyre” (Psalm 92: 2-4).

I can’t just sit around and wait for enthusiasm to strike with the sunrise. I’m supposed to do something to produce faith-filled joy right now: give thanks, sing praise, proclaim God’s love and faithfulness, pluck the harp, play the lyre, or as the case may be, break out my dancin’ shoes. The concrete decision to make a joyful noise was a perfect antidote to my sluggish senses and the self-pity of wintertime. So now I’ve resolved that in the future, when I’m feeling tired or glum, I’ll put my feelings on the defensive by heeding the wise command of the Psalms: “Shout joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; worship the Lord with cries of gladness” (Psalm 100:1-2).

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