The Ten Commandments of Joy – Rev. Susan Sparks*

1-Thou Shalt Not Worry

News flash: Life is not a holy contract in which God promises a calm passage; the only promise is a safe landing. Therefore, instead of asking God why this is happening TO you, thank God for being WITH you. Worry or believe—you can’t do both.

2-Thou Shalt Not Let Anger Steal Your Joy

The biggest thief of joy is anger. The classic example: Someone did you wrong, and you just won’t let it go. Fine. But be clear, to accommodate all that anger, your heart has to make room, which means things like joy get squeezed out. As the old saying goes, the one who has the most influence in your life is the one you refuse to forgive.

3-Thou Shalt Believe You Deserve Joy

Joy and laughter are the most important healing tools we have. Sadly, thanks to low self-esteem, high self-doubt, and negative people in our environment, some of us don’t believe we deserve to be happy. Do you? If not, why not? Is the reason true? If not, why do you carry it around? Who could you be without that excuse?

4-Thou Shalt Laugh with God

We were created in God’s image, and we laugh and feel joy. Therefore, laughter and joy must also be aspects of the holy. Bottom line? We are children of a God with a sense of humor. To be whole, we must be willing to share all of ourselves with God—the anger, the pain, the tears, and the laughter. It’s all holy.

5-Thou Shalt Pray It and Say It: I’m Grateful!

Start your day with a prayer of gratitude. Acknowledge your blessings. Then, act on that gratitude. Say “thank you” to at least three people during your day—preferably someone you don’t know. Share a kind word, a written note of thanks, a smile. Pray it and say it! Gratitude is the autobahn to joy.

6-Thou Shalt Laugh with Your Neighbor—Even if Your Neighbor is a Telemarketer

When we laugh with someone, whether family, friend, or telemarketer, our worlds overlap for a split second. We share something. It’s then that the differences fade, and the commonalities gleam through. Remember: You can’t hate someone with whom you’ve laughed.

7-Thou Shalt Laugh and Eat Chocolate and Chili Peppers

All three make us feel good. The increased oxygen from laughing, the serotonin in chocolate, and the capsaicin from chilis produce a boost of endorphins, nature’s own “happy pill.” You can also do an hour on the treadmill to get that same endorphin high, but I’d suggest laughing while nibbling on a chili dark chocolate bar.

8-Thou Shalt Be Like the Little Children

Children are said to laugh approximately 300 times a day and adults less than 20. Somewhere between cartoons and carpools, our laughter gets lost. Spend a few minutes watching a little child squealing with laughter, eyes full of awe at everyday miracles. When was the last time you laughed out loud or were awed by something wonderful? Start today.

9-Thou Shalt Lean on Laughter in Times of Trouble

Laughing in a place of pain is the most courageous and rebellious thing you can do. That pain does not own you. It is only what you are experiencing. By tapping into your ability to laugh, you are reminding yourself, and everyone around you, that “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

10 -Thou Shalt Not Waste ANY Opportunities for Joy

To paraphrase Erma Bombeck, think of all the women on the Titanic, who, on that fateful night, said “no” to dessert. It’s easy to postpone joy in times of crisis or pain, but time keeps ticking. No matter where we find ourselves in life, it’s still life—it’s still a gift. And we must honor that gift in all we do.

*Susan Sparks is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

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An Attitude of Gratitude – Greet the New Year

According to Cicero, “Gratitude is the greatest virtue and the parent all other virtues.” Gratitude is my word for the year and I hope it is my attitude for the year. There are so many things for which I am so grateful. I am grateful for my larger family, but I am especially grateful for my children and my sister. J am grateful for my friends. We have not been able to get together much during the pandemic, but that does not diminish their importance to me. I am grateful for my home and all the wonderful memories it holds.  I am grateful for my church and all the relationships that it represents. Our Sunday school class is exceptional.

I am grateful for my country. I am a proud American. I am patriotic. We are not perfect as a nation but we are moving in the right direction. I am grateful for my city and state. I owe a great debt to the public schools, to Mars Hill College, Furman University, the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University and Lander University. I am grateful for my home town and all the wonderful people there who helped me grow. I am grateful to Northside Baptist Church and all those wonderful people who encouraged me. I am grateful to the Board of Directors of the Charleston Speech and Hearing Center. They not only gave me a job, they gave me a life.

