I blame the Puritans. Early Christians like the Apostles were known for their joy. Think about it. Paul and Silas singing praise hymns in jail. Stephen serene in the face of death. If they were that joyous in bad experiences, I have to imagine they were bursting at the seams with joy under normal circumstances.
Then came the Puritans. Technically, it probably started earlier, but they made it famous. Laughing was not for Christians and forget about having fun and wearing bright colors. Having taken an early American literature course in college, I can tell you their sermons were not exactly joyous either.
A few hundred years later, the “hippies” of the 1960’s added fuel to the fire. Obeying rules was very uncool. Anyone who made rules was just trying to spoil your fun. In fact, rule makers didn’t know how to enjoy life, so they invented rules to spoil everyone else’s fun.
Movies and television shows portray Christians as uptight people who need to loosen up and “drop” their Christian ways so they can live life and enjoy it. For some reason, that means either doing something that isn’t wrong and is a Hollywood perception of a Puritanical Christian or encouraging the character to actually sin.
Throw in a few media circus events with “Christians” spewing hate and the transformation was complete. Christianity is no longer known for its joyous followers. Christians are a group of sour, bitter, hate-filled people who don’t know how to have fun. Christians also create lots of unnecessary rules to try and keep everyone else from being happy.
Wow! Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yet sadly, even Christians have believed the lie. They vote on which of God’s laws are acceptable in today’s society. God’s rules are only obeyed if they feel good, because God ultimately just wants us to be happy. It is as if God merely gave suggestions and not commands.
I believe one of the reasons we lose some of our teens and young adults to the world is because we have forgotten to teach them about the joys of Christianity. Not a temporary worldly “high”, but a clear to the depths of your soul, contented joy.
How can our children learn which activities may bring a temporary, shallow “high” of happiness and which activities will bring them a fulfilled joy? How can they make that discernment before actually making poor choices? How can we show them the ultimate joy of being a follower of God?
Pull out your Bible. Think about the rules God gives us for Christian living. What are the principles behind them? What earthly consequences do we avoid by obeying Him? What do we gain by obeying Him? God knows what is best for us. Obeying God’s rules doesn’t really constrain us. That is a lie Satan has perpetuated since the Garden of Eden. God’s rules really help us lead a happier, healthier life with a lot less complications and negative consequences. Share what you learn with your children. Teach them the joy in obedience to God.
I realize some people have personalities that are just naturally more happy than others. My mother always says some people just look like they smell something bad all of the time. If you are one of those people, starting praying for God to help you see the positive blessings He has given you and your family. Try and make a conscious effort to keep a pleasant look on your face. I am not saying you have to look like the Cheshire Cat, but at least try not to scowl. If your child has started similar habits, try to work with him. (Please don’t say “Smile” to anyone. Ever. It usually has the opposite effect on people.)
It is very easy in our culture today to develop a critical, negative spirit. I have noticed that after a critical spell, everything looks more glum. It’s hard to be joyous when you are in that frame of mind. Try spending some gratitude time as a family every day. Make it part of your prayers to thank God before asking Him for things. Take turns at the table listing all of the blessings of the day. Keep a family gratitude journal and pull it out on bad days to remind your family how much God really has blessed you.
Help your child understand the difference between happiness and contented joy. Happiness is an emotion based on circumstances. Joy is almost a state of being. It is a contentment in being a child of God, that Paul teaches us is possible to attain no matter what your circumstances are. It is understanding where the true Power is and the concept of an eternity spent with God.
Re-examine your rules. Which ones are godly and which are for health and safety? Which rules are just your personal preference? I have seen some Christian parents drive a wedge between them and their children over a mustache or an extra inch of hair. I am not saying to throw out your rules, but give your child room to express her individuality in ways that don’t violate God’s rules or endanger herself. Part of the joy of childhood is discovering the things you love and that God has gifted you for. Freedom to try different things is part of the process.
Make time to have fun as a family. Sometimes we get so caught up in our schedules we are a blur of stress with no fun in sight. Our family has recently gone through a very stressful time. It seemed like everything was going wrong. We decided to take a joy break every day. We popped our favorite up-beat gospel music cd in the car. We found a television show that was clean and funny and watched an episode when we needed a laugh or two. We even tried to find humor in the situation. Things were still going badly some days, but it helped put us in a frame of mind that let us remember God was with us.
Don’t be afraid to be silly. A pillow fight or running through the sprinkler with your children can put everyone in a better frame of mind. We can get so caught up in homework, chores and extracurricular activities that we forget to just play with our kids. Some of the fondest memories children will have are the times their parents played board games with them or waded in the gutter after a hail storm. Being a parent is fine, but sometimes it is just as important to let your hair down and do something silly with your children.
Teach your child God’s promises. The Bible is full of wonderful promises from God. We know He is always with us. We know He listens to our prayers even when we don’t know what to pray. Help your child commit some of these promises to memory. In rough times, it helps to have those verses on your heart.
Serve others with your family. Whenever I am blue, serving someone always seems to restore my godly joy. Your family can show others God’s love for them by serving them. You can even share your faith with the people you serve. I think you will find your own joy in being a Christian as you serve others and share the Gospel with them. Your children will even learn to look beyond themselves and their own problems and begin to find the joy in putting others needs before their own.
I hope you and your family make an effort to re-discover the joy of being a Christian. Then go into the world and show them that Christians really can have fun and they don’t have to sin to do it!