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Finding Joy


May 21, 2014 by admin

Photo Credit: Mark K., Flickr Creative Commons

I saw a motivational poster once that had a cartoon of three glasses half filled with a yellow liquid. The first glass smiled and said, “I’m half full!” The title beneath this glass read Optimist. The second glass looked glum and said, “I’m half empty.” The title below read Pessimist. The third glass raised its fists and shouted, “I think this is piss.” Its title read Realist.

Not only did I find the poster hilarious, but I think it pretty well captures how I often see myself in the grand scheme of things. I am not easily impressed, but I’m also not necessarily a person who feels like I’m a victim. I tend to just think everything is a mess, so I like to give a voice to the hard stuff. To maybe even give it a little tragic beauty. Then I move on, cautiously optimistic at best, trying to enjoy the good I can find while simultaneously aware that it could (and likely will) disappoint me in the end. I live somewhere on the spectrum between Mary Sunshine and Debbie Downer, careful to not closely associate myself with either camp.

So continuing my theme of Trusting Joy, how am I supposed to trust something so hard to find? Is it something only the optimists have access to with their wide smiles and knack of finding goodness everywhere? It would seem by definition there’s not much joy to be found by pessimists. What about for a self-proclaimed realist like me? (Although, skeptic is probably a better term.) I tend to lurk in the optimists’ shadows, drawn to the light but afraid to be fully exposed by it. I do not want to look like a fool rushing to something (even something I desire) that will prove to be just a mirage.

Paul writes in Philippians that he will rejoice because he knows that everything he’s going through will turn out for his deliverance because it is his “eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed…” (paraphrase Philippians 1:18-20) From reading the rest of Paul’s writings I wouldn’t necessarily peg him an optimist, but this sentiment is so bold, so intentionally hopeful in the face of his imprisonment that I don’t know what to make of it. How does he state something in such decided terms that by any measure of his current circumstance seems unlikely?

Currently I’m a stay at home mom who likes to pull out the title writer or teacher or leader every once in a while to see how it fits. That’s a pretty far cry from Paul being persecuted and imprisoned. Surely if anyone has right to bravely bear the tragic beauty of his mess it’s him. And yet, here he is looking it square in the face and saying, “I will rejoice.”

Maybe Paul is braver than I. Or maybe he just has more faith. Very likely both. What I learn about joy from him in this instance though, is that joy is there, I just need to adjust my focus to see it. I need to zoom out on the snapshot of my life in the current frame to allow for a more comprehensive picture.

He admits, in the verses that follow his claim of impending deliverance, that he struggles with the desire to want to die and be with Christ versus to continue living and laboring fruitfully. And here is the perspective that I need to find the fuzzy, elusive joy dappled among the shadows of my day: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). When Paul says he expects and hopes to not be put to shame, it’s not that he has assurance that he will experience happiness and fulfillment. He isn’t saying that he knows it will get easier or more fun or even that he’s entitled to success in his pursuits eventually. Paul does not rejoice in the hope of his future accomplishments. He rejoices that he gets to play a part in what Christ is accomplishing, no matter how that plays out in his life.

When I tightly focus on the nuance of every disappointing shadow that is being cast across my landscape, I miss the sun shining above me. When I continue to mistrust the what-ifs always beyond the next bend in my path, my caution will slow me down until I’m not even running in this race anymore. It’s time to run freely without fear of looking like a fool. I’ve never run this path before, but Paul reminds me where it ends up: with Christ. Yes, joy is in the journey, but it can be difficult to find when we’re overwhelmed searching for our next step. Sometimes we need to look up to our destination where there is pure, complete joy to reorient ourselves on the path.

Being a realist doesn’t mean I have to be negative. Paul points out that, really, if I keep everything in perspective, walking with Jesus is actually a win-win.

Maybe it’s lemonade in those cups after all.


This is the second post in my Trusting Joy series working through my baggage and the theme in Philippians. See the first post here. Featured image credit goes to Mark K., Flickr Creative Commons. Hilarious inspirational poster credit goes to all of the Internet.




  1. […] Marsden’s Finding Joy – whether you are an optimist, pessimist or realist (with a hilarious comic to […]

  2. jamie says:

    What you and Bronwyn said — ditto. I will add that I think those titles fit rather nicely on you. Cheers! (with the lemonade glass, not the piss)

  3. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Buckle up, because here comes a list of all those internet words of praise for this post: raw, honest, wise, vulnerable, brave, insightful. The whole deal. Oh friend, I feel ya. I am probably somewhere on the optimist-realist spectrum, so I more often find myself thinking “this is half-full of piss” (seriously, as if a full cup would be better?)

    You do raise something I’ve been thinking about this week: being put to shame or not being ashamed. I noticed it again reading the Psalms this week and NEARLY wrote a blog post on it earlier this week…. but then I remembered that I had already written it back in October. #memoryissues #doh #hastagsforyourentertainment. I guess I need to preach the same message to myself, eh?

    In short, I’ve been reflecting again on how the word for “ashamed” can also be translated “to be disappointed”, and how disappointment (with me and my life outcomes) runs so close to shame. Justification and the hope that ensues that have a direct access point into my negative feedback loop, if I can just adjust my focus – as you say.

    Thanks for great food for thought, as always. Love you, friend.

    • admin says:

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the ashamed/disappointed connection also. It hit me hard before FFW when I was reading Deuteronomy 31:6 the word “forsake” jumped off the page at me. The Message translation uses “I will not let you down.” More than shame I lean into the disappointment. Being more on the pessimist-realist side (all I have to offer is a half empty cup of piss), I get stuck in the loop of thinking that either I won’t get what I want and I’ll be disappointed, or I’ll get what I want and will be disappointed by it. Either outcome garners the same result. I think perspective is then especially a key for me since I get so easily fixated on my current grief that I miss the larger picture of the good the Lord has worked through the course of my life. Which probably leads into a lack of thankfulness, but that’s another post…

      Love you too, friend. Always thankful for your insight and encouragement.

      • jackie says:

        Yes, I too so often miss the larger picture and dwell on the cup of piss. Thanks for putting it in understandable English.

  4. Walt says:

    “joy is there, I just need to adjust my focus to see it.” :) This statement is so full of deep deep truth.

What do you think?


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Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the DEPTH OF THE RICHES and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways? For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.
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