As I start a new year I am mindful of the two great loves of my life. Liz, Suzanne and Michael’s mother, stretched me in every way possible. She took a chance on me when only love could have made that possible. Carol rescued me from hell after Liz died. She brought joy and adventure to a tortured soul. I grieve that they went on without me, but I am grateful that I had them for as long as I did. They brought love, beauty, challenge and comfort into my life.

I am simply grateful for life and all that entails. I live in a beautiful city, I have wonderful neighbors. I have books, music, an inquisitive mind, and a restless spirit. When I look at my grandchildren, I am confident of the future. I am an incurable optimist. The world will not end today because it is already tomorrow someplace else. I have a faith that sustains me. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

 

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Bring No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I ask God to help me to keep it.  I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weakness. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I would often be attacked with, ”Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply became, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment him or her in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion.

Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. I warn you that this is not easy and requires a proactive intentional effort.

Christmas on the Mill Village*

When mother and dad still worked at Abney Cotton Mill and we lived on Woodruff Street, Christmas was very special.

Every year my sister and I were in the Christmas pageant at Northside Baptist Church just a few doors away from our house. There was always a huge Christmas tree in the sanctuary. I was always a shepherd or wise man which required wearing my bathrobe.  One year while waiting to go to the church, I got too close to our heater and burned a hole in my shepherd’s bathrobe. It didn’t matter to anyone but my sister who was in charge of me. I knew that she wouldn’t tell our parents.

After the pageant and the congregation singing of a lot of Christmas carols, Santa Claus came and everyone from the oldest to the youngest received a present. It was great fun. As we walked home everyone was laughing and talking. Children were told to hurry to bed because Santa would not come to their houses until they were fast asleep.

Christmas was hard for mother and dad because dad was sick most every winter, a combination of asthma and allergies to cotton dust. Money was tight and the Second World War was still raged. There was no metal for toys, but Christmas mornings were exciting. The boxes we put out for santa were filled with fruit and nuts and one or two toys. We were soon outside playing with the other kids. Some years there was a smattering of snow.

By early afternoon the entire family, except for those away in service, were gathered at grandmother Carnell’s for Christmas dinner. It was a grand feast. Everybody brought something. Aunt Alice always made homemade rolls and ambrosia. Mother brought a fruitcake which she had soaked in grape juice for weeks. Dan Stone, a friend of my grandmothers, came early and made real egg nog. I never understood this, but it was a tradition. Tee totaling Baptists could drink spiked egg nog once a year at Christmas.

Of course grandmother was the focus of attention. My grandfather Carnell died years before I was born. There was usually some kind of drama with Uncle Wells, dad’s brother. One Christmas I was fascinated that he had driven a rental car from Gastonia, North Carolina. I was fascinated. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a rental car.

Everyone gathered in the living room for the handing out of gifts: chocolate covered cherries, candies of all sorts, jewelry, cheap perfume, pen and pencil sets, toy cars and books. One year I got a book about the Lone Ranger with print too small for me to read. Another year it was a cardboard horse racing set. These were grand events. We were a very close family.

Our family left the gathering early enough for us to go to my other grandparents who lived in the country about five miles away. The same exchanges would take place but on a much smaller scale because there was less family. Mama and Pop Gossett, mother’s parents, had very little money, but the food was always wonderful. I loved their big two story house with its log burning fireplace in the combination living dining room. There was a huge ice box on the side porch. Uncle Jim, mother’s brother, and his family were usually there. Uncle Jim and Aunt Norma had four children. They were a fun loving group.

One of the best parts of the season happened before Christmas when the mill gave generous baskets or bags of fruit and nuts to each employee. Since both mother and dad worked in the mill, they each received a basket. It really was a wonderful gift. Looking back I am sure that is the only Christmas extras that some families had but I was not aware of the more human conditions at that time. Life in our small town was good. Our family was happy and together. It was a wonderful time and place to grow up. Our lives revolved around family, church and school.

President Roosevelt died while at Warm Springs in Georgia on April 12, 1945. The reaction to his death was so strong that one would have thought that he was a member of our family. The war also ended that year. Uncle Jack and other family members came home. Dad left the mill for a job in town. In 1946 mom and dad bought a house about a mile away and we moved away from the mill village. I changed elementary schools and my sister, Jean, was in high school. Nothing would ever be the same.

*Reprinted from 2020.

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