Do you remember the door prize goldfish in a bag, or the goldfish you could win as a prize in the carnival at the local fair whose goal in life was to swim aimlessly and bored, around a blurry constantly changing outside world?
I think in the past six months I can affectionately say I have felt a tiny bit like those goldfish, packed up into a nice clean baggie of water, putting on my best googly eyes and entering into a brand new fish tank with lots of excitement as the treasured carnival prize, only to be caught up again and transferred to the next fish tank with the same great excitement when the last excitement wore off. All the time wishing, I was just left alone to grow fat and happy and be one of those six-pound goldfish who barely swims and just floats along, totally ignored by the kid who won him ten years earlier. Oh what joy!
All sarcasm aside, our furlough has been great, full, and consistently turning. The constant turning part has been challenging for the parents (Bekah and I) and has brought us to the point of “doing life” rather than “rejoicing in life.”
Christian Veterinary Mission is celebrating its 40-year anniversary as an organization this year. It’s a great milestone and they have picked an appropriate theme this year from Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” A powerfully convicting little verse as I realized my personal joy meter was registering a bit low this summer, even in the midst of a plethora of fun interactions with great friends and incredible places to visit along the way.
As part of the anniversary celebration, I have been asked to speak several times on the topic of joy, while ironically measuring quite low in my own levels of joy. As I have looked at the topic in light of our own circumstances of constant turning, and in light of the circumstances we are headed into in South Sudan, it seems justified to not dwell in joy. It seems like joy is a bonus rather than a necessity in my life and my duty is to lead my family through this season and back to Africa. If happiness comes along the way from all the nice experiences and rewarding relationships, then great! If it doesn’t, well at the very least we accomplished our duty.
The apostle Paul, in the midst of prison wrote on the topic very differently, filling the letter to the Church in Philippi with a much different assessment on joy. Joy to him was a necessity. It seeped out of him even as he suffered in prison contemplating death. In the midst of the suffering he writes the emphatic command, “rejoice.” Not a cherry on top of the sundae emotion, it was a command to those who faced persecution themselves to handle life with joy in all circumstances and to rejoice with those who were common in faith over the relationship they had in Christ.
What I have found is that joy as a duty is realigning and needs to be practiced even when life tells us it shouldn’t. That means I must be intentional, calculated and bold with my joy. My joy, like a virus, should multiply and spread out into the world of America and the world of South Sudan. This means even though South Sudan is drastically more challenging in so many ways, my joy should be even greater. The author of Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength!”
So goldfish or missionary my duty is Joy.
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